From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Stories on a Headboard

The bed was about forty-five years old when Mom passed it along to me a few months after my father died. I decided to strip the wood and refinish it for my daughter Melanie. The headboard was full of scratches.

Just before starting to take the paint off, I noticed that one of the scratches was a date: September 18, 1946, the day my parents were married. Then it struck me—this was the first bed they had as husband and wife!

Right above their wedding date was another name and date: “Elizabeth, October 22, 1947.”

I called my mother. “Who is Elizabeth,” I asked, “and what does October 22, 1947, mean?”

“She’s your sister.”

I knew Mom had lost a baby, but I never saw this as anything more than a misfortune for my parents. After all, they went on to have five more children.

“You gave her a name?” I asked.

“Yes. Elizabeth has been watching us from heaven for forty-five years. She’s as much a part of me as any of you.”

“Mom, there are a lot of dates and names I don’t recognize on the headboard.”

“June 8, 1959?” Mom asked.

“Yes. It says ‘Sam.’”

“Sam was a black man who worked for your father at the plant. Your father was fair with everyone, treating those under him with equal respect, no matter what their race or religion. But there was a lot of racial tension at that time. There was also a union strike and a lot of trouble.

“One night, some strikers surrounded your dad before he got to his car. Sam showed up with several friends, and the crowd dispersed. No one was hurt. The strike eventually ended, but your dad never forgot Sam. He said Sam was an answer to his prayer.”

“Mom, there are other dates on the headboard. May I come over and talk to you about them?” I sensed the headboard was full of stories. I couldn’t just strip and sand them away.

Over lunch, Mom told me about January 14, 1951, the day she lost her purse at a department store. Three days later, the purse arrived in the mail. A letter from a woman named Amy said: “I took five dollars from your wallet to mail the purse to you. I hope you will understand.” There was no return address, so Mom couldn’t thank her, and there was nothing missing except the five dollars.

Then there was George. On December 15, 1967, George shot a rattlesnake poised to strike my brother Dominick.

On September 18, 1971, my parents celebrated their silver wedding anniversary and renewed their vows.

I learned about a nurse named Janet who stayed by my mother and prayed with her after my sister Patricia’s near-fatal fall from a swing. There was a stranger who broke up the attempted mugging of my father but left without giving his name.

“Who is Ralph?” I asked.

“On February 18, 1966, Ralph saved your brother’s life in Da Nang. Ralph was killed two years later on his second tour of duty.”

My brother never spoke about the Vietnam War. The memories were deeply buried. My nephew’s name is Ralph. Now I knew why.

“I almost stripped away these remarkable stories,” I said. “How could you give this headboard to me?”

“Your dad and I carved our first date on the headboard the night we married. From then on, it was a diary of our life together. When Dad died, our life together was over. But the memories never die.”

When I told my husband about the headboard, he said, “There’s room for a lot more stories.”

We moved the bed with the story-book headboard into our room. My husband and I have already carved in three dates and names. Someday, we’ll tell Melanie the stories from her grandparents’ lives and the stories from her parents’ lives. And someday, the bed will pass on to her.

Elaine Pondant

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