old expression "Good night, sleep tight" once had real meaning. Beds didn't have
springs in early Texas. They had ropes. A bedframe was drilled along the headboard,
footboard, and sides with holes about an inch in diameter. Through these holes
a rope of ¾ of an inch to an inch in diameter was threaded, to make a pattern
of squares, like loosely woven cloth with very big yarn. This rope was pulled
as tight as possible and secured. Atop this there was a 'tick,' which was what
a mattress was called at the time.|
The tick was a big sack. If you were
very lucky, you might stuff the sack with feathers, but featherbeds were few and
far between. Far more often ticks were stuffed with hay or prairie grass, or even
cornshucks. The worst tick was a shuck tick. Not only did the shucks rattle and
crunch loud enough to wake you up every time you turned over, but invariably there
was a cob left in the tick. It would find your kidney or a spot behind your ear
at about 3 AM.
One of the problems with rope is that it stretches. As
you slept on the bed, your weight stretched the ropes and they got loose. Then
it was time to tighten the bed.
Tightening a bed was a two-person job.
Normally the side ropes were tightened first. With the tick removed one person
got on each side of the bed. #1 pulled the rope that was tied off on the other
side until it was taut, at which point he signaled #2 to pull the rope from the
other side. Pinched fingers were very common. As soon as #2 pulled the rope taut,
#1 moved up to the next section of rope and pulled. This alternating pulling was
repeated until the side ropes were as tight as possible. Then the pair switched
to the head and foot of the bed and did the same thing. The bed was again tight,
and the people 'slept tight' until the next time the ropes stretched and it was
time to 'tighten the bed' again.
About once a week, if possible, the filling
in the tick was changed. This entailed dumping the old filling and finding more.
Hay was not good for filling a tick because of the many stiff, sometimes sharp,
pieces of straw in the hay. Grass was much better, but a person had to be very
careful not to include any grassburrs or goatheads or similar stickers in the
filling, for if even one was included it would be sure to work itself to the sleeping
surface at the tenderest spot on the sleeper's body, and then announce its existence
about 2 AM.
Feathers, if a person could get them, were ideal filling,
but the feathers had to be prepared. You didn't simply stuff the tick with feathers,
because feathers have stiff spines, and they would poke you as you slept. Each
feather had to be carefully split, the spine removed, and then the feather had
to be curled by dragging the remaining spine that held the softer part of the
feather together over a sharp-but not too sharp-surface. It might take a thousand
or more feather curls to stuff a mattress that fit a double bed. Featherbeds were
tedious to make and the feathers, which would crush down over time, had to be
replaced at least yearly. Yet they were valued greatly, for a featherbed was the
most comfortable tick on the frontier.
Cotton ticks were commercially
available or could be made if a person had the cotton. Normally cotton 'batts'-essentially
a very thick, soft, fluffy felt made of cotton-would be sewn together to make
the filling for a tick. If a person couldn't get or make a featherbed, a cotton
tick was the next best thing, but because cotton absorbed sweat-and there was
no airconditioning, not even any fans-the tick had to be laundered on a regular
basis or it began to stink.
A tight bed with a featherbed atop it let
a man and his wife 'sleep tight'-and in relative comfort.
C. F. Eckhardt
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas" >