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Bolster Pillow?


Bolster Pillow….is a thick pillow placed under other pillows for support. That may be the generally accepted definition, but to me, it means Mama’s Bolster Pillow that she kept on her bed behind the regular pillows. It was a long pillow, but it was removed before anyone slept on the bed. We never used it for support. Mama was my grandmother who lived to be 85 and died in the 1980’s.

Growing up in the 1950’s mean spending a lot of nights with my grandparents. This usually meant me and my two sisters. We did have a baby brother come along, but I don’t remember his spending the night with the rest of us. I would imagine that the four of us would be a little too much to handle, or it was either so insignificant that I just don’t remember  it… know how we all felt about siblings in our younger days….they were ignored, or tolerated unless you actually needed someone to play with. I will have to admit though, having a baby brother was really pretty convenient when you needed someone to blame things on……because “HE” never got into trouble…..good grief…..are all parents that way??

Anyway back to the bolster. My grandparents lived in an old house, one of those styles where the front porch had two front doors. One door went into the living room and another door went into my grandmother’s bedroom. That door was never used by us. I don’t know if it was ever used …ever.

Mama had her bedroom and my grandfather had his. When we spent the night, depending on who all stayed, we always slept in Mama’s room. She had two beds. One was an old iron bed loaded down with quilts, bedspread, pillows and the bolster pillow and the other was Mama’s bed. It was a four poster bed with feather bed (mattress).

Old houses didn’t have much storage space of course, so all the extra quilts were kept between the mattress and the box springs of the bed. From time to time, the quilts would be pulled out for “airing” outside, then placed back under the mattress, spread out, not folded up.

Mama would tell us the pattern of each quilt….double wedding ring….dutch girl….and some would just be “everyday” quilts. These typically would have been pieced together with material salvaged from flour or feedsacks.  The image on the left was my good quilt. She gave it to me years before she died with instructions to put it up and save it, not to use it.

So that’s exactly what I did. It’s safely sealed in a plastic zip up bag. My granddaughter, Maggie, saw it one day as she loves to look at old things from our past and she asked if she could have it some day. I told her sure! But that she would have to put it up and save it……I mean….what else could I say! The quilt has to be over 100 years old by now…..I don’t think it’s been slept under one time!

The image on the above right is an “everyday” quilt. The everyday quilt was made with the largest pieces of flour sack material available, and the underneath side was “feedsack” material. Nicer quilts might be backed with a purchased “domestic” fabric. Flour sacks and feeds sacks provided free material. The sacks were closed with thread and you had to be careful when opening them as to not accidentally cut the material. Woe to the man who ripped up a sack made out of nice material. Some patterns might be repeated from one sack to another. So some sacks might provide enough material for a dress, others might wind up as aprons, bonnets, quilts, and dish towels.

I can remember my mother talking about wearing underwear made of feedsack. Never did have to wear anything like that myself, but I imagine it couldn’t have been very comfortable. The strips of material were sewn together on the sewing machine, and then hand quilted. The filling in the quilts was cotton, mostly from cotton samples. When a bale of cotton was sold, the farmer was given a sample of the cotton. It was a pound or two I guess, with a brown paper wrapper and a little card that told what the grading was on the bale  ….something like “middling – low middling – strict low middling.” The sample cotton had the seeds all out and was nice and soft. It was used for filling quilts and I suppose for throw pillows too. Anything that needed stuffing. Bed pillows were generally filled with feathers.

The everyday quilts were safe to sleep under, put down on the ground for a picnic, but more frequently when used outside on the ground, it was for a napping child, or folded up as a pallet and placed on the floor for sleeping babies. These pallets would be used at church for napping kids during summer revival.

It was hot in churches back then…..the doors would be flung open to let any breeze in and sometimes there would be the hum of rotating fans. Open doors sometimes led to unwanted visitors in the church. Our dog, Peanut (a mixed breed beagle), made himself at home in the back of the church one morning and would not leave! We kept saying go home Peanut! Get out! Peanut just looked at us, like, I’m staying….hanging out for the food!

My Sunday School class – Mama was the teacher. That’s me, front row, right. And one of my sisters, back row left.

Water for thirsty kids was carried to church in a Mason jar and I can tell you…..the ice would all be melted before the preacher finished! And just so you know, you cannot unscrew a Mason jar quietly. Sometimes almost the entire day would be spent at church, so naps might be needed by the little ones for sure. On special days you would start out with Sunday School and if it was a very hot day, we would have Sunday School out under the trees beside the church, then back to the inside for preaching, then back to the outside again for “dinner on the ground.”

It really wasn’t dinner on the ground, it was the noon meal served after the preaching service and it wasn’t placed on the ground. Makeshift tables would have been created by the men, which were planks set up on saw horses or nailed on cross boards between the trees. Food would be brought by all the ladies of the church and tablecloths spread out over the wood planks.Tablecloths hanging over the sides of the planks made great places for kids to get up under the tables and eat in peace.

Ice would be chipped up in a big metal tub and drinks would be sweet tea or Koolaid for the kids. There was no such thing as unsweetened tea….unless some forgetful old lady had failed to put the sugar in it… happened with Koolaid one time. Don’t remember who the lady was, but everyone had a big laugh. Kids spitting out Koolaid all over the place….it was a sight!

And just a note….my “everyday” quilt, is also packed up safely and I don’t plan to use it either))) Maybe someday I’ll use it as a decorative bed covering, but it seems to precious to take a chance on losing.

Back to the bolster….I keep getting sidetracked))) Depending on how many spent the night….if it was the three of us girls….two would sleep in the extra bed and one lucky person would get to sleep with Mama. Remember those benefits of being the youngest….well I’m the youngest girl))) So, more often than not, I got to sleep in the bed with Mama. Her bed was so soft with the feather bed (it’s really a feather filled mattress, but it was called a feather bed). The feather bed fit right on top of the regular mattress and it occasionally was taken outside for airing. When you jumped in Mama’s bed, you buried up in the feather bed, you would just sink down in it.

Sleeping over meant getting a bath before you went to bed. Not just a bath, but a “good” bath. It was just a normal bath, but Mama always said…go get a “good” bath….is there such a thing as a bad bath? She used Dove soap. She always smelled of Dove soap at bedtime. Ivory was there for my granddaddy to use, but the Dove was for her, and we could use it too. Isn’t it strange how smells invoke memories. I can smell Dove soap today and immediately be taken back 60 years visualize jumping into that feather bed, and being cozy and warm.

I don’t remember if we carried pajamas or clothes to sleep in on those sleepovers, but there was one gown that all three of us used to sleep in at one time or another. I suppose whoever it fit the best slept in it, but at some point, we all did. It was a gown made of flour sack and smelled of being hung out on the clothesline to dry. If you have never smelled sheets or anything dried on a clothesline, you should. There is no other smell like it. It’s never been bottled that I know of, and if someone could….they would make a fortune.

Mama could make things like night gowns without a pattern. She would just lay material down on the table, place silverware around the edges to hold the material down,  and cut out the shape she needed. She showed me how to make an a-line skirt once, and to cut a facing for the waistband. My first sewing efforts were doll clothes made on a treadle sewing machine. She must have had so much patience and I broke so many needles! How many times with my own grandchildren have I butted in and said “let me do that” to avoid having them make a mess or risk damaging something of mine…..probably too many times.

Whomever was sleeping in the other bed, would remove the bolster pillow and climb under the covers. The covers would be so heavy, that you couldn’t move. In the wintertime, there was no heat in the bedroom. No heat in the house actually! I barely can remember them using a burning fireplace, but I do have some memories of that. Then at some point, the fireplace was closed off and a butane heater was placed there. But the heater didn’t burn all night. It would be turned off at bedtime and lit again early the next morning when my granddaddy got up. By the time we would get up, the living room would be toasty warm.

Mama’s bedroom would be always closed off, so if you ventured in there during the winter, you would freeze to death! Course, we really had no need to go in her bedroom most of the time, unless we were sent to retrieve something. She didn’t put up with ramblers. But we would sneak into the bedroom during Christmastime. She always stored her Christmas presents under her bed. They would be wrapped, but they would always be under her bed. I can remember the cold linoleum floor as we slid on our bellies to take a peek.

So, just from that one  mention of “bolster pillow” from my Sunday School class…..a flood of memories started. Good memories))) Gosh, now I’m trying to remember what the rest of the Sunday School class was about!









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