Monday, March 3, 2014

Everyday Sacrament -A Re-Post

Here's another everyday (in the sense of ordinary, rather than daily) sacrament that I observe now and then -- ironing the linen hand towels that were part of my hope chest almost forty five years ago.When my grandmother (Ba again, the one who made the banana bread) learned that John and I had set a wedding date, she immediately called her sister in Troy, Alabama and commissioned the making (hemstitching and monogramming -- all by hand) of a dozen linen towels for me -- by the same woman who had made them for my mother's hope chest twenty-five years earlier.

At the time I couldn't imagine myself worrying about such fripperies, much less ironing them. And as we moved through the early years of our marriage -- the Marine Corps, college, grad school, and a series of rented houses -- the crisp white towels stayed folded in the bottom of a trunk, along with a fancy tablecloth, some Battenburg lace placemats and napkins, and similar odds and ends that had no place in our very casual and peripatetic lifestyle.

But when we moved to the farm and built our (still very casual) house, I dug out those hand towels and hung them in the bathroom by the wash basin. Even early on, when the bathroom was just for bathing and we used an outhouse, by golly, those linen towels were there when we returned to the house to wash our hands! Of course, no one in the family ever uses them. We all dry our hands on whatever bath towel is handy or on our jeans if there's no bath towel. It's silently understood: the towels are for company.

I'm always interested in the way various visitors use them -- or don't. Some folks dry their hands on the hidden side of the towel, leaving the monogrammed front smooth and pristine. Some take the handy bath towel option. But others use them boldly -- and it's a good thing because then I get to wash and iron the towels. I doubt I'd enjoy it if it were a daily or even weekly task but it's not often -- not till a fair number have accumulated, say once every month or so, depending on how much company we've had and what their hand-drying habits are.

Ironing the towels is a sensual experience -- the hiss of the hot iron on the wet linen, the bleach-tinged laundry-day smell of the steam rising from the drying fabric, the sudden revelation of the woven patterns in the linen, the glassy smooth surface of the freshly ironed material. I hang the still damp towels from yard sticks and canvas stretchers stuck at the top of the bookshelves up in my workroom. Later I'll come back and fold the towels, dry and as stiff as if they'd been starched, then put them away to await their next encounter with guests.

Thanks to knits and no-iron fabrics, as well as a schedule that allows me to dress like a bag lady much of the time, I iron very little. If I had to deal with great piles of ironing as women of past years did, I doubt I'd be rhapsodizing about laundry in this way. But since it's only now and then, the whole thing, like the making of my grandmother's banana bread and cooling it on the same racks she used, is a pleasant link with the past and an affirmation of continuity within change -- with maybe just a hint of ancestor worship around the edges
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fae said...

Bath towel user here. I cannot imagine defacing those beautiful crisp white towels with their lovely hand sewn monograms. I take my pleasure in just observing them in all their purity as a refection of days gone by. To me it would be pure sacrilege to use one and hang it back up wet and wrinkled. Even worse, leaving fingerprints!

Vicki Lane said...

F is, if course, family and abiding by that unspoken family rule. :-)

Vicki Lane said...

OF course, of course! Why won't Blogger let me correct my comment?

Priya VK Singh said...

"It's silently understood: the towels are for company."
How well I understand that sentiment!!

Vicki Lane said...

And how I love knowing that some rules are well nigh universal!

katy gilmore said...

A friend gave me a monogrammed little towel that says "Hers." No one has ever touched it to my knowledge, but it hangs as testament to a time gone by. Meanwhile people crumple the terry hand towel on a peg.
Now I feel like I should wash and iron it! Loved all the images, sounds and smells in this post!

Jime said...

What a neat way to remember your ancestors. I have a hand carved box
that was used to store my grandfathers linen handkerchiefs. Now it is on top of my dresser drawers and every time I look at it I remember something about him.

NCmountainwoman said...

Brings back childhood memories when I was finally allowed to iron handkerchiefs and pillow cases.

I use our "good stuff" too. Cloth napkins for every meal. (But I admit I iron them only when company is coming.) Once when my mother visited she grabbed a hand towel and my then six-year-old son politely told her those were for guests.

Folkways Note Book said...

I never buy anything I have to iron. Had enough of that old art form when I was young! Nice that you have those family linens though -- barbara

Lise said...

One of the chores of my youth was ironing--if only I could have read your sensual description of the experience--perhaps I would have perceived it differently. But alas, I hated it. Still do.

If I were to have visited your house, I would have chosen my jeans.

Merisi said...

Beautiful, enjoyed reading this immensely! :-)

Love that you used "frippery" - one of my favorite English words.

When I moved to Vienna, I bought a "steam iron station" - worth every cent, iron was never easier.