Volume 7, Number 7, Spring 1981
WRVHS member Verona Hirshfield brought a guest story teller to the September show and tell meeting because, she said, she didnt have anything to bring so she brought a story, in person. Her storyteller, Saless Hartley, brought with her a small mat of fiber-filled ticking, a second piece of ticking, a broomstick, a long needle, some tiny tufts of cotton, and a circle of tough leather.
Im going to tell you about one of the first government projects that we remember about in our community. It happened in the late 1930s or early 1940s, we dont remember which. We lived on a farm in Douglas County. Our postoffice was Ava. We met the first time in our community building. The only building we had for a community building was the old schoolhouse, and we had the meeting in the schoolhouse.
At this meeting they wanted the people to sign up. The government would furnish material if we would go to make mattresses. The people were afraid to sign up for anything.
And this was the material that we used for the mattresses (cotton and ticking). We didnt have a building to store things in, so Mrs. Hale was with me at the meeting and we lived close together at the time, and our husbands were good friends and they swapped work. So Mr. Hale said he would move his farm machinery out under the trees and we could use his machinery shed to store our supplies. And thats what we did. We made the mattresses out under the trees. But we had big old bales of cotton, like the big rolled bales of hay that you have now. They came from the gin in rolls and that was what the government people brought us to make mattresses with.
I got some of the materials I brought today out of Mrs. Hales farmhouse, but this cotton-looking material did not come from the bales of cotton, because we dont have that anymore. In fact, they tell us those bales of cotton were first grade cotton. Of course, you all know that what I brought today is polyester. Those big bales of cotton weighed from 400 to 600 pounds.
There were four of us ladies that went in to learn how to make the mattresses. We were supposed to teach other ladies and they were supposed to go home and teach their neighbors. That was what you were supposed to do. Well, we ended up working the whole time. Because some of the ladies would come and get their mattresses, but they lived 15 or 20 miles away, and they would say, "Mrs. Hale, we cant come back. They had their mattress. They didnt have to. But the cotton was heavy and they couldnt get it home to their neighbors.
After Mr. Hale donated his building and they brought out the bales of cotton, we spread the cotton out. We had a frame on sawhorses and measured the size we needed to make the mattress. Then we folded it down and beat it with a broomstick. Every lady was supposed to bring a broomstick. The more you beat it the fluffier your cotton was.
Then you made a cover. We made our mattresses with ticking like this. We sewed them together and then we sewed the corners over to make square corners. After we made the cover, we slipped it over the cotton and then we tacked it. Heres the needles we used. Real large. The ladies couldnt push them through the mattresses, so the men had to get down under the frame and push them through. They taught us to use these little tufts of cotton to put the tacking string through. In those days mens work shoes were made of leather, tough leather. So instead of the little cotton tufts, we would take the mens equipment and cut little round circles out of that leather, punched holes in them, they looked like a button. Wed run our twine through that and it made a much smoother mattress.
The instructions in keeping them neatly were to carry the mattresses out in the sun every so often and sun them. And then whip them hard, good. And it made a beautiful and very nice mattress. They tell me now that if you are so fortunate as to have one of these mattresses, there is a factory in Springfield that you can take them to and theyll rip them up and use this first grade cotton (its white, and now the mattresses you have are made with gray cotton) and theyll put innersprings in them and they can make you two nice mattresses with innersprings in them with the old cotton, and you can have a nice new one.
One time, while we were making the mattresses, a bale of cotton caught afire. They cautioned us "Now please dont let fire get in your cotton. Itll just burn like kerosene." The ladies were careful about their smoking, but, you know, men know theyre not going to get anything afire. And one man was holding his cigarette down so carefully and he got that bale of cotton afire. There was no way you could put it out. We just had to roll it off in the creek.
Oh, I almost forgot, you had to make a comforter at the center, because with each mattress the ladies got a comforter. They put the material in a frame and spread cotton out neat between the material, and tacked it. We made two mattresses a day. We had hoped to teach somebody else. Then we wouldnt have to work at it. Some ladies did come. Everyday they walked clear up the hill and helped. It went on six months or more.
The government people said the program was so that folks could have beds to sleep on. Most folks back then had straw beds and used father ticks on them. Feather comforters I believe you call them now. People came from miles and miles around. Supposedly when we first began it would only last three weeks. Mrs. Hale thought it was going to last forever. You couldnt quit. At first they were afraid of it. They wouldnt sign up. But after we started they saw the mattresses were nice. You can sun these mattresses and they are still nice. Im not so fortunate as to have one, but I know some people that do. Soon everybody wanted one. And they would come and Hester (Mrs. Hale) was tenderhearted and shed never turn anybody away.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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