By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Ronda Rich: Iron bed, handmade quilts are symbols of my mountain people
Placeholder Image

When I was a child and we visited my grandparents, I knew their standard of living was different from ours.

Both sets lived in the mountains in small, humble houses, which we accessed by a car that crawled slowly around inclining, twisting roads.

We had a bathroom and indoor plumbing. They did not.

One grandmother had a well in which she lowered a bucket and hand turned a crank to lift up the bucket by a rope. She used this water for cooking, bathing and washing clothes in a big galvanized tub. She scrubbed the clothes clean by rubbing them against a washboard, using homemade lye soap.

We had furniture that, for the most part, matched. Bedroom suits, as we called them, had wooden headboards and footboards with coordinating dressers. Mama’s and Daddy’s even had a vanity with a large round mirror and an upholstered bench.

My grandparents all had bits and pieces of furniture. Some of it was rough-hewn and made by hand, such as the rockers with cane bottoms and kitchen tables made from whatever wood they could find.

In the bedrooms of both little houses were beds with hard mattresses and black iron headboards and footboards. The iron was dull and starting to rust. Hand-sewn patchwork quilts, often several of them, were piled up to keep them warm in houses that had wood-burning heaters and no insulation.

While we didn’t have air conditioning at home, we did have an oil furnace that blew cozy warm air into each room through floor vents.

Next to the outhouses, those old iron beds came to represent a level of poorness that, in my childish arrogance, caused me to lift up my nose and confidently promise myself I would never have one in my house.

In the heavens above, the good Lord laughed.

When Tink and I married, two truckloads of his furniture crossed the country from Los Angeles. Gingerly carried by the movers up the staircase and into a guest room was an iron bed, just like the ones my grandparents possessed. As the bed was set up, I stood in the doorway, shaking my head in wide-eyed disbelief.

“All of my grandparents, poor as they could be, had beds like that,” I said. “Why would you want that?”

Tink jumped to the defense of the bed.

“I love that bed,” he said. “I bought it in a store on Montana Avenue.”

This is a street in Santa Monica where a bottle of water costs eight dollars.

“It was expensive,” he said.

I laughed long and deep. Tink seemed miffed.

“Why are you laughing?” he asked.

“My people had those beds because they couldn’t afford any better,” I said. “They were passed down through generations. And now they’re selling them in fancy stores. I wish my grandmothers could see this. They wouldn’t believe it.”

A few months ago, we were visiting on the set of the NBC movie, “Coat of Many Colors,” which is the story of Dolly Parton’s poor childhood in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains. Shooting that day was a scene in a bedroom with her parents played by Ricky Schroder and country singer Jennifer Nettles. Schroder was undressing for sleep while Nettles crawled beneath a handmade quilt in an iron bed like the ones my grandparents had, identical to the bed Tink dragged across country.

I nudged Tink.

“See that bed?” I asked.

He had listened one day as Dolly and I discussed the similarities of our poor mountain families and we had talked about those iron beds. I told her about the one Tink bought and she giggled in that sweet way of hers. This time, he chuckled, too.

Back at home, I passed the guest room and glanced in. Iron beds and handmade quilts, once a symbol of the poor man, have become a sign of well-to-do spenders.

The Lord isn’t the only one laughing now.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at Her column appears Tuesdays and on