My daughters like to tease me about my addiction to buying new towels, something I can’t do the way I used to these days, rummaging the shelves of TJ Maxx or even scouring thrift shop racks for those rare finds with new tags or labels so fresh you could guarantee they’d never been used. No, in quarantine I’ve been stuck on line, paying more for items than my bargain-hunting spirit can tolerate, but captivated by the lure of fresh linen. This obsession was compounded by a recent renovation that altered the entire palette of my living space, an accomplishment more than twenty years in the making and something I doubted would ever happen. But here it is, walls painted a tasteful muted grayish-greenish-icecap-something-or-other with white trim in every room, including both bathrooms. What was I to do with my stockpile of purple towels?
Growing up, I never had a pair of fluffy, new pillows. I didn’t know of the existence of white, dust-mite resistant pillow covers that you zip underneath your pillow-cases. Our beds never had mattress covers. I think whatever matching sets of bed sheets we ever had were hand-me-downs from my Aunt Sally or Aunt Hannah, both of whom became the closest thing to rich I’d ever seen, married to men who had come to America with nothing (you know, the old Jewish immigrant story) and became business owners — one of a sweater factory; the other dresses. Hannah’s walk-in closet in their split-level Poughkeepsie house exuded the scent of Estee Lauder and was packed with one-of-a-kind designer garments and a vast array of perfect size 7 shoes to suit every imaginable occasion. Sally was more down-to-earth, her house in Port Jervis a haphazard museum of dolls, miniatures and china, her basement a repository of antiques and collectibles my parents would periodically drive up to confiscate for their shop in DC. They both had linen closets stacked with a lifetime supply of sheets and towels. They took pity on my mother, married to a goy, living in an unrenovated frame house and trying to build a business from scratch, far beyond the reach of their suburban dreams.
I was somewhere in my twenties when my cousin Blaine took me to TJ Maxx for the first time. All of the bathrooms in her suburban Middletown, New Jersey home were appointed with color-coordinated hand towels, little shiny dishes of shells or marbles and matching soap dispensers. In my mind’s eye I can still see the downstairs bathroom next to the guestroom, everything the same pastel coral shade. I’ve never aspired to this level of color coordinated bathroom decor, but that first trip to TJ Maxx introduced me to a world of discounted top-o-the-line goods and I’ve been a devotee ever since. I think I’ve done a pretty good job managing my obsession, allowing myself shopping trips only every few months and limiting myself to a budget of somewhere around a hundred dollars, give or take a few (you never know when you’ll come across a mustard yellow comforter made in India way up on a top shelf as if it’s been forgotten until you came along and spied it, just waiting for you to take it home).
A few months into the pandemic, I found a mint green waffle weave, quick-drying type of towel plus a sophisticated gray head towel guaranteed to magically treat your wet hair more kindly than any other towel in your entire life, on line of course. My collection of purple towels is stashed in a bag in my guest room closet, waiting for one of my kids to want to adopt them. I don’t like remembering how much I paid for the new set, but I do enjoy seeing them hanging in my muted, grayish-greenish, icecap something-or-other bathroom, easy on the eyes, and some comfort in this lonely time.