The Christmas Towel
Julie L. Scharf
With the Christmas holiday approaching, I thought of you once again. You were the one thing that stayed inside of my memory all these years, and the one piece of my life, the one moment in the tradition, that I could remember so clear. I wrote in my journal about you.
"I cleaned the oven with you today. Youíre looking very worn now, and your bells have faded from the beautiful color they were when I first saw you. I can almost see right through you. But you are still here with me." I remember that time you first came to our house to stay that Christmas. It had been another memory at Grandmaís house.
We were a family then.
It had come the time to unwrap you, there at Grandmaís, and you were decorated in silver and red paper, with a large white bow. I was only seven.
You were a part of Christmas that I remember.
You were part of a three-piece set; you as the hand towel, and the other two as brother washcloths. You were dressed in eight yellow bells, ten red ornaments, nine green Christmas trees, and five candy-filled stockings that were all aligned to the length of the towel, each design lay on top of the other, on a white background with delicate white fringe on each long end. You smelled like fresh starch and you were perfect to look at.
I remember you.
We took you home that evening, and mom put you under our tree with the rest of the presents, to celebrate our lot for that year. Mom didnít end up taking you out from under the tree to use that Christmas, instead you were put away with the rest of the decorations after the holiday had passed.
When it had finally come time to take you out of the closet to use for the first time that next Christmas, I saw you come out of the box when mom was taking all of our decorations out to put around the house. You were still beautiful and fresh, untouched. You kept an air about you that was perfect to the time of that year. Your colors were fresh and unwashed, and you were still new. Mom took you, with your brother washcloths, and hung you so perfect on the rack in our kitchen above the sink. It really became the season when she did that. You stayed above the kitchen sink until after New Yearís. Mom didnít end up using you that year, and you stayed perfect. I was glad.
I remember what you meant to Christmas.
The year passed and again it was Christmas. Mom took you out again and put you in the same place above the kitchen sink. I thought that it would be a perfect place for you to stay forever, untouched, until the day I came into the kitchen and you were lying on the counter half damp while mom was cooking. I remember you being rinsed out for the first time, and then hung over the kitchen sink to dry. Mom would use you to pull out the Christmas ham and wipe the table after dinner. Mom put you in the laundry a couple times to clean the ham juice and table mess off. You began to look a little sad after that, but your colors were still bright and true. Your smell became that of fresh laundry soap instead of the fresh starch you came with. I remember you being taken from the dryer on a day after Christmas and folded to be put back into the Christmas boxes.
It was shortly after that Christmas that mom and dad decided that they would no longer be together. Mom ended up leaving my dad and me alone, and there wasnít much left she didnít take with her except the house itself and a few other items.
My dad fell into a silence after that, and Christmas was more of a chore than anything else. I didnít end up seeing you for a few years after that, when he finally decided to have a Christmas again. I was thirteen.
You were there with me.
You came out of the boxes still folded, and you had a smell of faint laundry soap and dust. Dad took you and unfolded you to be given away. He seemed more anxious to get rid of those memories inside of the boxes. I told him to just put you away and see how he felt about it later. He put you in the closet, with your brother washcloths.
It was spring that next year after Christmas that I saw your brother washcloths being used by dad. He was repainting the walls of my momís sitting room, and he used one of your brothers to wipe the edges, and the other to wipe his hands. I remember going into the hall closet and seeing you still on the top shelf, folded and untouched. I was glad he had decided not to use you.
Dad worked many long nights and even took a second job after mom to pay bills that she had left behind. We couldnít afford new things. You didnít end up being part of Christmas anymore, but you came out of the closet some time later to become a cleaning rag. I thought it would last forever that dad wouldnít ever find you hidden in the closet. I remember seeing dad wiping the edge of the couches with you. You were stained a little brown from the cleaning polish. Your edges had become a little worn. I could still see your bells and ornaments well, and the Christmas trees and stockings were still beautiful through the dirt. I knew you would never be the same.
I remember what you meant to me.
I had left for college only a couple years later. Shortly afterward, the news came that dad had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. When he passed away, the house and everything inside was put in my care. I went home to look through everything he had left behind. You were still there, hidden. Dad must have eventually thrown away your brother washcloths, but you were still up in the closet, tucked in a corner that mom must have missed on those days that she would clean the old out for the new. Dad never really touched what you had left behind.
I remember when I found you again, hidden within our closet. Now, I use you to clean my dust and dirt. I canít throw you away.
You were the one that lasted the longest. You were a symbol to Christmas. You are still here with me. Your eight bells have faded to an orange tint. The ten ornaments are now nine, because there is a worn and faded spot where one of them used to be. The nine Christmas trees have turned almost yellow, the end one still green almost as its first day home. And the five red stockings are half bleached; their tops full of candy are faded, and almost gone.
I might stop using you now. I think itís time to put you somewhere that you can fade all by yourself. You will remain perfect the way you are, and in my memory. Itís time for you to retire.