Summer Linen 9

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 slowlyLinen 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.”


hanging in the breeze

hanging in the breeze

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.

ready for bed

ready for bed

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9 thoughts on “Summer Linen

  • Raphaël

    Dear Mary,

    Beautiful account… I caught myself daydreaming whilst reading your piece. It reminds me of “La première gorgée de bière et autres plaisirs minuscules” by Philippe Delerm 🙂

    Have a great summer and please give big hugs to everyone for me !

  • Helen Garrett

    Beautiful. Reading this brings back so many memories.
    And one of the reasons I wanted a small house + garden (rather than a big city apartment) was so that I could dry clothes and pillowcases outside in the sun; also stacks of linen napkins which belonged to Steve’s mother (previously creased and gathering dust, and now used daily.)
    So looking forward to our little visit this fall. And beyond pleased that Ian will be joining you.
    Love Helen

  • Lori Richards

    How I look forward to reading what you’ve written – this piece perfectly timed with my 50th birthday on Sunday. I remember our many years of birthday lunch celebrations in Paris. You’re a gift, Mary, as precious and fresh as summer linen.

  • Bea

    Thank you for this precious moment of being with you . . . thousands of miles away but we are standing beside you in the courtyard, family and friends folding the linens! Missing you!!!

  • Laura Sandifer McGown

    It all sounds heavenly! I remember my first visit to La Tourbeille with the linens…so different from the no iron sheets which displaced the beautiful linens. Your life there sounds wonderful and I wish I could be there also.
    Love from Texas,

  • Henry "Henri" Eakland

    I join the others who have commented above in thanking you for sharing your always welcome and always beautifully crafted stories from La Tourbeille. I am an old Junior Year Abroad friend of your in-laws Claire and Ty Tuttle, and like a fragrant, cool summer breeze, I appreciate the refreshing reminders of time spent at the family house there on the banks of the Dordogne. One day I will show up — announced in advance, I promise — to visit the Domaine du Petit Roque. Which is entirely your fault, because you keep telling its many stories in such a compelling, inviting way. A la prochaine! _henri