This week, we bought some new curtains–raw linen, so they were deeply creased when I removed them from the packaging. Even though my iron has a linen setting (for my vast collection of linen clothing, obviously), I paused just before applying the hot iron to the cloth because I could hear my mother’s voice inside my head: You want to check it first. Go get a damp tea towel. Smooth down the fabric, then put the tea towel over the top of it. That way you’ll still steam the cloth, but you won’t scorch it.
Though I often disagree with it, I’m grateful for her voice. My girls ask me how I know the names of things–mourning dove, crepe myrtle, pin oak. How I learned to time Thanksgiving dinner, to harmonize, to love and understand a place. Words like blinky milk and tea towel. Almost always, it’s her voice that’s coming to me unbidden.
Even the things that didn’t take–casseroles and altar calls, hodophobia and a deep suspicion of things and people unfamiliar–these have provided points to which I consciously do not refer.
As ridiculous as Freud seemed to me in Psychology 101 (her voice there, too), my bones are only beginning to understand that it is the delicate balance between the conscious and the subconscious that shapes the conscience. The surest conviction and deepest shame lie there back to back, separated by a smooth and unscorched piece of linen.
And me standing by, damp tea towel in hand, observing.