I’m looking at the label torn from my mother’s mattress, the tag we all jokingly warn each other never to remove “under penalty of law.” My daughter, who hauled the mattress to her co-op in Queens when her grandmother moved to Florida, finally threw it away, but not before ripping off the label and sending it to me with a note begging me not to report this criminal act but to check out the fillers listed on the Macy’s tag instead: 80 percent hog hair, 20 percent horse hair.
Four years later, I still can’t rid myself of the tag or the sadness it triggers whenever I look at it. In 1949, when the mattress was delivered, I was eleven, and we had just moved from the Bronx to a forlorn stretch of plain brick four-flats in White Plains. Although the apartment itself wasn’t trailer-trashy, it was trailerlike in its layout of narrow, in-line rooms. I slept in the dining room in a bed that faced the passage to the bathroom. Farther down the hall was the door to my parents’ sanctum, visible in the light of a mustard-colored bulb that burned all night.