Fresh Linens

My mother was practical and prudent. She didn’t iron sheets—“It’s a waste of time,” she said— but she didn’t need to. She was exacting about making up the beds when she changed linens. 

“Don’t yank on the corners,” she would remind me, “unless you want to use your allowance to buy new sheets when they tear. Watch me.” She would line up a corner seam of the fitted bottom sheet with a corner of the mattress and ease it into place. Then the other corners, gently, never tugging hard, not even on the last, stubborn one. The result was taut and smooth, not a wrinkle to be seen. Then the top sheet, hospital corners folded and tucked with military precision. 

She took special pride in her method of putting on pillowcases. She’d turn the case inside out, all but the very end, then reach in and grasp the tips of the corners at the closed end. With these she’d grab one end of the pillow, pinching the corners into the ends of the pillowcase she was holding and shake the pillowcase over the pillow. Faultless: none of the lumps and bumps you get from cramming a puffy pillow into a barely-big-enough case. She’d hold it up, as if demonstrating a magic trick: “See?”



Forty years after her death I still bask in her presence when I change the sheets. And I still do it her way.  “Don’t yank on the corners,” I remind my husband. 

- Alice Lowe reads and writes about food and family, Virginia Woolf, and life. Her personal essays have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Permafrost, 1966, Upstreet, Hippocampus, Tinge, Switchback, and Lunch Ticket. She was the 2013 national award winner at City Works Journal and winner of a 2011 essay contest at Writing It Real. Two monographs on Virginia Woolf have been published by Cecil Woolf Publishers in London. Alice lives in San Diego, California and blogs at