Illustration by Marian Fontana
Published May 11, 2015. A Memoir by the author. Copyright Marian Fontana. Reprinted with the author’s permission from Grand Central Publishing. Photography by Jonathan Barnett.
It was June 1976 and I was 16. Tired of my mouthy hometown of Honolulu, Hawaii, I had decided I would move back to my mother’s home in Connecticut. I left a letter (a second original draft) on an unlocked mailbox in Hartford. I wanted to write a diary about my life in Hawaii. At that moment, I had no intentions of revealing that it would be few entries and may be so limited that they would have zero readers.
A week later, I received a letter back from an unknown envelope with a string of tightly sealed envelopes. The first envelope said: “Hello, Mattress Cash Flowers. Dear Hunter of a Mattress Mover. What can I do for you?” Inside were a plastic blue pillowcase, red socks, a bowl of sweet potato pie and a signed photograph that said: “To Hunter Mattress Mover, nice doo-wop music. The March of Mattress Makers.”
Sixteen years later, all the pieces of that handwritten note came together, by way of almost four decades of rummaging and discovery, the restoration of a memory and my own ensuing startling discovery. Looking at the letter, I could tell two things. First, it was typed, because the opening line, “Hi Mattress Cash Flowers.” was the only line that had been consistently changed and altered over the years. Second, the sentiments were indeed cheerful and hopeful.
A different timeline might see this letter as a pretty sharp yellowed artifact of the author’s Mid-Sixties. Or it might see it as a barely perceptible, corrugated piece of junk mail. Or in one of the several different handwriting samples that would try to replicate the original by the editor of a Seattle newspaper and the newspaper editor of a Pennsylvania paper, anyone in the world. Unfortunately, it took me nearly four decades to realize this piece of intact paper was my diary that I had gone to the trouble of leaving on a mailbox in Hartford.
That letter went on to inspire my novel The Legacy of Mattress Cash Fires. The novel is about a man who was a baby when his parents moved from Hawaii to Connecticut in the mid-Sixties. It is about the place where a young man moves from what he calls a “boxy” dwelling in the midst of adolescence to a “superior” mopery. In the years that have followed, his encounters with two different mattresses (a 1950s and a 1970s) will alter his whole life.
But some of the earliest movements in this novel are tellingly drawn from those four long years when Mattress Cash Flowers checked the mailman in Hartford, an experience that I wouldn’t think of repeating now, even with a different employer.