By Mildred Clingerman
Grandma, who had reared six boys, must have had a secret, recurring desire to crawl under the bed and stay there. But being Grandma she only occasionally gave way to this unusual vice. Generally the only time you would find Grandma under the big double bed was on a hot, drowsy afternoon when the Oklahoma summer had weighted the eyelids of every living thing except the houseflies, and even they buzzed languidly.
Nobody ever rested on one of Grandma’s beds in the daytime. She was proud of her bed making. She could plump a feather bed flat and smooth and terribly tempting to a sleepy five-year-old grandchild. But even leaning on one was taboo till the sun had gone down, and the bedspread was folded away, and the hard bolster removed.
“Civilized people”, Grandma informed me succinctly. “Do not wallow in the bed while the sun rides high.”
She would spread a quilt on the floor and say, “Sleep on this pallet.”
When I grew up I looked the word up in the dictionary and found it was derived from a French word, paillet. which means a small and mean bed. This made me a little angry because Grandma would never offer anybody a “small, mean bed”. The quilts she spread were works of art, patchworks of brilliant hues and intricate stitching, copied from patterns that were family heirlooms, each glorified with its own romantic name.
Usually Grandma spread a pallet for herself, but once in a while she would hitch her tubby little figure under the high, wide dignity of the bed.
“Why do you nap under the bed, Grandma?” I asked the first time I witnessed this strange be behavior. Though I was unquestionably her favorite grandchild, she always considered me her “contrariest” and kept sound, sturdy reasons handy to bludgeon my tireless curiosity.
“This place” Grandma’s voice sounded funny issuing from the fringe of the white bedspread, “is my refuge and my strength, a very present help in trouble and there aren’t any flies.”
“Oh”, I said, and made up my mind to try it the very next afternoon. I did, and found that the under-the-bed was cool and cave-like and somehow wrapped one in dark security. That summer I became a confirmed under-the-bedder and a joy to Grandma’s heart. Grandma pleased to find that I was “biddable” in this one thing voiced the prediction that I might turn out to be a little less stubborn than a mule.
Another time we went under the bed was when a thunderstorm rattled the windows and the lightning played a dart game over the town.
“Lightning”. Grandma panted as she shoved me under the bed, following right behind me, “will never pierce this goose down.” She meant the feather bed, but for a long time I puzzled over this statement. I knew the lightning would never dare pierce Grandma down, but why did she call herself a goose?
Once when the weather was breeding a cyclone and we were alone in the house, Grandma debated so long with herself about whether we should go to the storm cellar or crawl under the bed, that we finally had no choice. We both hated the cellar anyway with its smell of damp earth and guttering oil lamps. While we lay trembling under the bed, Grandma spoke loudly above the screeching wail of the wind.
“This is a good, strong bed. If the wall caves in the bed will hold it up over us, but I wish I’d remembered to take off the bedspread. No sense in ruining a good bedspread.”
The wall held fast even when the big maple tree was blown crashing against it. I still think it was because those old listening walls were scared of mussing Grandma’s bed.