My grandmother saved her special sheets in case someone got sick

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

We all have items we put away for a rainy day or other reasons. For example, my maternal grandmother had a set of beautifully embroidered sheets that she never used. The edges of the flat sheet and the openings of the pillowcases bore delicately sewn flowers.

She kept the sheets in an antique wooden chest in the corner of her bedroom, and I glimpsed them from time to time when she opened the chest to fetch a fresh hand towel or a pillowcase, but I never saw them on her bed.

One day, I asked her what the sheets were for and why she kept them hidden away from sight instead of proudly displaying them on the bed to enjoy. She told me those were her "sick sheets" to be used only in situations when a family member was convalescing.

"I've had them for many years," she explained. "I'm saving them in case someone is sick. That way, if a doctor makes a house call or a guest comes to visit, the bed will look good."

"Why would anyone care about their sheets looking good if they are sick?" I asked.

My grandmother didn't answer.

When family members got sick, those special sheets stayed inside the confines of that wooden chest. My grandmother never brought out the special sheets for any kind of sickness, even though she had claimed for decades that was exactly what they were for.

Those sheets were a work of art with their finely crafted flowers. My grandmother had brought them to the United States with her from the old country, Portugal.

The only time she took them out of the wooden chest where she kept them was when she washed them. Now and then, she freshened them up by running them through the washing machine on the gentle cycle, hanging them on the clothesline to dry, and carefully folding them before replacing them in the wooden chest.

My grandfather fell ill with lung cancer and became confined to his bed, but he slept on regular everyday sheets because my grandmother still kept the special sheets safely hidden away. Whenever my mother and I visited him toward the end of his life, my mother asked my grandmother about the special sheets.

If ever there was a time to bring out the special sheets, this was it, but those sheets remained in their wooden chest for the entirety of my grandmother's life. She never used them for any reason; she merely kept them, saved them, for the right occasion.

Personally, that is one thing I would never do. I'd never keep a reserve set of "sick sheets" as my grandmother called them. If someone is sick, any set of fresh, clean sheets will do. I'll skip the pretty embroidery. It won't make anyone feel better anyhow.

Having special sheets for when someone gets sick simply isn't normal, and then my grandmother never deemed anyone sick enough to use them--not even when my grandfather was on his deathbed.

I don't know what became of my grandmother's special sheets, but if I were her, I would have enjoyed them every day instead of saving them for a day that never came.

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Writing about relationships online since 2009.

Massachusetts State

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