Pea Shucks and Feathers

Chelsea’s Review:  Happy to know I’m not the only “side/back/stomach sleeper” and that not everyone wants to sleep on a cloud. Am slightly sorry to have missed the light show in the salesroom, though you’ve described the theatrics perfectly.


Out with the old

When the heavy trash truck arrived, I stood on the lawn and watched two men pick up the mattress and feed it into the gaping maw at the back of the truck.  The craggy jaws crushed it, returning it to its original elements of wood, metal and fiber.  We slept on that mattress for 20 years.  The people who sell mattresses insist that 8 years is the longest you should own a mattress.  They sell mattresses.  When we moved, we bought a new one.  We believe it will see us through into the next life.

Photo by bert sz on Unsplash

 For the first week in our new house, the new mattress was our only furniture.  We had the delivery guys put it on the floor of our bedroom.  With its box spring, it weighs about the same as a baby elephant and is just as difficult to maneuver.  Try slipping an allergy cover over a baby elephant and coaxing it into your ancient bedframe. 

When you go to a mattress store, you will find that the sales people have graduated from the used-car school of salesmanship.  They won’t let you walk out the door without listening to the mattress’ history and virtues.  How life will transform into rainbows and unicorns after a night on that mystical, magical terrain that is the memory foam, heated or cooled, practically guaranteed orgasmic experience of this mattress.  They insist you try it out, kick the tires, lie on it together, dare to deny its charms, pay a deposit. 

What exactly does memory foam remember?

Choosing a mattress is complicated.  Are you a back sleeper, side sleeper or stomach sleeper?  They give a skeptical look if you declare you are all three.  Then there are the foams.  Dynamic foam, pressure relief foam, support foam, memory foam, latex foam, polyurethane foam, bio-based foam.  It’s enough to set your mind to, well…foaming!  Then there’s comfort gel, individually wrapped coils, pillow top.  Not to be outshined by sleep numbers, split adjustable, smart climate system, temperature neutrality and my favorite, adaptive cloud technology (can you change the weather from this mattress?). 

If you are not thoroughly confused after all those terms, try wrapping your head around “white glove delivery.”  Is it a mattress or a priceless work of art?  It’s a mattress.  I was flummoxed because I was pretty sure going in that I could easily identify a mattress.  We called the last one we had “the slab.”  I require extra firm support.  That was the only term I could dredge up to describe to the mattress sales staff what my requirements were.  Sales staff brought on the spotlights, raised the curtain and delivered a Broadway-worthy production re the complex and nuanced structural components of modern-day sleep systems.  So now it’s a system, engineered by NASA scientists, tested by highly discerning sleeping subjects and peddled by a salesperson, with a master’s degree in bed construction, working on commission.   Hence the pressure.  Or should I say pressure relief. 

Sleep is a highly-prized commodity.  People are willing to pay top dollar to capture its illusive pot of gold.  My husband and I take our sleep very seriously.  When I met that lovely man, he had erratic sleep habits, meaning he subscribed to that over-rated behavior of changing one’s bedtime and wake time on the weekends.  Once married, he adapted to my rigid schedule of lights out by 10:30, if not to my usual wake time of 7 am.  He no longer sleeps until noon on the weekend.  We can weather the odd late night out by still getting up at the regular time, thereby maintaining the usual schedule and avoiding slippage on either end of our sleep regime.  Sleep, as we now know, plays an important role in the strength of our immune system.  Required hours vary by individual.  But seven to eight hours a night is optimal for the majority of adult humans.  People will claim otherwise, but they are full of bio-based foam. 

With so many variables to modern-day existence, sleep is the one activity where we can find consistency.  We cherish it.  Demand it.  Are slaves to it.  It is our drug of choice.

When it came time to buy a new mattress, we escaped from the glossy showrooms of the regular retail stores and settled on a local manufacturer that specializes in custom-made.  It was a bit of a drive to find the place, a small showroom flanked by an actual custom manufacturing facility.  There we found numerous models to choose from like in the other mattress stores but the sales pitch was low-key and staff listened to us rather than the other way around.  These sellers had the price posted next to each type, and the various features you could select to create your custom mattress from the basic design. 

Abandoned bed (Vigil) photo by Susan Beachum

I considered the variety and history of beds.  From piles of leaves and moss to straw, pea shucks and feathers, mattresses have evolved tremendously even from the wool and cotton stuffed numbers our greater grandparents slept on.  Beds themselves still come in a variety of forms:  cot, futon, trundle, roll-away, Murphy, hammock, sofa, bunk.  We have an old Ethan Allen bedframe that I bought at a garage sale.  We needed a plain old mattress and box spring, which would fit into our frame and behave in a manner to which we had become accustomed, which means simply sits there doing nothing, which is not what most mattress sales folk want to sell.  It is usually the model they keep in a dark corner, under the brochures for high-tech models which require a mortgage and insurance. Try finding one without the annoying “pillow top,” which wreaks havoc on your turning and flipping schedule—you know, the action which makes the mattress last longer.

In the custom mattress showroom, we were shown the basic model.  We added a few features and undersized the box spring so that we would not need a ladder to get to the top of the bed.  They did not insist on showing us all the other models.  We paid a price which was twice what we had budgeted.  Painful, yes, but we actually got what we wanted without the full-scale assault that is the modern-day mattress buying experience.  We were quite pleased with ourselves.  Made right here in town to our specifications, the mattress and box spring were delivered to us a few days later.

The night of its arrival, we slept the sleep of the righteous consumer, backs pacified, limbs comfortably supported, turn and flip schedule duly noted on the calendar.  We would not be aware of the baby elephant quality until we had to wrestle it into the bedframe a week later.  We have to rest after turning or flipping the thing, but feel smug in the knowledge that adaptive cloud technology might cost more, but it could never be as durable as the mattress that weighs more.

Rest easy,


Note: Check out what Suz Says about buying a mattress. In the menu bar at top of the page! You can comment on her contribution as well.

Guest Editor Chelsea and I met at the Houston Women Writers Co-op.  She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. She misses the tulips in Boston Common, but not the weekly blizzards. I appreciated her well-trained eyes on my snarky little story!


  1. Ha ha ha. We got a new mattress this year, or in the last 12 months. Ours they said does not need to Be flipped. But is firm yet soft. When I removed their ridiculous oversized mattress cover, I can now move about in my sleep much easier… who knew that a slick oversized mattress case could cause such nighttime trauma!! Nice that you have your local store!!

  2. After 23 years we recently got rid of our heated, firm waterbed. We were lucky that we had just come back from vacation where the house we rented had the best bed we have slept on in a long time. We memorized the manufacturer and model and when we got back home we looked for the best price online and then proceeded out to that store. “We want this” we pointed and stated. Quick and easy except for the delivery. You see we wanted to keep our waterbed frame because we like it, but that meant we had to order a “California King” size mattress. Nobody stocks that size so they had to custom make it for us. We sleep very well almost every night now

    • Well, I know how important a good night’s sleep is for the Bear family. A big bed is the perfect place to hibernate!

  3. Those mattress sales people will have you seeing PINK elephants! Glad you survived the buying game and can now sleep easy on your baby elephant.

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