The Mattress In The Middle Of The Bridge


John W. Cowart

We kept our newest baby in an egg carton – not one of those Styrofoam ones with pockets for a dozen eggs, but the large cardboard box that hundreds of eggs come in. My resourceful wife had covered the box with some flannel material printed in nursery scenes, and this make-shift arrangement served well enough as a bassinet. But now the baby was five months old and too big to sleep in the egg carton anymore.

At the time I was struggling through school while working nights, collecting and counting mosquitoes for the City Health Department in Jacksonville, Florida. If I’d been paid a penny for each mosquito in the traps, instead of by the hour, I could have afforded all sorts of luxuries, such as a crib for our third baby. But supporting a family of five on a part-time job imposes quite a few financial limitations, so the baby slept in the egg carton.

One night in our family devotions my wife explained the whole situation to our Lord. “Dear Jesus,” Ginny prayed, “We’ve just got to have a new crib mattress. Eve is too big for her little box, and she needs a bed. You know we have that old crib in the storeroom, but it was secondhand when we got it. And after Jennifer and Donald outgrew it, that mattress was in tatters, so we need a new mattress. Soon, please. Amen”.

Ginny’s prayer made me mad.

I felt frustrated because I was trying to live as I thought God wanted, and I felt He had let me down. I attended school because I thought He wanted me there. My job seemed to be the place He had for me and I was trying to raise my family right. But I couldn’t even afford a mattress for a secondhand baby crib. It just didn’t seem fair.

Another thing complicated our situation. Early in our marriage Ginny and I had decided to attempt to live without buying anything on credit, without borrowing money, and without ever telling anyone except God about our needs. We have not always stayed within these guidelines, but they represent part of a standard of faith we acknowledge. I suspect the real reason we first aspired to this life style was that we were too hard-headed, proud and stubborn to admit how poor we actually were. At any rate; the baby slept in a box, Ginny prayed, and I was mad at God.

One afternoon during the week after Ginny’s prayer, one of my fellow students needed a ride to work after school, so I gave him a lift. We had to cross the Main Street Bridge over the St. Johns River. This bridge spans nearly a mile of river and arches about 100 feet above the water. It carries the traffic for U.S. Highways 1 and 17, and is one of the most heavily traveled bridges in the city. A huge metal grating in the center of the bridge rises to allow ships to pass underneath in the main channel of the river. As we drove across that metal grating, something lay right in the center of the roadway – it looked like a brand-new crib mattress.

Since a truck was following me closely, I couldn’t stop to check. I had to follow the flow of traffic into downtown Jacksonville where one-way streets forced me to make an eight-block loop before I could re-cross to the south side of the bridge. Then I had to drive through a complicated clover-leaf before I could head north over the bridge again. All this maneuvering took close to 30 minutes, but when I returned, incredibly, the crib mattress still lay on the grate untouched by the busy traffic.

I paused on the center span. My friend leaped out, threw the crib mattress in the back seat, and jumped back in the car again as traffic honked behind us.

The mattress probably had fallen from the back of a truck or something, and there was no way for me to locate its original owner. Except for a scuffed place in one corner, it appeared to be in perfect condition.

That night as Ginny and I put together our old crib to receive its new mattress, I hesitated. “Suppose it’s not the right size for our crib?” I said.

“Hand me the Phillips-head screwdriver,” Ginny replied. “God wouldn’t send us a mattress that doesn’t fit”.

She was right.


NOTE: The above incident happened in the late 1970s. Baby Eve grew up healthy and happy, won college scholarships, studied in London, earned her Master’s degree, and is now a librarian.

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