Essay: A Million Lumps
A timeless parable of savings and family love from Lake Effect essayist George Berdes.
This is the story of a gentle old grandma, a loving daughter, and a mattress…and oh, I almost forgot, it also involves a wild, desperate search at the dump. In the end it all comes together (well, sort of) although a happy ending is still uncertain.
Let’s start with grandma. There aren’t many details but one thing for sure, she was definitely prudent. She’d been through hard times, saw the good things in life come and go. That led to a streak of hard-nosed frugality. To put it mildly, she didn’t spend carelessly. The daughter was loving and protective of dear old mom, almost to a fault. She took care of her in every way.
And then there’s that mattress. We’ll get into that in a minute. As to the dump, well, what can I say? Like all disrespectful dumps it was a smelly depository of rotting garbage, junk, flies, and all the other rejections of society, although there are periodic exceptions.
Grandma is a central character in this true-life saga. Although ailing and aging she still lived alone just over the edge of feisty independence.
Daughter came to visit her regularly, checking on her health and well-being – all that a loving daughter should be. One of her abiding concerns regarding grandma’s welfare was making sure she slept well. This is where the aforementioned mattress enters the scene.
Like I said, grandma was frugal, a virtue born of good times lost. But even for old and tottering grandmas there is a future. And that future usually involves leaving something to their loving and devoted children.
But grandma also knew that the future could be destroyed by dubious investment and failing banks. And so she also planned arduously to keep that nest egg of her’s safe and snug. But to do that she took an unusual path of saving.
Ergo – the mattress.
Whatever money came in over the years she put in the only place she decided would be absolutely safe. Yes, she stuffed it into the mattress. Year after fading year into the mattress it was crammed. And each night as she slept soundly she knew her death gift would be there for her devoted daughter. She knew because she could feel its lumps and humps.
Meanwhile that devoted daughter continued her care and thoughtfulness to her mother. One day while grandma was out of town she came to her apartment and decided to do a special thorough cleaning – polishing furniture to a lustrous glow, scrubbing the floors, changing sheets on the bed.
It was while she was changing those sheets that she realized how faded and frumpy the mattress was – and bumpy too. It was then she decided her beloved mother needed better.
And so off she went to buy a new one and arranged for its immediate delivery and prompt removal of the broken down relic.
She smiled broadly as the antique was carried off to the dump by the trash men. What a wonderful surprise it would be for grandma to lay her weary body down on that haven cloud of the new mattress.
Night came and grandma returned from her travel more than ready for a night of peaceful slumber.
But it didn’t take her but a prone second on the new mattress to realize something drastic had changed in her absence. Of course that was confirmed in an alarm-clanging second – all those lumps and bumps of money were gone!!
As of this writing, the guys at the dump are raking through tons of debris buried deep under other tons of garbage.
Also as of this moment the missing mattress has not been found. Also missing is the estimated one million in cash it contained.
George Berdes divides his time between Milwaukee and the North Woods. His essays are collected at his website, East of Eagle River, and many originally aired on WXPR in Rhinelander. He’s kindly shared them with us, as well.