LaVonne knew her inventory intimately. As we walked along the row of beds, she reached out to pet each mattress, describing them in such familiar, almost affectionate terms, I felt like I was there to pick out a puppy. She paused at the last in line. “Now, this is the only one I’ve got in this style,” she said, patting the runt of the litter, “but it’s a real good one.” She explained that it was a double-sided mattress, something they didn’t make much anymore. She went on to explain that the mattress could be flipped to assure longevity and even wear, and that “some of my older folks like this feature real well.”
My dad has had a strict flipping and rotation schedule for every mattress he’s ever owned. If you don’t believe me, just ask him. He’ll explain the routine in detail to anyone who will listen, and I’ve heard the spiel so often I could repeat it verbatim. Even so, I wouldn’t have known to look specifically for a double-sided mattress, and this omission would have been devastating.
I casually lifted one corner of the mattress, attempting to gauge whether or not my dad would be able to flip it by himself.
“I’m sure the nurses there will help,” she assured, “that’s why it’s called assisted living.”
At LaVonne’s insistence, I laid down on the double-sided mattress, trying hard to remember how my dad’s mattress at home felt. She stood next to the bed, giving me directions to roll from side to side, onto my back, and then my stomach. I launched into some free-form movements, curling up into the fetal position on my right side, then my left, then stretched my arms and legs straight out in all directions. Finally, I sat back up at the edge of the mattress and bounced a bit. “This is it,” I said. I wasn’t even sure it was the same softness or firmness as my dad’s mattress, but the fact that it could be flipped made the decision easy.
I was about to get up off the bed when LaVonne eased herself down into the loveseat across from me, a gesture that seemed to say, “and now it’s time to talk.” I sat at the edge of my dad’s new bed and leaned in while she recounted how when her husband first told her he bought a furniture store in a small town in northern Minnesota, she thought her life was over. “But this became my life,” she said, arms extended, looking around the store, chuckling.
She went on to tell me how her son would soon be taking over ownership. She said she didn’t mind slowing down a bit—didn’t mind giving up some of the responsibility. “When he’s here, I get to goof around,” LaVonne grinned. “If someone stops in and wants to go to lunch, I just go to lunch! Simple as that!” But she vowed she’d never give the store up completely. “After fifty years of this? What would I even do? Plus, this is where everybody knows they can find me.”
I wondered that myself, not what LaVonne would do without the store, but what the store would do without LaVonne. Who would do the telephone triage for woefully unprepared last-minute shoppers? Who would hold court from the loveseat? And who would remember that the older folks like to flip their mattresses?