Whitesburg KY
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Straw mattresses were the worst

Sometimes when we are just sitting around doing nothing of any significant benefit, we let our thoughts drift back into the dark spaces or the past. We may not even realize it at first because it will seem so real. We may get a fleeting mental image of things we have seen, people we knew back then and talked to, or places we visited.

We may remember the old straw and shuck beds. Then there was the favorite old featherbed. There was also the rope bed in which the bed frame was laced with rope evenly spaced instead of bedsprings.

The straw mattress was the worst to sleep on because no matter how thick the ticking was the straw always found a place to poke through and give you fits of uncomfortable slumber. But it was relatively easy to acquire enough grass or hay to stuff the ticking with.

The shuck mattress was a horse of a different color. It was quite noisy to sleep on and required a fair amount of work to make because the cornshucks had to be painstakingly shredded or torn into tiny strips by hand. The easiest way was to cut the butt end of the shucks off with a pair of scissors thus making tearing them into strips quite a bit easier. They had to be fluffed up regularly like the straw and feather mattresses in order to keep them nice and soft. It took quite a bit of labor and time to make a shuck mattress but when it was finished it was quite noisy but comfortable.

The featherbed or mattress was made out of the fine feathers of chickens or ducks and geese. Each time a victim ended up on the table as the main course the feathers were put into a sack and saved till there was enough to stuff a tick with.

How long it took to collect the necessary amount of feathers depended on how many ended up on the dinner table, which was the custom when company came. Sometimes it was fried chicken and sometimes it was chicken and dumplings. There was no such thing as running to the market to a fetch a chicken. The victim came right out of the flock, unceremoniously I might add.

The older hens were weeded out first and then the excess roosters met the same fate, and usually the chicken was cooked or fried. But now and then a nice plump one would be baked. In order to stretch the fixin’s a night further, many times the cooked chicken was eaten and dumplings cooked in the broth from the chicken. About the only meat left in the dumplings were the neck and feet. So the pickin’s were slim if a body was hunting for meat in the dumplings. Many old timers relished getting to gnaw on the feet even if there wasn’t much there.

When a chicken met its appointment at the dinner table nothing was wasted, not even the feathers.

When a rope bed was made the wooden frame was drilled full of small holes about three to four inches apart and laced with rope, like bottoming a chair. The closer the holes were drilled the better the mattress platform was — not quite so lumpy you know.

But, after a hard day’s work one could sleep about anywhere down on the funny farm.

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