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An antique bed has been with me for years, but is it time to let go?


Three generations jumping on the bed

The handmade antique has been with me for years, but is it time to let go? Jackie Malley wonders

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The storage closet in my basement houses a collection of random items. Pushed far back are the pieces of an old, handmade, wooden-spool bed. The head and foot board are identically made of a dark red, cherry wood, as are the side rails. The pieces of the frame are mismatched and range in colour from a light, faded grey to a bright yellow, depending on how recently they were replaced.

It's not worth anything as an antique, but its history intertwines with my family's. It's squeaky and a weird size, yet, like any loved one, it's perfect in its imperfections and unique in the memories it holds.

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One of my earliest memories is of that bed. I am sitting on the bed in the first house my parents owned; a very tiny four year old with very blond hair sitting on a red and white quilt that my mother made for me. My parents moved to a larger house after my brother and sister were born. My sister and I shared the bed. I remember all three of us jumping on it like a trampoline and I still wonder why it never broke.

The bed has a history prior to my family. My Grandma recalls it was in the farm house when they arrived in 1947. To the best of our knowledge, it was made in the early 1900s.

Who made it and when is a part of the bed's history now lost in time. It was my father's bed when he was a child and he shared it with his brothers. The bed was white then; my parents had it stripped down and refinished in the 1980s to remove the lead-based paint. My father told me once that he spent a week in that bed with the measles and how his beagle stayed with him the whole time. I can imagine a small, freckled, red-headed boy with his ever loyal companion protected from harm by the rails of that bed.

My parents took the bed from the old farm house my father grew up in. The farm house was torn down and the land sold before I was old enough to remember, but I have seen the property where it once stood. The house sat on a hill above the Dunk River in Prince Edward Island.

There is a provincial park on the other side of the river now; if you know just where to look there is a short piece of wooden fence that marks where the property line used to be. The bed was young when that faded fence post still had purpose. They shared a place and a span of time. In the memory of only a few people, these two inanimate objects are connected; one was given new life and is part of new memories, while the other – ceasing to have purpose – was left to rot and will not be known by another generation.

When I went away to university, the bed came with me. The summer after my second year I stored it in a friend's basement and the mattress grew mouldy. It was difficult to find a mattress because, being homemade, the bed is not a standard size.

I finally found a small futon mattress that fit the frame perfectly. Two years later I remember sitting on that small bed with four friends watching a movie and it collapsed from underneath us. I was devastated. But my friends helped me cut new boards and we fixed it up again. Thus, the bed made yet another memory and was given new life for at least the third time – secure in its future once more.

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Years later my husband (then boyfriend) moved into my one-bedroom apartment. The bed went into storage. We were saving for a house and didn't know what the future might bring for us; perhaps we would need another bed. Instead, we used the larger double bed from my boyfriend's apartment. I hated his bed! It was all metal and squeaked at the slightest movement.

Even a sneeze caused a nasty squeak. His bed was uncomfortable and impersonal; its only positive quality was that two people fit. Once we bought our house my old bed reappeared in a guest room for a few years. We couldn't afford a larger bed for the guest room and I was happy to see my old familiar friend again. Somehow, it's presence gave our new house an added feeling of home. But the bed wasn't ideal because no one over 5-foot-5 can comfortably sleep in it. So, it was finally removed from the guest room and replaced with an unremarkable double futon that could at least fit two average-size adults.

Now this bed whose story spans three generations and carries memories from all stages of my life sits collecting dust in the basement.

It's doubtful my husband and I will have children and it's possible my brother and sister won't have children either. I keep the bed because I hope I might pass it on to another generation of the family. Perhaps another child's life will be intertwined with this bed. It could still be a link for that child with past generations of our family.

But more and more it seems the bed's story and that of my family will inevitably part. I will likely pass the bed on to another family so its story will continue and it will find new life for the fourth time.

I will know it is the fourth time. But the bed's new owners will only know they have a new bed.

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Jackie Malley lives in Lantz, N.S.

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