This morning I changed sheets; a mundane necessary task which for the sake of degenerating lumbar disks is frequently postponed. Yet I do relish the luscious sensation of slipping between sundried sheets reminding of fresh air and sunshine; 100% cotton percale, although muslin will do, preferably line-dried. Hanging the family wash on a pulley rope clothes line stretched between house and telephone pole is a science I learned at an early age; spacing and strategy required so no whites would be soiled by obstacles. Discerning neighbors noticed planned placement, a factor in rating urban household management skills.
Today’s chore conjured memories beyond skill and function. The yellow sheet with woven decorative edging turned out of its folds and unfurled over the bed is well over fifty years old. Its survival attributed to the quality promised on its label “Dan River – 100% cotton percale” and having been stored in my mother’s linen closet, kept in reserve for guests.
How can it be dated with a degree of certainty? It is one of the “good sheets” used when Dr. Epstein, our family physician, made house calls to diagnose and treat measles which kept a second grader out of school for two weeks. A call to Dr. Epstein was followed by an abbreviated bed bath, a clean pair of pajamas and a change of bed linens. The routine was enough to cure because Mom often said, "All I have to do is call the doctor and you get better."
These sheets, their elegant textured borders never becoming wrinkled off grain in the wash, their crisp coolness relieving fevers, spoke the word “special”. These sheets had come from Gimbles Brothers after all. My aunt, the family’s arbiter of value, quality and good taste, benefitted from insider information. Her neighbor, Eddie Frankavilla, presided over the linen department in Manhattan’s historic department store just south of Herald Square. Fastidious bow-tied Eddie who knew his stock well and was a connoisseur of merchandise quality shared news of upcoming sales. After picking up the best 400 thread count percale sheets and plush towels ordinarily out of our price range now happily affordable, there would be an obligatory walk through the fabric department. My aunt and my mother ran materials through their sensitive fingers testing texture, heft and weave, occasionally pronouncing a bolt of cloth to be “nice goods”. Following down the aisle I would touch material worthy of their endorsement; lessons for life in fabric evaluation. Such a trip to Gimbles would disappointingly include only a glimpse of the department catering to coin and stamp collectors, my father’s lunch hour haunt.
The beautifully trimmed high quality sheet placed on my be today lost its mate years ago and was passed along to me by my mother likely for use, she thought, on the beds of my sons. The sheet spoke “pretty and feminine” and was again kept in reserve. Resurrection came with my return to a single bed in monastic quarters. The sheet is not a mute relic. It has survived, continuing to speak to me of a former time, of a former world, and of dear ones long gone. Surely, ‘they don’t make them like that anymore’.