Did I mention that I’m a grandfather? Yes, I’m that older guy who fumbles with his iPhone and produces a photo of his offspring’s offspring in about three minutes. It’s great, but recent events involving my extended family illustrate how being an agreeable and somewhat smitten grandparent can send you down the proverbial primrose path and run you ragged.

It all started in early October when my sister called and said she had in her garage storage closet an old twin bed one of her granddaughters had used. “It has a nice white-enameled head-and-footboard,” she said. She offered the bed to my first grandchild, Olivia, who was rapidly growing out of the crib stage and needed a real bed. Adding to the imperative: my daughter has another child on the way, who will need Olivia’s crib.

While always harboring doubts about any kind of household donation, I agreed, and a week later my sister pulled up in her minivan with the bed.

It was true that the head-and-footboard were nice, but I knew the second I saw the mattress and box-spring that they were candidates for the refuse heap piling up in the third bay of my garage. I would never let my darling granddaughter sleep on something so worn out. Note: my daughter’s childhood twin mattress set was already out on the heap, moved from the basement years ago, overlooked on numerous interim dump runs, and now destined for the landfill.

Anyway, in order not to seem ungracious, I accepted both the mattress and box-spring—which I tossed on the refuse heap–and the head-and-footboard from my sister.

A few days later my daughter called and told me that my sister also had a vintage baby dresser that would be good for Olivia, and could I please pick it up because it was too heavy for my sister to lift. I said fine, that I would grab the dresser at my earliest convenience.

I didn’t mention the decrepit state of second-hand mattress set my sister had delivered, because I was already planning to go to Mattress World and buy a brand-new mattress and box-spring for Olivia.

Unfortunately, my visit to pick up the dresser at my sister’s house quickly devolved. Upon arrival I noticed that it was blocked in and buried under a wall of heavy boxes, some of them filled with books. My brother-in-law was busy with a real estate deal in his home office, so the job of digging the dresser out fell to me. I started moving stuff around, while old dust I imagined contained the Hanta virus wafted up, every heavy box getting me closer to being able to maneuver the dresser out of the storage closet and out to the back of my pickup truck.

After some muttered obscenities, I finally got it loaded, but was perturbed to find that my sister intended to add other items to the list of things I was supposed to haul to my daughter’s house. She insisted that my daughter had approved the old remnant carpets she wanted me to jam in around the dresser in my truck bed.  Sis told me that since the floor in Olivia’s room was hardwood, and since she was just now learning to walk, they needed the carpet sections to cushion her against the inevitable tumble.

I guess I got a bit huffy, saying that I definitely was not going to haul the carpeting (which looked suspect) a comment that caused my sister to tear-up and my brother-in-law to come downstairs. He tactfully took my side, gently admonishing my sister for trying to load me up with a bunch of crap, but in the end I indignantly acquiesced and hauled the carpets away too.

As a final indignity, as I was backing down the driveway, my sister ran out with a 1970’s era playhouse, opened my passenger door, and plopped it on the seat.

The dresser was actually quite nice, real vintage wood, beautifully constructed. I got it back to my garage and decided it could use a light sanding and a couple of fresh coats of clear polyurethane. I sanded by hand, bringing out the lovely grain, and then in two applications added luster with a satin-finish clear coat.

That night, I got my son involved, asking him if he would be willing to take the headboard, footboard, dresser, and carpet remnants to his sister’s house the following day after work. I planned to go out shopping for a new mattress set the next morning.

“Come on,” I said. “It’s tough having a toddler running around and pregnant besides.” He grudgingly agreed, but never had to make the delivery. My daughter dropped by my house the next day while I was out, saw the vintage dresser in the garage, and summarily rejected it.

“I don’t want that dresser, it’s ugly,” she informed me, adding that she and her husband were going to Ikea to get a nice white laminate dresser that matched everything and that they could put together themselves.

Fine, I thought, whatever. But surely, I could make a contribution to Olivia’s new sleeping arrangement with a brand, spanking-new mattress set added to the very presentable head-and-footboard. The next morning at Mattress World I found a very nice Comfort-Sleep twin, threw down $250 dollars, and helped the salesman load it onto my truck.

That night I called my son back into action for the bed delivery and set-up. Putting everything including the playhouse into my truck, he went over, attached the head-and-footboard to the connecting sideboard, then dropped my factory-fresh box-spring and mattress into place. My son-in-law and daughter were apparently pleased according to his report, and even copped for a large pizza delivery and beer in appreciation.

At this juncture I figured everything was good to go, that Olivia had a lovely new bedroom, with a trendy Ikea dresser, matching twin bed set with new mattress and box-spring, and some (hopefully cleaned) carpet remnants to cushion any falls she might take.

That’s when the phrase “No good deed goes unpunished” began to strongly resonate.

My daughter called and said that the carpets my sister had foisted on me were not clean, and that there was no way she would have brought them into the house. “They’re already hauled away,” she said. “And that wooden playhouse has really sharp corners. We put it out in the garage.”

That wasn’t all. “This bed is way too high off the ground for Olivia,” she told me. “It’s higher than our bed. And the head-and-footboard squeak terribly.” It turned out that Olivia was back in her crib, and when she woke up in the night and needed comforting from a parent, my son-in-law and daughter couldn’t even lay on the new bed without waking her back up.

“You’re going to have to bring this bed back,” she said.

It had been over a week since I’d purchased the set, and wasn’t sure they’d take it back. “I think there are laws about this,” I said, “but go ahead, you call Mattress World.” I told her that if she could get a $250 credit on my debit card on a return, I’d give her $100 cash.

But Mattress World’s policy was 5 business days, and unless there were factory flaws or some other problem with the set, they would not take it back.

My daughter called that night. “You’re going to have to come and pick up this bed.” They had already gone to Ikea and purchased a new child’s bed for Olivia, low to the ground with rails. “The new bed is taking up too much space.”

What about the head-and-footboard?” I asked.

“They’re out on the side of the house.”

In the rain, by the way. This is Oregon.

I was beyond flummoxed, but an idea hit me, a way to salvage the situation and potentially make everyone happy. My parents, both 90-years-old, have a terrible old twin bed for guests who stay in their extra bedroom. The bed is so bad that people who visit and stay the night talk about it afterwards.  The box-spring stove-in long ago, and the mattress is so distressed and beaten down that they’ve had to put a cheap foam pad on top of it, which apparently keeps shifting and threatening to fall off in the night.  Nobody gets a good night’s sleep on this bed.

My plan? I would gift the new bed—head-and-footboard and all—to my parents as a useful, functional Christmas present. I would even offer to haul away the old bed and add it to the rubbish heap in my garage.

I called my mother, excited to tell her about my generous offer. But she was strangely hesitant. “Well, you’ll have to ask your father, and let me warn you, he’s in one of his cantankerous moods.”

Apparently, a neighbor from across the street had come over while Dad was gardening and asked if my father would consider letting him take down a large fir tree along Dad’s back fence that was blocking the neighbor’s view of Mount Hood.

“Your father said no,” my mother told me, “and I guess the neighbor acted rude. It’s turned into something of a feud.”

“Let me talk to Dad,” I said.

“I’ll call him to the phone,” she said.

Once Dad was on the phone, he became a living, breathing, suburban version of Ebenezer Scrooge.

“Absolutely not,” he said when I offered the new bed. “We have a perfectly good bed in there now, and besides, I’m thinking of getting rid of it, because I need more room in there for my desk.”

“But it’s brand new, and the store won’t take it back,” I said.

“I’m sorry to hear it,” he replied, “but don’t bring it here.”

“Ok,” I said, and asked to be put back on with Mom. Before he hung up, I heard him say after my mother picked up the phone in her bedroom, “I’m saying no to the bed.”

“I guess it’s a no-go,” I told her.

“I tried to warn you.”

And so… every single aspect of this months-long endeavor to upgrade my granddaughter’s bedroom and my parents’ guest room had come to naught.

The Christmas season has arrived, and here’s where we stand today:

Olivia’s room is impeccably furnished, cozy and warm. I have a refinished vintage child’s dresser (which my son is using to store hunting supplies), two dust mite-infested old twin box-springs and mattress sets, and an ancient, terminally-squeaking head-and-footboard combo in my garage. And a brand-spanking new Mattress World mattress and box-spring set wrapped in plastic in my basement.

There’s a big-time dump run slated for early 2019 and a sister due in February for Olivia.

I’m planning a complete, animated, wine-fueled retelling of this story at our Christmas gathering which will spare no one, except Olivia.

Postscript: after completing this essay, my mother called and said that my father had reconsidered, and that they would like to accept the new mattress set for their guest bedroom. I now have three dust-mite infested twin box-spring and mattress sets in my garage.


Check out Mark Ellis’s previous non-fiction essay: CRITIQUE THIS! Notes From a Writer’s Workshop

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