There is one right way to fold linens in my house, and a stack of fluffy bath towels, still warm from the dryer and scented gently with fabric softener, pleases me.
I smooth cotton towels on which my mother embroidered outlines of Dutch girls merrily tending to chores assigned certain days of the week. Dish cloths, bleached snow white, fold to fit a drawer beside the kitchen sink. I am made one with the generations of women before me.
The basket I carry upstairs to the bedrooms is heavy with sheets and pillowcases, smooth and almost silky from years of wear. This is my place. I am home.
This place I call mine today is quite different from the home in which I grew up. Mom used an old Maytag wringer washing machine on our South Dakota farm, and “wash day” was a big event, lots of work, and at least for a child, wonderfully sweet-smelling of clean, fresh air and sunshine. My dad’s overalls smelled warm and faintly of motor oil, like the shop in which he repaired our farm implements.
Crawling between clean, white muslin sheets dried on a clothesline in the hot summer sun and laying my head on pillowcases slightly scorched by Mom’s old iron was a sense-filling pleasure I wish I could have bottled up and saved for the dark, damp days of winter.
I no longer live on the farm that was home for three generations of my people. I don’t even live in the house where my husband and I raised our three children. After 32 years of living in one city, we were transferred to Texas, where we make our home “like a stranger in a foreign country,” as did Abraham of ancient times.
During our first months in Texas, my heart hurt. I grieved for everything and everyone I’d known and the identity I’d attained.
Certain that company transfers were a ‘90s phenomenon, I raged about how unnatural it was and how cruel for corporations to rip people out of their lives and plant them in a dry and weary land where there’s no water.
Looking to my ancestors for affirmation, I found instead people who understood they were aliens and pilgrims, looking for a better place.
My maternal grandmother left her homeland with her husband, their five children and her mother-in-law, and made a new home for them in America. She bore two more children in the United States, learned to speak and understand the English language and never saw her own parents again.
My paternal great-grandmother spent her first years in America working as a servant for people who never bothered to learn her name. We know her only by the name they gave her. When she married my great-grandfather, they crossed the country in their primitive “RV,” a covered wagon. I suspect it wasn’t as comfortable as our minivan, and I’d guess she was lonely sometimes.
How I wish I could talk to those devout women. I believe they journeyed with purpose and were thankful for gifts of joy along the way.
On a recent trip north to our old hometown, time with friend and family—especially grandchildren—seemed to fly away, and yet, how odd to find that for all our longings, where we were is no longer home.
We can’t go back.
As we drove southwest toward Dallas again, it was with a new sense of anticipation. There is more for us up ahead. There will be life after Dallas—new roads to travel and new places to pitch our tent, because we are part of a great continuum, along with those who preceded us.
Stacking the towels, I see our history in the linen closet: navy blue and sand beige for the upstairs guest bathroom in Wisconsin, baby-blanket blue for ours, Kelly green for the powder room there, burgundy and navy for our Texas-size master suite.
Our bed made with fresh sheets, tightly mitered corners, pillowcases with open ends away from the door, satisfies me. This is my place. I am home.
Published in The Dallas Morning News January 1, 1997