“Now, calm yourself Louette, honey...and you might want to put that broom away while you’re so upset.”
The petite, red-haired woman stopped her tirade and took her husband’s advice. Her face was still flushed from the residual anger dancing like foxfire in her snapping blue eyes. She lowered her voice and took a seat in the straight-back rocker.
“Henry, you have to face the facts. We have bedbugs. I can’t stand it another day and I’m aiming to burn the mattress.”
Henry paced the floor, stroking his well-trimmed beard and gritting his teeth on his favorite pipe.
“We don’t have enough money for a new mattress just yet. Can’t you put this one out in the sun and beat it or wipe it down with some camphor? This is 1920; there ought to be something available to kill the pesky things.”
Louette Carter was nothing if not a stickler for cleanliness being next to Godliness, and she would not have anything as nasty as those flat little buggers in her house. She had seen what their sneaky and continued presence could do to upholstered chairs, rugs, and especially mattresses-- not to mention to people.
She looked around the room at the outrageously expensive mahogany bedroom suite she had inherited. It was nicer than anything in their house. She adored its beautiful lines and superb workmanship. It made her feel like a queen, or at least a fine lady in waiting.
She stood up with determination emanating from her like heat from a coal oil stove.
“I’m sending Berta over to get her daddy and some of the boys to haul this vermin- filled piece of filth way out behind the barn and set fire to it. She can work extra early in the morning boiling the sheets so we can get them hung up in the sunshine.”
Henry was pensive as he rode into town on the trolley to his work at the newspaper. He had the seed of an idea about how they could buy a brand new mattress and still have money left over. He wished Louette wasn’t bent on such immediate all out war with those disgusting bugs.
Just before lunch he heard the clanging of the volunteer firewagon as it rushed past his window that overlooked Main Street.
A young reporter burst through the door and hollered, “Something big is burning out towards your place, Mr. Carter.”
Henry grabbed his hat and ran to hitch a ride in Jax Tipton’s Model T. Dread clutched his heart as they sped out to his house at 40 miles an hour.
He could see a rampant blaze reaching for the sky but couldn’t imagine how one old mattress could do all that. He was afraid his compulsive little short-tempered wife had somehow taken things into her own hands.
As Jax turned in the dirt driveway to his friend’s beautiful country property, Henry jumped out of the fancy car and took off running and yelling.
“My barn’s on fire!”
Sure enough, flames were shooting through what was left of the roof. Every able-bodied man who could was passing buckets of water from the backyard pump. It seemed to have no more effect than spitting on it. Louette was on her knees beseeching heaven for Divine intervention, and quickly please.
Sometimes there are miracles, plain and simple. Dark clouds gathered and lo and behold it began to rain. Henry joined her in the mud and they held each other as they cried, and laughed, then cried some more.
“What happened here?”
She led him over to the covered porch out of the storm.
“Henry, I just got so mad at those bedbugs invading our clean home, I told Horace -- you know, Berta’s daddy -- to pile up some sticks and then to hurry up and get the bedding and make sure it ignited quick-like. I couldn’t bear to watch. When I knew the hateful stuff was out of the room, I took some lye soap and a bucket of boiling water up there to start fumigating and then I realized he had taken the whole bedstead; headboard, footboard, slats -- everything.”
The well-respected newspaper editor held his grieving wife and let her weep. He debated whether or not to share about the rich lady in town who had agreed she would pay a thousand dollars for that mahogany masterpiece. In the end, he decided to keep that moot subject to himself.
*Based on a true event of my elderly relative’s Grandmother Louette, who, in her zeal to get rid of the bedbugs, also burned her priceless bed. Other antique pieces of the suite still exist, and in the same house. No further marauding mattress insects have been reported in over eighty-five years.
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