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Monday, October 3, 2016

Consecrated by Use

by Adrienne Pine

When my sisters and I were growing up, my mother collected S&H Green Stamps. She referred to them as her “mad money.” She got them every week at the store as a bonus for the money she spent on groceries. The stamps accumulated until there were so many that it was time for her to cash them in. Then we would hold a Green Stamps party, where my mother, my sisters, and I sat around the dining room table, each equipped with a stack of empty books to paste the stamps in and a bowl with a sponge sitting in a puddle of water.
The stamps came in perforated sheets. We separated the sheets of stamps at the perforations so they were size of the pages in the books—five stamps across and six stamps down. The backs of the stamps were coated with a glue that was activated when wet. The trick was not to wet the stamps too much—just enough to get the adhesive sticky but not enough to soak the stamps through.
It was pleasant work, sitting around the table, wetting the stamps on the sponges, and pasting them in the books, while our hands turned green from the dye, and Mom discussed with us what she was planning to buy. In this way she accumulated a blender, a steam iron, a toaster oven, an automatic “baconer,” and other useful objects. We loved to pore over the Green Stamps catalogue, calculating what she could buy, converting the amounts into what they would cost in dollars, and finding the best deals. One of my favorite items Mom bought was a three-tiered sewing box that cantilevered open. The exterior was white-and-blue wicker, the interior quilted blue satin. I thought it was beautiful, and I enjoyed helping Mom organize the spools of thread in different colors, embroidery scissors, tape measure, pin cushion, and thimble; the flat paper packets of sharp needles with eyes of different sizes; the little plastic boxes holding buttons, snaps, and hooks-and-eyes. Mom had been a home economics major at the University of Alabama, and she insisted that we all learn how to sew. I learned to sew but not to enjoy it, though I loved the accouterments and supplies.
When I was accepted into college, Mom promised to use her Green Stamps to buy me what I needed. For once, I had permission spend her capital, and I was determined to enjoy it. One hot June day after I’d left high school forever, we drove to the S&H Green Stamps store with two shopping bags of Green Stamps books and a list. I used Green Stamps to buy an electric pot to boil water for tea, a pillow, a mattress pad, a light blanket to start out the year and a heavier one for when it grew colder, two sets of sheets for a twin bed, and bright orange bath towels, so mine wouldn’t get confused with anyone else’s.
I had ideas about the sheets I wanted, and I wasn’t sure I would find them at the S&H Green Stamps store. Its linen selection was from J.C. Penney’s. When I expressed my reservations, Mom called me a snob.
“I’m not saying I won’t look,” I explained, “but I don’t want plain white sheets; I want a pattern, with nice colors.”
To my surprise I found two sets of sheets I liked right away. Blue was my favorite color in those days, and one set of sheets was blue and white in a geometric design. Its design featured two sets of parallel lines that crossed diagonally, meeting at right angles. A third set of parallel lines intersected the squares at every other row. The lines appeared to be woven through each other where they met; the effect was like an abstract trellis in Grecian blue and white. The fitted bottom sheet was blue on white, and the flat top sheet was white on blue, with a matching pillowcase.
The second set of sheets was in a floral pattern in shades of dusty blue, blue violet, lime green, and yellow green. The flowers appeared to be roses and cosmos. I liked the fact that the colors of the sheets did not correspond to the colors of the flowers in real life; it gave them an abstract quality, and they matched my color palette.
All through college I slept in my two sets of sheets, alternating them with each other, and they grew softer with repeated washings. After I graduated, I moved in with the man I would later marry, and we slept in a full-sized bed. I no longer had a use for the sheets, but I kept them on a closet shelf. They had a second life after our daughter was born, and she used them after she graduated from a crib to a bed.
My sheets became her sheets, though we bought her other sheets as well. And when she went off to college, she couldn’t take any of her sheets with her, because the beds provided by her college were longer than standard beds, and we had to purchase special sheets for them. Once she left home, we turned her room into to a guest room, replacing the twin bed with a full-sized bed.
Though I no longer own a twin bed, I have held on to my old college sheets. Now I use them only once a year, when I rent a house at the beach in August. I come to spend time alone, and then my family joins me. Before my family arrives, I sleep in a twin bed in a little room overlooking the sea. When my husband comes, I move to the big room with the larger bed. It is a nice room, but it only looks out to the yard.
I come alone to write, think, dream, and end each day watching the sun slip into the sea. I come when I am sick at heart, for the wide vistas and the silences, the healing sun and birdsong and rustling breeze, the fogs and drenching rains. I come for the moon-and-starlit skies, rolling surf and crashing waves, the sand between my toes, and the piles of rocks worn smooth as eggs by the surf. I come in search of my essential self, the girl that I was before I evolved into who I have become, the person I would still be even had I not followed the paths in my life that beckoned me.
          Built by an artist for himself, the house dates from the middle of the last century, which means it is as old as I am. From the first time I saw it more than thirty years ago, it seemed to me that the owner might have been designing it for me. Its setting on a hill sloping down to the sea. Its modest scale. Its grays and blues. The handmade attention to every detail. The artist’s paintings on the walls. The drawings of his friend. Here I have always found everything that I need.
          Like my old sheets, I bring old clothes with a talismanic quality—a white cotton smock I use for writing, an ancient gray sweatshirt. Faded beach towels, a white cotton nightgown, old jeans, cut-offs, stretch pants. I bring a needle and thread, and like my mother, I mend what is torn. I wash my sheets and clothes and hang them to dry and bleach in the summer sun, smelling of roses and the sea. And when I leave, I put my old clothes and my old sheets away, and I hope I will return the following year.

Adrienne Pine’s creative nonfiction has appeared in A Tale of Four Cities, The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, The Write Place at the Write Time, DoveTales—Nature: An International Journal of the Arts, and Rebeldes Anthology.

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