Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Linen Closet at PP

It is never just a linen closet.
It is a dark place.
It is a place emblematic of generations of a family and their attitudes about sleep, textiles, regularity, memory and inertia.
It is illuminated by pulling a truncated chain attached to a white porcelain socket containing a 40-watt light bulb. When a pull on the chain does not turn on the bulb, it is a good idea to screw the bulb in tighter, and hope the mice have not eaten the wires.
The linen closet is visited infrequently during the 2 months of the year when the camp is used, and not at all during the other ten months. Except by mice.
It contains no less than twenty five white cotton flat sheets, all for twin beds. The sheets are singular and similar. The towels are anything but.
It is a linen closet in the Branch camp at Pleasant Pond. The land was acquired and the camp established more than 100 years ago, when Forrest Colby was a Maine state senator and Forest Commissioner. (The name, so they say, is a coincidence.) This particular structure was built in the 1950’s when the log cabin was moved from its original site next to the water, up the hill. CSB’s grandmother Lena Mary gave the plot to her sister and brother-in-law, Florence and Mitch, because her husband Joe found the north woods isolated and crude. (He bought a grand place in Camden, where they dressed for dinner every evening.) Mitch and Florence built the camp, but it didn’t stick, and then they sold the camp to CSB’s parents.
Hence this linen closet goes back to CSB’s mother’s* hegemony, from the 1960’s onward. Joan last visited the pond one summer early this century, and then never came again. Certainly since that last visit to her ancestral shores, the linen closet has not, so far as I can tell, been cleaned, tidied, organized or much perused. Items are removed and then items are put back in, willy-nilly. What was in the back of any shelf remained in the back, and was pushed farther back, and became more inaccessible.
I set out to clean the linen closet because an ordinary search did not reveal the king size sheets I sought.
For decades there have been only twin beds at the camp, and also the log cabin. A few years ago we did the radical thing and bought a larger, a king size mattress, for the main bedroom. Then we bought two sets of king size sheets. King size sheets should be easily distinguished from twin size sheets. They are bigger. So it seemed somehow remiss on my part that I could not find a set of king size sheets, amidst the lopsided stacks of sheets and towels.
I removed everything from the linen closet, and washed the shelves, and cleaned up the mouse droppings. I purged the most obviously shredded and threadbare towels and sheets. In the far back of an upper shelf I found a collection of bed covers. These are very lightweight cotton covers that go over the blanket and are tucked under the folded-over bed sheet, and then covered with the bedspread proper. They are something one would always (and only) find in proper WASP households of a generation ago. They are as evocative as rotary telephones.
All the sheets in the linen closet were white and twin. The towels were in all colors, all faded. Several were monogrammed. They came in several sizes. Finding two towels of the same color felt like an accomplishment. Finding a matching facecloth felt like a victory. I refolded and restacked all the towels. I organized them by color in the order of the spectrum.
I kept looking for the stash of pillowcases. In every linen closet I have ever tided, there has been a pile of assorted and mismatched pillowcases. More pillow cases than sets of sheets. But I was not finding them.
Now the shelves have been washed, and the sheets and towels are back in the linen closet, and there are labels indicating where to place King Sheets, Mattress Pads (top shelf), Twin Fitted, Twin Flat (second to top shelf), Bath towels, Wash clothes (third shelf), Tablecloths and Napkins, Beach towels (bottom shelf). And aprons. There are several vintage aprons.
I never found the missing king size sheets. Or the stash of pillowcases.

*Her copies of the Social Register are still neatly aligned on the shelf by the desk telephone. (Summer 1987 through Summer 2002) I look forward to referring to them one day.

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