Me versus the Mattress

A new mattress was delivered to my home yesterday. This should have been a non-event, because whatever excitement that happens around a mattress should happen when it’s on the bed, if you know what I mean, and not while it’s still in the box.

This mattress apparently thought otherwise. First, a bolt on the spring thingee that keeps the storm door open popped off, and the door slammed against one of the mattress guys, and he stumbled and knocked over a plant on my porch.

Inside, when I asked them to lean the box against the foyer wall, a decorative plate fell off the opposite wall. One guy began to apologize, but I assured him it wasn’t his fault. That wall hanger was too small, and the plate was nothing special, anyway. Had it been a family heirloom, I would have been upset, but there is too much boy traffic in my house for heirlooms hanging in the foyer. The plate was pretty, but I think it came from TJ Maxx. No loss to replace.

But as I was reassuring mattress guy #1, mattress guy #2 said, “I think this mattress is jinxed.”

I’d have laughed, but he looked like he meant it. In fact, he was backing away from the box like it had a social disease. After they left, I regarded it suspiciously, too. Fallen plant, busted door, smashed plate—not good omens for an item meant to provide restful sleep.

While I swept up the plate remains, I kept an eye on that mattress, just in case it was planning more damage. I checked on the other decorative plates, too. These, for instance, were a housewarming gift from my grandmother. Had one of them fallen, it would have been a calamity.

plates Winterthur
Plates from Winterthur collection

And a message: Throw out the mattress. It is snakebit.

When my husband came home, I told him about the afternoon fiasco. I joked that someone had put a hex on the dad-gum mattress, but at least we were spared a shattered housewarming plate. That would have left me wretched.

Calamity. Snakebit. Hex. Dad-gum. Wretched. When you grew up in the South, as I did, describing even a small drama like mattress moving with boring terms like jinx or bad luck just won’t do. The whole point of drama is to be dramatic, right?

My people don’t have arguments–they have brouhahas. They don’t yell–they holler or caterwaul. A problem is a tribulation or a cross to bear or, in Louisiana, a travail. Trouble leads to misadventures at best or a debacle at worst, or stepping in a cow pie if things get really ugly. Boys do misdeeds because they are bone-headed. Stubborn is one thing, but contraieuse  is stubborn to a fault. A fool is guilty of falderal, and he blathers and prattles because he is full of horse feathers.

And then there are fights. I come from a peace-loving French Catholic family, but I can scare up more descriptive words for physical combat than you can shake a stick at: brawl, fracas, set-to, melee, wrassle, licking, tune up, roughhousing, workout, work over, confab, whomping, whooping, fixing to kick your butt.

These terms are not limited to the South, of course, but the strong oral history tradition there leans toward colorful language. If I had described the mattress moving as: “Outside, the spring on the door broke and a plant fell over, and then in the foyer, the mattress banged the wall and a plate fell down,” it would have been accurate. But boring. Not a misadventure or even a jinx. Or a calamity, that’s for sure.

We moved the mattress upstairs and set it on the bed. It’s one of those newfangled kinds of mattresses that has to breathe for a few days before you cover it with some nice quality resort-grade linens and a pillow covered with a heavy cotton case with hand-embroidered edges, and finally top that with a Flying Geese quilt or, if you’re a whippersnapper from the North, a down comforter.

The mattress is still expanding, however, so it must remain bare for another day or two. This seems unnatural. Suspicious, even. A bare bed is just not proper.

Looks innocent, doesn’t it?

I checked on it a couple of times in the evening. Lying there. Looking as sweet as tea. Innocent as a baby’s behind. Finally, at bedtime, I went in for a final check. I squinted, backed out of the door, and pointed my finger at it before I walked away.

“You behave yourself, you hear?” I warned. “No more ruckus out of you. No hijinks, either. Or tomfoolery. Or shenanigans. Or…”

I could have stayed up all night, warning that mattress to act like it was brought up right. This morning, it’s still there, so cool and calm and sedate, it’s alarming. But don’t worry, y’all. I am not fooled a bit. I’ve got a voodoo doll all set to go if that mattress starts to act up again.

In your world and heritage, what words are used to describe drama or conflict?


18 thoughts on “Me versus the Mattress

  1. I apparently come from a non-oral tradition and the fighting that went on my home was my little brother trying to catch me. But I’m happy to luxuriate in your richness of words, and maybe even borrow a few (with appropriate credit, of course) for the southern Indiana book I’m writing. Thank you!


  2. How about “dust-up” for a fight? Or “spittin’ nails” for being angry. Other than that, I have nothing to add. Hope your mattress cooperates.


      1. It really does, Ramona, but I honestly don’t know if those are Western PA phrases or West Virginia. My dad came from there and brought a lot of “West Virginia Hoopy” with him. “Hoopy” by the way is what my WV kin call themselves, not hillbillies. Another fabulous word!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. We were told to quit rampsin’ in the house. We would get into rackets, squabbles, tiffs,and have to skin out before we got in trouble. Then we would have to stay ‘out of the mout(h)’ of whatever adult was supervising us or get a lacing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Being from the south myself, I am familiar with many of these words or as we put it “sayings”. My personal favorite is “shenanigans”. I use this word all the time. It never fails to elicit a smile, especially if I present a stern face when I say it. I’ve never had anyone to ask me what it means. I guess it’s one of those words you just know when you hear it. Thanks for sharing your adventure and for reminding us to use colorful words when we relay the story events of our own narratives.


    1. George, thank you for commenting. Shenanigans is a great word! I think it is self-explanatory, and it would make me smile, too. I am particularly fond of “brouhaha” and use the word as often as possible, but I avoid it in real life.


  5. My mother’s parents were from Ireland, so she had a lot of “sayings” that I find peppering my speech, much to the amusement of my husband and kids. If something or someone has been scarce lately, you haven’t seen them “since Hector was a pup”. If you want someone to be gone, “Here’s your hat – what’s your hurry?” If you’re not thrilled with something, it’s still “better than the blow of a stick”. If someone is poor, they don’t have “a pot or a window” (it’s supposed to be pot to piss in or window to throw it out of,but she always used the short version. Not sure if it’s from discretion or celerity.) If you look tired, your eyes are like “two burnt holes in a blanket” (or my brother’s version, two piss holes in the snow). I could go on all day. 🙂

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  6. OK, I think the mattress is still putting one over on you. It has to breathe? And where do you sleep in the meantime? On the floor next to it? So it can flip over and smother you? Trap you beneath it so you’re not found until rigor has come and gone? I’d keep an eye on it.


  7. I grew up in Pennsylvania but heard many of those terms used in our home by my mother, who is from Georgia. About mattresses–after twenty years owning our mattress, my husband and I recently bought a new one online. I think ours is jinxed as well. When it was delivered, I was dismayed to discover that in the intervening years, mattresses have gotten much thicker. As a result, I now need a step stool to get into bed. None of our sheets fit this oversized mattress, so I had to buy a new set. Following the instructions on the package, I laundered them before use. In the dryer, a corner of the sheet got caught in the lint filter, causing the sheets to twist into one long rope. Besides now being a wrinkled mess, the sheets have three tears caused by the twisting, which I had to mend. Now I have mended sheets on a bed that is only somewhat comfortable.


  8. It was great to read all those Southern words. My mother, a transplanted Southerner, used many of them, and I don’t hear them anymore. I hope the mattress settles down once you start sleeping on it.


  9. OMG, you are going to have to help me with the spelling here for the Cajun French word for him bah rah. Do you know what word I an thinking of here?


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