I woke up this morning in my great-grandmother’s bed.
It wasn’t the first time. The massive four-poster mahogany bed with a yellow
silken sunburst canopy was given to me when I was sixteen, over sixty years ago.
It came with my mother’s stories of growing up at Elmwood, her family place in
Nashville, Tennessee. Built by my great-grandparents in an era of southern
nobility and graciousness that has long since disappeared, the house was so
grand it had eight chimneys and sixteen-foot ceilings on the first floor. One employee’s
singular job entailed keeping the brass polished.
According to my mother the bed was given to my
grandmother and grandfather as a wedding present, and as a result, she was
conceived and born in it. When my mother
and her cousin Mary Currell were supposed to be taking a nap one afternoon, they
sneaked into my grandparents’ bedroom and began picking the veneer off of the
bedposts. Eventually, the bed was sent out for repairs. In the year that it was
gone, Elmwood caught on fire and burned to the ground. All of the two branches
of the family who lived there were away on a summer vacation. The flames apparently
raged out of control before the fire department was notified. Only the chimneys
were left standing. Everything, including furniture and paintings and books,
were lost. Pages from my grandfather’s law library were found as far as five
miles away. Only the four-poster bed was spared.
I remember feeling like a princess when I first slept
in the bed. My family had just moved into our new house in Memphis and I had a
room of my own, a room large enough to accommodate the four-poster bed. Until
then, my sister and I had slept together in a small room with twin beds. When I
went away to camp I patted my bed goodbye. It was my refuge until I married and
moved away at age twenty-one. Only after my husband and I bought a house with a
guest room did the bed become mine again, although we chose to sleep in a
modern king size bed. Over the past thirty-five years, my four-poster bed moved
with me, as I moved from house to house and from marriage to marriage. I was
divorced after twenty years from my first husband and widowed twice in the
years that followed.
Now, in my fifteenth year of widowhood, I have finally
accepted my solitude and embraced my independence. I have built a small house
with one bedroom for me, alone. I have
given up my king size bed and returned happily to my beautiful four-poster bed,
my family heritage.