Grandma's linen towels

Items from the past bring abiding affection to mind

In my mother’s recent efforts to declutter, she gave me two boxes of things she thought I might like. One was a box of linen hand towels my grandmother embroidered many years ago. Each towel was still starched, ironed, and folded neatly in the box. My grandmother died in 1982. Well over 30 years later, the towels smell exactly like my grandparents’ house—like clean soap with a hint of mothball. When I closed my eyes, the feeling of my grandmother’s love came over me like a fresh breeze. I saw the hearts sewn on some of the towels and remembered how much in love my grandparents were. In the second box were some keepsakes, including my grandfather’s wallet, apparently undisturbed since his death in 1989. I looked through his wallet, and hidden behind his driver’s license, credit cards, and all the photos was a plain white card containing a typed list of my grandmother’s clothing sizes—petticoat, nightgown, blouse—so that he could buy her a gift on his own. I’m sure my grandmother typed that list for him on her old typewriter. It’s strange how simple smells and items can take me back to feelings and memories that I never appreciated until I was grown and my grandparents were gone.

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