The Stuffing That Life Is Made Of


Ihave sad trash today.

I am discarding my goose feather pillow. "Discarding" is not quite the right word; putting an old, treasured accessory in my life to rest is more accurate.

This past year each time I changed the pillow slip and a few feathers escaped through worn spots in the ticking, I have tried to face the inevitable. Clearly, not only is the current ticking on its last tock, but feathers are emerging in splintery clumps, the cartilage now powdering into something that makes me sneeze. All too many bits, devoid of the cushiony parts, are downright prickly. In other words, new ticking will not help since the fluffy remains of long dead geese are also disintegrating.

I have no grounds for complaint about their durability and service. If ghosts of their host geese could speak beyond haunting honk, they could tell an extraordinary history. Originally the feathers were part of a giant featherbed made for my grandfather by his mother, feathers and down from her farmyard geese. As I prepared to leave home for college some decades ago, my grandmother filched enough goose feathers from that featherbed to make me a plump pillow.


It is no longer a fat pillow, and now I am of grandmotherly age.

Over the years I have washed the pillow many times and dressed it in new ticking. From college dormitory to honeymoon cabin to home, from my side of the marital bed to the center in singleness, the pillow was there. It has been with me on camping trips from Canada to Baja. It has been the extra cushion behind children with measles and the forbidden luxury of a cat or two. It has traveled in the car through a dozen cross-country moves and made me comfortable on happy vacations.

As with people, it was shrinking a little all the time. Scarcely noticeable, though, as is the way with the familiar.

I have valued that feather pillow even more as it grew smaller, because as I grew older, I could scrunch it to whatever shape I needed.

Whatever spirit may live in feathers has heard laughter and tears and loving. I have smothered giggles into its softness. I have shed angry and sorrowful tears onto its pillowslips. I have clutched it in fear and clung to it in loneliness. I have hurled it playfully at a child. It has been a comforting bit of home in foreign hotels and a snug support to injured limbs.


This morning, as I saw brittle bits of feather crumbling onto the sheet, I had to admit that the pillow is terminal. Now only about 6 by 10 inches, it feels like a bundle of tiny twigs. It is the end and it must be faced.

I wrapped the pillow in pink tissue, tied it with a bow and put it on top of the trash in the bin. Then, realizing how misleading that might be to the pickup crew, I slipped it further into a clean brown paper bag.

I am standing here quietly next to the bin at curbside. I have said my thanks to the great-granny who kept geese, the grandma who so loved me and the grandpa who unwittingly shared his feathers. I have squeezed the pillow for the last time. I am trying not to panic as the trash truck turns the corner and comes this way.

Will I ever sleep on polyester? Possibly. But I shall never stand over it at the curb in a state of sentimentality.

Farewell, old feather friend!

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