Nothing makes me feel as safe and secure as the ritual of summer linen. Even the word linen calms my breath, conjuring up a daily life when real linen was a household staple for everyday use; an era when things moved more slowly. Linen is heavy and wrinkles terribly and must be ironed to regain its wonderful skin-caressing, cool smoothness. To care for linen, one must have time.
Today I’m preparing summer linen for the arrival of family and guests. I recall what my friend Helen said the first time she visited: “I fell into bed last night and thought – what is this? I was back at my grandmother’s farm as a child… Heavens, it’s the sheets, dried in the sun, the scent of hay and summer air.”
I recall my own first memory of my grandparent’s farm. So young I must have been carried asleep from car to strange bed in the middle of the night, after a very long drive from city to countryside. Waking before the world had stirred, in unknown surroundings, new smells wafting in through the quivering ivy at the window. The unknown perfume of hay and clover telling my malleable brain – there are places and times in life where all is right with the world. Then a second new scent caught my imagination. I crept down the creaking stairs to find my grandmother bustling about in the kitchen, girded in her homemade apron, setting out heaps of homemade butter, jam and bread. And there, that mysterious, heavenly perfume – fresh brewed coffee. To this day the aroma of bread baking and coffee perking will lay me down in the kindest cradle in the world.
So here is today’s pleasure. Hanging out the wash under hot summer sun, pebbles crunching under my feet, thinking of the little ones arriving tonight, their glee playing with the dog bigger than they, scampering at dusk to catch glow worms in the grass. I’m airing pillows on the line so the city weary will fall in bed after a long drive and collapse into a cocoon of cool non-thoughts.
It’s the same ritual we knew a hundred years ago. An afternoon of utter stillness but for the occasional buzz of a lazy fly, the entire household napping after lunch. Even the grandparents have dozed off, demi-tasses precariously tipped in hand. I am alone in the petit cour with the whites – slow, drowsy, unfettered.
As I handle the sheets, I wish into them. Wishes for deep sleep, for rest in the smells of welcome, for dreaming in a place that is safe. For reassurance there are still places in the world surrounded by old woods tended by benevolent spirits.
And yet, this is hardly altruism, I clearly hang out the wash for my own pleasure too. It’s the luxury of stealing time for the non-essential, of indulging in the far fetched idea that time is eternal. Today I’m here and I’m also in that courtyard a century ago. Back and forth as I slowly remove the clothespins, watching my wicker basket fill with treasure. And lo, out of nowhere, a helpful soul shows up. Now we are two to fold the sheets, chattering about nothing, about everything; two to partake in the pleasure of making perfectly ordered piles of white linen for the house.