Gigi’s toddler bed is old. It was my great grandfather’s bed when he was a child, and it was used by his children (my grandmother and her siblings – my great aunts and uncles – during all their toddler years). Later, the bed was found by my Aunt Pat and Uncle Chuck in the old barn at the farm and they took it and used it for their son because he had outgrown his crib. My Charlie slept in it, in New Jersey, until he was four, and now Gigi sleeps atop the precious antique…with her princess sheets and many laced pillows.
The mattress was custom-made to fit the all wood frame, the posts of which are made of a dark wood (ebony perhaps?) and must have been cut with a lathe to form curvy spindles. The spindles and dark wood give it an old-time appearance. There are wooden slats in place beneath the mattress. A few of the slats have splintered or even broken in half during our “ownership” of the antique. Scott dutifully replaces the slats when these breaks occur and he gives speeches to all in our family about how GENTLE we should be with this bed.
I’ve been instructed time and again to perch on the edge of the fragile frame as if it were made of egg shells. There have been numerous instances when the notches in the repair slat were not cut exactly enough and the slat became dislodged, sending all “bed inhabitants” crashing to the floor. The bed is low to the ground, not even a foot high, so the crashes aren’t really dangerous, just loud and startling for the parent reading and the child listening to the bedtime story. It goes, almost without saying, that all the children have been sternly told that there is NO jumping on this bed. “It’s special. It’s old. It was Mommy’s Great Grandpa’s bed…your GREAT, GREAT Grandpa’s toddler bed.”
Last, evening, as I was straightening up throughout Genevieve’s bedroom, I brushed my hand beneath her low lying bed to see what toy treasures I might bring forth. I discovered, instead, one of the bed slats, splintered in half. Outrage! Gigi, who was sitting on her bed, pretending to read aloud, caught my eye as I came up from the floor, broken slat pieces in hand, but she bravely forged ahead with her narration, increasing her volume ever so slightly.
Cassie: (calling downstairs) Oh Scott. Another slat’s been broken on the toddler bed. Can you come up here? (Then down the hall, toward Charlie’s room) Have you been jumping on the toddler bed, Charlie? You know that’s not allowed.
Charlie: (yelling back from his bedroom, at the front of the hall) No! Why do you always assume I did it? I did not!
Chloe: (yelling from her bedroom, further down the hall) Gigi was jumping on her bed this afternoon when you were out looking at hotels for Grandma BJ and Pop Dick’s visit. I scolded her already. (The second mother….)
No comments from Max as he is lounging all over the rumpled bed in his bedroom with headphones on, oblivious to broken slats and scoldings. He can probably see the commotion out of the corner of his eye since his bedroom door is open but because no one has come charging at him, fists in the air, he has chosen to ignore the proceedings.
I look over at Gigi. She has pulled the comforter up and over her head. She’s still reading aloud, but from underneath the bed covers.
Cassie: Genevieve, were you jumping on your bed? You broke one of the slats. Again. That’s bad news.
No response from the form beneath the covers. Scott has now made his way up the stairs. He’s muttering and scratching his head, which is a thing he does when he’s peeved. Now he speaks and there’s movement from beneath the bed covers at the sound of her father’s voice.
Scott: Genevieve! Look at me.
Her head pops out from the covers.
Scott: Did you jump on the bed?
Genevieve: Yes. Sorry. Chloe already got mad at me.
Cassie: We heard. But you both forgot to tell us that this had happened. You could get hurt.
Scott: (Muttering under his breath) Hardly – it’s not even a foot off the floor. (He takes the two pieces of wood that have been splintered and examines the break.)
Cassie: Shhh. There’s no jumping on beds — ever. Get off the bed, Gigi, so we can lift the mattress and see which slat is broken.
She gets off the bed, Scott and I upend the mattress and see that it was one of the lower slats, by the foot of the bed.
Scott: Well, it’s a lower one, so the bed can still support your weight when you snuggle her tonight.
I shoot him a look.
Scott: What?! I’m just saying it’s safe. I’ll fix the slat this weekend. But sit down carefully.
Cassie: (Now I’m muttering) I know the drill.
Scott: Gigi, no more monkeys jumping on the bed! Right?!
Gigi: Yep. But were you ever so happy that you had to jump on the bed?
Scott: Maybe….What were you so happy about?
Gigi: I don’t know. I can’t remember.
Charlie: What a crock of…..(Of course he’s been listening to our conversation from his bedroom.)
Scott: Button it, Charlie! (Pause) Anyway, this bed is very old. It was Mommy’s Great Grandpa’s bed.
Cassie: Your Great, Great Grandpa, Gigi.
Scott: She’s not going to get that….It’s special to Mommy so no more jumping on it. Got it?
Genevieve: Got it.
Scott leaves with a piece of the broken wooden slat in each hand. Gigi and I begin reading two short books, one about Belle and her pony friend from “Beauty and the Beast” and the other about Fancy Nancy and her Thanksgiving celebration. I turn on all the various fans and humidifiers, turn out the light on my daughter’s bedside table and gingerly, lower my body down onto the bed again to snuggle in beside her, waiting for sleep to come.
Gigi: Do you think your great, old grandpa ever jumped on this bed?
Cassie: Probably, he did.
Gigi: And then he broke the wood and his Dad got mad too?
Cassie: Yes. Probably.
Gigi: That’s what kids do when their happy. They jump on beds.
Cassie: I know.
I drift off, beside my daughter, trying to picture my Great Grandpa as a little boy, jumping on his bed. But all I can see is the very old man who sat in the straight backed parlor chair, two feet away from where my Great Grandmother always sat in her rocking chair.
The knees of his green trousers are soiled from working in the greenhouse on the tomato plants. He pushes at the rotary dial on the black phone on the desk to his left with a bumpy pointer finger. He’ll call a friend or maybe one of his sons, (my great uncles) since they’ve probably come in by now from their work days in the fields or the apple orchards. My great grandfather would like to talk about the fields…the greenhouse tomatoes….the apples. I watch all this from the antique couch where I sit doing my homework until my mother arrives to bring me home for dinner. My great grandparents are watching “Candle Pins for Cash” before the local news. My Great Grandma Estelle chuckles while she rocks in her chair. My Great Grandpa Harold reaches someone on the phone and is chatting about a tractor. Boring farm talk, I think. I’m doing my times tables, trying to improve my speed. Someone just won $200 on the bowling game show. My great grandmother whistles with pleasure.
I have no idea, sitting there on the stiff formal furniture in the living room of my great grandparents that one day, many years into the future, I would be resting on the edge of my great grandfather’s toddler bed, that I’d be holding my own child, my fourth, in my arms, and would be playing silly time travel games….drifting back more than a hundred years…to look for my great grandfather. I want to catch a glimpse of him, that little boy jumping with abandon on his wooden toddler bed…because that’s what kids did a hundred years ago, and that’s what they do today, when they are so happy.