I'm not the first person in my family to write about The Little Red Bed. My grandmother beat me to it. But then that's only fair. After all, it was her bed.
It all started way back in 1903, when she was just a baby. Her father, you see, was a cotton farmer and… well, perhaps it would be better if I just let Mama Jewel (that's what we called her) tell the story in her own words.
"It's a big day in our family when a child moves from a crib to a bed. That's because it's time to once again set up the Little Red Bed. The Little Red Bed has been in our family since the early 1900s. My father had taken a load of cotton to the gin to be baled, and then he went on into town to sell it. While there he saw the little bed in a store window. The cherry red color caught his eye, and the fact that the bed was wide enough for two children to sleep in, sold him. (At the time he had six children!)
"My sister Anna Belle and I were the first ones to use it. When we outgrew it our two younger brothers, Billy and Clark slept in it. After the boys, there were no more little ones to warm its sheets and the bed was stored in the attic. When my oldest brother Bert married and started his family, he came for the bed – and so began a tradition.
"Twenty-eight children have been lovingly tucked into the bed and wished sweet dreams.” (It's important to note here that since the time Mama Jewel wrote this article – which at the ripe old age of 93 she submitted to Woman's World Magazine and was thrilled to see published in their October 1996 edition – the number has increased to thirty-six!)
But now let's return to the tale as she told it: "The Little Red Bed has survived time and traveled quite a journey. Today my 2-year-old great-grandson Cole sleeps in it. One day I'll tell him the story of The Little Red Bed, and I know he'll love the bed for what it represents – his family. By: Jewel Swanzy.”
Not content to relegate the account of the bed to a few short paragraphs in a magazine, Mama Jewel also chronicled its history in a self-published book titled "The Little Red Bed”, complete with old photographs of the children who slept in it and details about how many times the bed changed colors over the years.
There was one feature, however, that went unchanged for decades – the mattress! Given the constraints of the bed's unique dimensions (wider than a twin, but shorter than a standard sized bed) it's understandable that nobody wanted to tackle a replacement. But when you consider how many two-year-olds slept in that bed at a point in their young lives when their nighttime potty habits were iffy at best, you can also see why my husband dubbed it "The Little Yellow Mattress”, and why we will all forever rise up and call my cousin Kay "blessed” for having a new one custom made just a few years ago!
Sadly my grandmother passed away not long after publishing her story, but the legacy of her beloved Little Red Bed lives on. A fifth generation is now sleeping in it, including my own two grandchildren, Aidan and Avery. Earlier this year, when Avery was 3½ , my second-cousin had a little girl who was ready to transition from crib to "big bed” so the two Mommies worked out the transfer details via e-mail (something my great-grandfather would never have fathomed back in 1903) and the bed was once again on the move.
I happened to visit my daughter just before the handoff to the next recipient, and on the very last night when I tucked Avery into bed and kissed her on the forehead after we said our prayers, I was suddenly overcome with nostalgia. How many countless nighttime rituals just like this had The Little Red Bed been a part of? How many bedtime stories? How many last-minute requests for a drink of water? How many prayers of "Now I lay me down to sleep”? How many blankets tucked under soft little chins? How many goodnight kisses?
Although I felt a twinge of sadness to see the bed go, I could almost feel my grandmother smiling down from heaven, happy that the tradition begun so many years ago still lives on. As I turned out Avery's lamp, I gently ran my hand over the smooth, heavy wooden headboard and whispered softly, "God bless every child who has slept in this bed. And God bless every child who will.”