the gym towel

I know that following the holiday celebrations, a lot of you were expecting to see some cute photos of my children dressed up in flannel pajamas, or maybe a post about the importance of contemplating the birth of Jesus. I hate to disappoint but in reality, I could not bring myself to write about the obvious. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy my holiday, it’s just that tonight, all I could think about was a single thing.


Several years ago, when Davy and I were living in Colorado, our home was a log cabin. Honestly, a Lincoln-log look alike, drafty as hell, real potbellied wood stove log cabin. In winter, it was only warm when we burned up an eighth of a cord of wood in the stove each night, and then, it was only toasty in the main, original, glorious room of the cabin. Honestly, I thought I was kind of tough for a girl, and yes, I could build and sustain a good fire in that lovely wood stove, but on all levels it was hard work. As the fire would pop and crackle, the rest of the house remained at least 10 – 15 degrees colder, making the movement from room to room rare. At some point, being a person that was born and raised in Houston, a city where Christmas day temperatures can reach 85 degrees, I became disillusioned with the cold, and angry with the fact that each night it took such a regal effort to heat the house. I also realized by now that mountain winters are long and that I was beginning to unravel a little bit with all the darkness and cold. So, what is a girl to do?  I joined a gym. A fitness center. It was about twenty minutes from the cabin and seemed world away to me.

Upon my first night to actually show up in an attempt to reverse the seasonal affective disorder that had begun to set in – I was encountered with a pre-heated, fully lit, room teeming with bodies, and sweat, and humidity. Of course. And then to my surprise, I was presented with a gym towel. To me, this was like winning a mini – gym – lottery, for all the gyms I had ever been a member of required a towel fee to use their towels. But not this gym. No, they gave me a towel, actually required I use the towel. So, of course, I accepted the towel, used it and then threw it into the bin at the end of the day, where they kept all the stinky towels used by gym patrons.


But tonight, as I stepped out of the shower and glanced at the towel rack that hangs in my home here in Houston, I paused before I picked up a towel. I paused, for no particular reason, and was buffeted with memories and sentiment. I picked up the white towel, the small one, the one I always use. It is my gym towel. It is, as all gym towels are, too small, scratchy, and this particular gym chose a style that has a thick blue line running down the middle of the white backdrop.  My gym towel, at some point, made it into my gym bag back in Colorado. Don’t tell my gym, I think that is why they chose the design of towel with a single dingy stripe bisecting the small piece of fabric.

But that towel became, even in Colorado, one of my favorite things. I am embarrassed to admit it is a little like an adult blankie or lovey or binky or whatever. I obviously realized at some point after I had snatched it from the gym, that my mistake could be corrected by simply returning the towel. But in my little outhouse style bathroom, where the temperature hovered near 60 degrees on a good winters night, it appeared to have an obvious function. It was the perfect size for wrapping my thin, quick to dry, short hair. I discovered I could get my hair turban extremely tight because of the size and nature of this particular gym towel. Some nights I would wear the towel in my hair for hours. The towel was only two feet by three feet in dimension, which I believed would never suffice to cover my body, at least in the wraparound sense. But one night in a moment of dirty towel panic, I grabbed my gym towel to cover me as we made the mad dash through the frigid Colorado night air to our hot tub, and discovered to my wonder, that the towel wrapped around me perfectly. It fit me like a glove, or a postage stamp, or something very small, but it fit and stayed as I tried not to slip on the ice on the back deck as we sprinted out to soak.

My gym towel has stayed with me through the Colorado cabin years, the move to Houston, and now the family years. During the changing of body size, twice due to my pregnancy, it was resigned strictly to hair usage. It has been used as a cool compress on nights when either food, drink, or illness, has caused my body to humble itself and succumb to the best solution at the moment. It has been my makeshift bath pillow at times, since I spend inordinate amounts of time reading and soaking, soaking and reading. It has been a cape, towel, and do-rag for my oldest child. It has been a hand towel at times, a face towel at times, and of course a real towel at times. But it began as a gym towel. A sweaty, little, cast aside daily piece of material.

It is my velveteen rabbit, my special something that I carry with me. It reminds me of the cabin, the cold Colorado winters, the hot tub, the freezing bathroom, the move to Houston, both pregnancies, my husbands smile as he sees me wrapped in that tiny thing, and it reminds me that something very ordinary can become something magical if you simply allow it to be carried with you.

Until tonight, I never knew the gym towel carried so much for me. I knew I loved it in a strange and absurd way, but I never thought about the fact that I loved it. I simply used it and used it, not identifying my attachment to this piece of fabric until tonight. There will be a day possibly, when my gym towel will have to be retired. But tonight, I am going to hang it up in it’s special place, pause for a moment, and think about how an ordinary, uninspired, and forgettable something can become an important, cherished, and loved something when it is simply placed into the right hands.


4 Responses to “the gym towel”

  1. December 28, 2008 at 5:56 am

    Great post!! 🙂 I don’t really have a piece of material like that..but I do have my cat, who is very old..and I will probably do a post about somewhere in the future. He will be my roomie, and has been there when I’ve been very alone & cried myself to sleep at nights..so, as silly as it sounds- my cat is my little buddy and comforter. 🙂 If I think long and hard enough, I might be able to think of an inanimate object- like a pillow or something..but right now, I can’t. It will come to me though. 😉 You got me thinking..later, Happy New Year!

  2. 2 emily brink
    December 28, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    i love this. i think i remember that towel! you really are a great writer. don’t stop! you bring alot to alot of people. thanks and love you! eb

  3. 3 emily brink
    December 29, 2008 at 3:18 am

    hey! i am sending you a copy of what i am reading… it is the intro to the interior castle. the women who wrote the intro is a jewish mystic. it’s wonderful. ellen – i am growing a ton. thanks for all your encouragement. love to you. eb

  4. December 29, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    so maybe i cried a little. sue me.

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