Bored at Home? Try Traveling in Time

It started with a bedspread, back in December.

On Christmas Eve, we gift each other with books and chocolate and something warm and snuggly—a morphing of a childhood tradition of getting fuzzy, warm flannel jammies to wear to bed, to try to sleep in on a night when eyes won’t close.

Sometimes, now, we still get jammies, or, at least, plaid flannels with soft, knit long-sleeved shirts.

Sometimes, there may be a sumptuously cloudy blanket with satin binding.

Sometimes there are slippers so finely lined with lambs’ wool that the feet in them feel like they’re hugged and floating all at once.

This year, Mark and I got a bedspread to replace the worn green cloth one that we looked at in November and suddenly SAW. It was nubby in places, and, after several washings, much smaller than it was meant to be. The under blankets stuck out, and it tugged vainly up toward the head of the bed; it put me in mind of Abe Lincoln’s gnarled hands sticking out from his too-short sleeves.

Homespun and whimsical, I suppose, but geez.

Not very warm.

“How long have we HAD this?” Mark asked, smoothing it down one chilly morning as we put the finishing touches on changing the bed.

Film clicked and rattled in my head, and I saw that spread packed and shipped from house to house.

“I think we got it when we lived in Mayville,” I said.

That was about 25 years ago.

“Huh,” said Mark.

And that was when I thought: new comforter for Christmas.

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So I got us a good one: white and fluffy and warm warm warm.

And that was great until a couple of weeks ago when the weather got warm to match. Then I went looking for a summer bedspread to take over duties from the cold weather comforter.

I found lots of ideas online, but the one I kept coming back to was a medium blue in what a quilter would call a wedding ring pattern. It wasn’t quilted, though: the pattern was picked out in little tufts of chenille.

I called Mark over and he looked.

“Chenille?” he said, and his mouth quirked a little. He looked at the picture, silent for a moment, and then finally, “Oh, hell,” he said. “Why not?”

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The bedspread arrived about a week later; I gave it a quick run through the washer and dryer, and then I wrestled the puffy comforter, which seemed to have expanded, back into its heavy plastic zipper bag. I put fresh sheets on the bed and gently unfolded the bedspread on top.

And suddenly, the motions came back to me. It was like my fourteen-year old hands settled gently on top of my 64-year old ones. I pulled up the spread so it covered the foot of the bed but didn’t drag; I smoothed it all the way up to the pillow line.

I folded it over and stacked up the pillows, two sets, two high; chucked the bedspread underneath them; and then smoothed it over their tops.

Those were motions—that was a routine—I’d performed over and over again as a teen. The soft nubbins of chenille beneath the palms of my hands (craggy and calloused now, dewy and hopeful then) opened doors. Memory and emotion came flooding back in, hopes and joys and secrets, and scary, scary fears.

Standing there, touching that old fashioned bed covering, I felt the protective membrane grow thin. Time swirled around me; then touched now.

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Mark felt it later, too. He started talking about chenille bedspreads he’d known as a boy.

“We were always getting in trouble,” he said, “because someone would lay there in bed and systematically pull out all the chenille.”

An image of trim little twin beds,—three, or perhaps four,—grew in my head. They were neatly made with matching, boy-colored, chenille spreads. One spread grew thinner and thinner as the Chenille Picker wrought his destruction.

Then: an angry voice; a wrestling of those bed-covers to the washing machine. A placing of the balding bedspread on a different bed entirely.

A creeping denuding as another bedspread lost its fluffy tufts.

Before long, matching ravaged bedspreads, prey for a plucker’s hand.

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Chenille, I think, cries out for that in some small heads; yells, “Pick me, pick me!”

And some bright-eyed young person of mischievous intent shrugs and thinks, “Don’t mind if I do.”

Now that Mark mentions it, there was a Chenille Picker lived at our house, too.

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So that was the first instance of then and now colliding.

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Then, I was out walking on Tuesday morning—a warm, sunny morning, and an hour or two after the Garbage Dudes had crashed and clanked their way through the neighborhoods. It was early, and most people were not yet up to rescue the big plastic garbage bins flayed and sprawled across the sidewalk.

I berthed them as wide as I could; many were pungent in the morning sun. And then I walked by one that was pungent in another way.

It smelled like…melted vanilla ice cream bar with melted chocolate coating. It smelled like Dunkirk Ice Cream.

And the smell, and the time of day: just before 7 a.m., just when I would have been getting off from work, back in the summers when I was 19, 20, and 21…well, they took me back there.

I thought of friends—of Liza and Patty and Debbi, of Mary Catherine and Becky and Kathy.

I thought of how we’d start out, at midnight, pristine in our cheap white polyester, perky and energetic.

I thought of how we’d droop home, our whites stained with a rainbow of popsicle juice or fudge melt, seven hours later.

We worked so hard those summers; the demand for ice cream raged, and sometimes we’d go three weeks with no day off. But it wouldn’t stop us from partying, or from stopping, on payday, at the only place in town, a little bar in an old couple’s living room, where they’d sling us a beer and a burger and cash our miserable paychecks.

We toughened up, we innocent college girls. We learned to talk like the Lifers, the people who busted their butts all year round, except for a month in January or February, when production was down and all but a choice few got laid off. The missed month of work kept them from acquiring seniority; when they returned in March, they started out like a newbie, like a college kid, bottom of the barrel, working their ways up.

But there was something seductive about that place, about the clang and the danger of the shiny silver Vitalines churning out their products, about sneaking popsicles to the ten-year-olds who gathered at the screened back door, behind the biggest machine, on hot summer nights. They had snuck away from camp-outs in the back yard, maybe; they could get in deep trouble if they were caught, and so could we. No giving away the product! we were told.

But…

…a clandestine popsicle on a summer night when it’s too hot to sleep, slipped to you by grown-ups at the ice cream factory, and eaten sitting, oh so casual, on the banana seat of a sting-ray bicycle… Who could resist the appeal of making that happen?

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I walked by that garbage can on a hot, sweet morning, and that hot, sweet, cloying but not exactly icky smell brought it all tumbling back.

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Maybe once the membrane has thinned and stretched to opening, it’s hard to close it back up.

“Let’s watch Superman,” suggests Jim, and he slides in the Christopher Reeves version, circa 1978. Mark and I were both fresh out of college, both growing and learning in marriages to other people.

Mark was a daddy already when Reeves first flew across the screen.

And in a different kind of time, there was a different kind of superhero, not flawed and quirkily human, but really, and nobly, super.

There is a scene in the movie where Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in the fifties and sixties TV series, sits on a train with her young daughter. The girl is the only one who sees young Clark Kent running faster than the train. The child crows about the fast runner; her father tells her to stop lying, and Neill tells her to be quiet and read her book.

“I MET her,” Mark says to Jim, and tells him about a time when Ms. Neill came to speak at our college.

“NO WAY,” says Jim, impressed.

We watch the movie through 1978 lenses, tinted by all the knowledge of today.

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And James, for some reason, plays “Winchester Cathedral,” as we’re driving in the car one night. “Oh-bodey-oh-doe,” I think automatically, and I remember.

And a vintage ad pops up online for Turkish taffy, the flavored taffy you could freeze and slap; it would crack into shareable shards. It was a longed-for treat, and not one my mother deemed worthy of purchase. I remember.

I live on the surface, marching around, all eyes and upper awareness. Now, I think, NOW is the important thing, the only thing, the building time.

And the past, of course, is past. But then the membrane stretches, and I realize the past is still right here: really, it’s all here, crowded, clunking, banging around inside of me.

All it needs is a touch, a scent, a lyric; a picture; a breeze blowing just the right way…

Then crashes into now, doors open up, and there it is, and there I am.

I step through those doors and travel a ways down that deserted road.

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And I come back refreshed, back to a world I never could have imagined, but one that somehow, by all that’s happened and all I’ve known and all the silly, mean, half-assed, risky, difficult, kind, and glorious things I’ve done, I’ve been given the tools and the peeps and the wherewithal, to navigate at will.