I brought the sheets and pillowcases in from the clothesline, stiffened by the wind and still warm from the late afternoon sun. Before I folded each piece, I buried my face in the fabric and breathed deeply.
Who doesn’t love that smell? Like sunlight spun into thread.
I made up the bed and the fragrance was still there when I turned out the light and drifted off to sleep. As I dozed, I don’t know what exactly triggered the memory, my mind drifted back to charm-pillows.
One day when I was a girl, no more than six or seven, in the morning of what would be a long, hot, southern summer day, my grandmother mentioned charm pillows as we folded laundry from the big willow basket. The were sachets to be tucked under your pillow, she told me, filled with grasses or herbs that were said to sweeten your dreams.
Naturally, I had to have one. So she led me out to the backyard and we gathered fat white blossoms from a broad patch of clover. She’d already shown me how to make a chain of the flowers – woven together by their stems - to wear in my hair or around my neck, and my sister and I spent hours sitting in the field stringing them together. But that day my grandmother and I picked the blooms and spread them out on the child-sized picnic table – the place I usually sat to have my lunch of peanut butter sandwiches cut into quarters - to dry in the hot sun.
By the end of the day they were ready. As I stood looking over her shoulder, she stitched a tiny pillow out of fabric pulled from the bag of quilting scraps, leaving it open at one end. Together, we filled the bag with the dried clover and using small, neat stitches, she sealed it.
That night she tucked me into bed, the bed my mother had slept in when she was a child. I was cocooned by sheets that had dried in the sun, just like the clover. Beside my head, was the pillow we’d made.
The truth is, I don’t remember what I dreamed that night; if the sachet worked its magic then. But the magic is with me now. Last night, thinking of that day, I returned to a place that is gone. To a woman who is gone. To a childhood long gone.
Perhaps that is the true magic of the charm pilloe. The thing itself is lost to time. But the perfume lingers to catch you by surprise, so that years later, when you least expect it, you fall under its spell and into sweet, sweet dreams.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org