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The Bed

So here's the story of the big antique bed in my room at the farm.

In November of 1937, my grandfather Fred Stivers, married my grandmother, Elizabeth Kinsey. He was 40, she was 31. They ran off to Palmyra, MO where they could get married the same day. They did this because she was pregnant with my father. Palmyra was where everyone went to get married when they had to. So I can look back in my family tree and know who HAD to get married just by seeing where they were married. This photo was taken the same month they got married. Grandma is at least 6 months pregnant with my Dad. Can you tell?

Dad was born on January 1, 1938, just after midnight. He was the first baby born in MacDonough County, IL that year. He never got to come home to the farm in Rushville. He was given up for adoption to a family named Dierker before he ever left the hospital. That's another story I'll save for later. But suffice to say that's the reason my last name is Dierker and not Stivers.

In 1939, Fred was working in Chicago, about 200 miles away. He was the foreman of a construction crew. He was walking by a furniture store one day and saw what is called a Lincoln Bed and decided it would be a good gift for his new bride. He had it trucked back to the farm and arrived the same day it did. It came in 4 pieces, the headboard, foot board and 2 sideboards. The headboard is nearly 10 feet tall. The whole thing is made of solid walnut.

All went well with moving the various pieces into the house until they came to the headboard. Upright it would not go through either the front or back doors. Sideways it would go through the front door but once inside would not make the narrow turn from either parlor up the stairway to their bedroom. So Fred and the delivery drivers figured out another solution. They cut two windows and part of a wall out of the master bedroom on the second floor, built a block and tackle and hoisted the headboard up to the second floor. Then they assembled the bed and fixed the wall back the way it had been.

Fred passed on in 1953. Elizabeth slept in that bed and in that room until her own death on July 29, 1993. She was out gathering blackberries to bake a pie for my Dad when she had a stroke and died. Her will was never found so our family had to drive back and forth from NC (Mom and Dad) and CO (me) and NY (my brother) to attend the multiple probate hearings that would eventually settle the estate. Almost every time, one of the more than a dozen nieces or nephews would have their lawyers file a continuance to drag the case out in the hopes that they might get something more than what they had coming. It is thought that one of them might have gone into the house just after she died, found the will and found they were not included and destroyed it.

In early 1994, the probate case was finally ended when bank records and insurance policies were located listing my Dad, my brother and I as beneficiaries and our relationship to Grandma as son and grandsons. Also Dad petitioned the state of IL for a legal copy of his birth certificate which had been sealed with his adoption records in 1938. When we finally got the keys to the house, Dad asked me if there was anything in particula that I wanted. I told him the one thing I wanted was the Lincoln Bed. This is the way we found it when we first got back into the house in 1994.

The black patina was caused by heating with coal from the 30's through the 50's. I used Murphy's oil soap and scrubbed on it for about a month, then oiled and polished it until I came up with this:

I moved the bed into a smaller room that had been used for storage, always intending to change the wallpaper but I never have. I discovered then that the centerpiece actually comes off with some effort but even removed, it still won't make the turn out of the stairway. The bed originally had a feather mattress and a set of heavy metal springs, not even a box spring. I still have them. They look like some medieval torture device. Dad bought me a proper mattress and box spring and we had planned to dispose of the mattress. I was going to be working in NM that summer and knew I'd be camping a lot. So I took the mattress and used it as a bed in the back of my Ford Ranger. I slept on that thing all summer both alone and with company. When I returned to Illinois in the late Summer for grad school, I took the mattress out to the burn pile and burned it.

Over the years, Grandma's spirit has come back to keep us company. One time we even saw her lying in the old bed. Scared the Hell out of Deb. Last Fall I was visiting with a member of my Shawnee tribe in NC who happens to be a medium. She channeled my grandmother and asked about the mattress. I can assure you she had no way of knowing about it or the bed since she'd never been to my house and I'd not shared that story with anyone she knew. I told her I'd burned it and she just shook her head. "You have to remember, " she said, "your Grandma lived through the Great Depression. Back then they often hid money in the mattresses. Guess what you burned up? The original copy of the Will and your Dad's original birth certificate!"

Those two things would have made life much simpler at one time.

It was after this that certain pieces of her property started to get returned to us such as a box that had all my Grandfather's watch chains. I now have the one he is wearing in this photo.

Then gradually, boxes of photos that had been spirited out of the house after Grandma passed were returned. The medium also told me of a metal box Elizabeth had burried under the house and that it had some documents I'd want to see. I've not been brave enough to crawl under that part of the house and go digging around yet.

But things have all worked themselves out in the end.




( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 31st, 2008 06:26 am (UTC)
That is a *fantastic* story and those are great pictures. :) And how awesome to have your Grandpa's old watch chains and fobs! Those are accessories worth holding on to right now.
Jul. 31st, 2008 06:31 am (UTC)
It's nice to be able to touch things from someone that died before I was born. There were lots of rumors that he wasn't my Dad's father and that had something to do with why he was put up for adoption. Doubt we will ever know. I do wish I knew more about him though.

Jul. 31st, 2008 06:45 am (UTC)
Wow, what a great story and what a beautiful bed!
Jul. 31st, 2008 06:48 am (UTC)
Thanks. It's nice to sleep in when the cool summer night breezes are blowing through the windows.

Jul. 31st, 2008 11:35 am (UTC)
I have learned from this story that I will treat my will like I treat my thesis: multiple copies everywhere (of the same document, of course. I'm reading Middlemarch right now where a guy had two different versions of his will that caused quite the family dustup when both were read and the later one was probated.)
Jul. 31st, 2008 01:00 pm (UTC)
We talked to a lawyer who could remember helping her draw one up but he didn't remember what it said. Supposedly she hid another copy in the backing of one of the paintings she had done. Only problem is she did over 100 and we don't have all of them.

Jul. 31st, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
It's like a mystery story with minimal clues! Or a treasure hunt with half the map missing.

If you did find her will, would that change anything about the estate or is it too late for that?
Aug. 1st, 2008 02:59 pm (UTC)
Yep, too late. It would just be nice to know her intentions. I could probably silence a lot of extended family rumors like that.

Jul. 31st, 2008 12:49 pm (UTC)
What a great story behind such a beautiful bed!
Jul. 31st, 2008 01:01 pm (UTC)
The era she lived in led to a lot of interesting stories. The rest of her life is no less interesting. I'll write more about her soon.

Jul. 31st, 2008 03:36 pm (UTC)
Great bed, really beautiful. I have a few odds and ends that belonged to my grandparents that I really treasure.

I like Murphy's Oil soap, working on a poem about Murphy's oil soap.
Aug. 1st, 2008 02:57 pm (UTC)
It's great stuff for a variety of projects. I lost a couple of heirlooms in my divorce. They were the things I really cared about of course. Probably why she kept them.

Jul. 31st, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing that story! Those items that have been passed to you certainly are in good hands.
Aug. 1st, 2008 02:58 pm (UTC)
I should post pix sometimes of the Native artifacts collection my grandfather did. My Dad has it all in NC.

Jul. 31st, 2008 06:47 pm (UTC)
I'll say it again, that bed is beautiful and pictures do not do it justice. I'm right there with you in the importance of wills. I'm glad I had my hot little hands on my moms. And it is wonderful having items passed to you from relatives that died before you ever met them. I have some.

Great story!
Aug. 1st, 2008 02:56 pm (UTC)
If Dad ever sells the farm, I don't know how I'll get the bed out.

Aug. 1st, 2008 05:55 pm (UTC)
Where there's a will there's a way. And you have lots of friends who would certainly help.
Aug. 1st, 2008 06:18 pm (UTC)
It's not that heavy but taking out the windows and part of the wall to get it out will be a bitch.

Aug. 1st, 2008 02:37 am (UTC)
simply amazing!
Aug. 1st, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC)
I never get tired of hearing all the old family stories.

Aug. 1st, 2008 04:17 am (UTC)
how wonderful you wrote all this down. what a treasure.
Aug. 1st, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
Family histories are one of my passions. One of these days I'll write a book. Grandma's place in the family history could fill a book all on its own.

Aug. 1st, 2008 04:41 am (UTC)
We SO need to do late-night pancakes sometime and share stories!!

What a gorgeous bed and what a TREASURE for you to have.
Aug. 1st, 2008 02:30 pm (UTC)
We could definitely do that sometime. We need to get together and head to Burlington anyway.

Aug. 1st, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
What an awesome story. This may sound crazy, but I wish my mother would come back so I could see her again, and maybe talk to her. And I love, love, love the bed.
Aug. 1st, 2008 06:16 pm (UTC)
Me too on the bed. In the winter it gets too cold to sleep upstairs and while the couch is comfortable, I really miss sleeping in that bed. It's not unusual to wish for the return of a loved one. Grandma shows up and we talk all the time.

Aug. 2nd, 2008 01:56 am (UTC)
That's a neat story, thank you for sharing it.
If you ever get up the gumption to look for the box, I'd be interested in hearing what's inside it. :)
Aug. 2nd, 2008 03:54 am (UTC)
I've been in he crawl space once. To stretch electrical cable when we were installing an AC system prior to getting central air. There were skeletons of all sorts of dead critters that had crawled under there to keep warm. And that was with someone holding a flashlight on me to make sure any vermin didn't come near. Doubt I'll be going under there again anytime soon. But Dad and I are supposed to rebuild the front porch this Fall so that may give me some access. I'll let you know.

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )