July 3, 2014 |

Once upon a mattress

I always knew I was a princess. Not any old run-of-the-mill princess, mind you, but a fairy tale princess. Not just any fairy tale princess, mind you, but a princess like the one from “The Princess and the Pea.” None of your Snow Whites or Rapunzels for me. Cinderella came close, but I could never do the glass slipper.

How did I know my royal roots? When I was a child I could not sleep unless and until I had made the bed conditions exactly “right.” The sheets had to be smoothed just so and the top sheet could not be tucked in imprisoning my feet. The quilts had to cover every inch of me, including my ears. Once I had perfected my sleep tunnel, I slept like, well, like a child. Instinctively I knew that if some evil person such as my sister hid a pea beneath my mattress, I would not sleep a wink, but would toss and turn and wake grumpy.

This, despite the fact that I slept on a roll-away bed for most of my childhood. If you have ever been unfortunate enough to have had that experience, I don’t have to describe it. The mattress is thin, lumpy, and sags in the middle. Fortunately, I also had a down mattress on top of that. Another requisite for princess-hood. Down mattresses and comforters and pillows are de rigueur to a true princess.

When water beds were all the rage, I was in personal heaven. Except for those times when I needed to rearrange the furniture. Difficult, but not insurmountable. One day 20-some years ago I went to Nordstroms and bought the most expensive mattress in the store and that was a truly wonderful purchase. I enjoyed it all the years until I moved and left all my furniture to others.

In my rented furnished apartment in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico, the bed, which sports a headboard so ugly I avert my eyes rather than look at it, but who sleeps on the headboard, has a typical Mexican mattress. I have attempted sleep on many hotel mattresses in Mexico and most of them are kissing cousins to the one in my casa. I don’t really know what is inside for stuffing. I am not sure I want to know. I suspect the innards are chipped from a slab of bedrock and covered with mattress cloth. All these months I have been miserable, sleep deprived and grumpy.

I’m not at all ready to accumulate furniture, but finally decided that I must at least buy a cheap but soft mattress, if I could find a soft mattress, and plunk it atop the one already on the bed. Maybe two mattresses would do the trick. Then when I went elsewhere, I intended to leave the mattress for the next renter. Notice, I ignored the admonition from the fairy tale. Two wrongs never make a right.

So I arranged to go shopping with Rudy, my interpreter and Carlos, my driver and interpreter. Yes, sometimes it takes the three of us to make me understood.

The store we entered surprised and delighted me. “I know that brand. And this one. And the mattress over there is much like the mattress I had back home.” In moments I changed my strategy. My mind buzzed with information: Why get another cheap mattress that might be stuffed with pebbles or corn shucks or old newspaper? A third of one’s life is spent on a mattress. Why not get a “great” mattress, one that you know, inside and out? Go for the quality, Girl. Wherever you go next, if you have a wonderful mattress, take it with you. And the clincher—remember who you are, Princess.

My interpreters each chose a mattress and plopped down for a snooze. I tested every mattress in the store. At one point, I had to bump Carlos off his mattress so I could make sure that was not the one I wanted. Finally I narrowed my choice to three, tested twice more and bought the most expensive mattress in the store.

That evening two able young men delivered my mattress. They muscled it through the doorway and into my bedroom where they placed it carefully atop the existing foundation mattress. They stood back. I stood next to the bed. We three burst out laughing.

A ladder would be required for me to climb onto my bed. So the two young men hefted my mattress off the bed, man-handled the old mattress out onto the back patio and repositioned my new mattress. And it is perfect. No matter how soft the top mattress, how could a true princess sleep if beneath the good stuff, lay a lumpy old mattress, stuffed with dry pea pods.

(Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem, graduated from Northern and despite years in foreign countries such as Washington state, says Montana will always be home. Poet, essayist, former theater director and business owner, Ashton splits her time racking up air miles between Havre, including suburbs from Glendive to Great Falls, and Mazatlan, Mexico. Her quirky essays can be seen at montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com. Ashton can be reached at sondrajean.ashton@yahoo.com.)

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