Lingering with linens
I just unloaded my ‘finds’ from yet another treasure hunt at an antique mall. I managed to procure enough stuff to fill a couple of brown sacks. I always find pleasure in the things I buy, but this time I did pause and ask myself a hard question. Why had I purchased two more tablecloths when I already have a rather substantial stack of them?
What do they signify to me? What childhood experiences prompt my attraction to a piece of fabric spread across the table at meal time? Who needs more than one to use while one is to be washed? What is this need for variety about?
This is what I came to understand about myself as I faced the reality of this hobby of mine. Please hear me out.
As I look at the stacks of neatly folded linens, I see more than yard goods and thread. I see seasons, holidays, moods, diverse experiences and family. These are a visual tie to home and life flow for me. They are like reading a diary of sorts. There are the floral patterns of spring meals that bring back visions of Easter egg hunts with now grown children. I see in the plaid fabrics the picnics with family and friends while chicken cooks outside on the grill. The white formal linens evoke images of guests and best behavior. And, oh, those of Christmas holly and bells ring out the tales of excited people gathered to celebrate our most memorable holiday each year.
This shopping trip, I pondered a beautiful white linen tablecloth with a hand-embroidered initial in its center. I couldn’t help wondering about the family who gathered at that table over the years. The size showed that they must have been large in number. It would have serviced a long and noble banquet. That family that bore a last name starting with the letter ‘B’ surely was one of means. It was a finely woven cloth with patterns in the very fabric itself. I imagined that this very tablecloth was used by several generations, always being handed to the next generation that would host the family Thanksgiving dinner or wedding party. Imagine the talk that took place around that table over the years. Think of the laughter and tears that children and adults mingled with their dining as they gathered together.
In my lifetime, I have seen full-length starched linen tablecloths give way often to place mats that washed easily, fit TV trays and took no ironing. And now, too often, the whole sitting at a common table gets dumped in the commuter world in favor of Styrofoam boxes and aluminum cans. We are just so busy and rushed.
There is reason to linger over the linens, I think. To gather as a family or friends and share a common meal speaks volumes of where we feel nourishment in our lives. We become a community when we share. When we take time to stop and join others in conversation, we learn about ourselves and others, and we do this most easily over food.
The value of the tablecloth is this: It sets the mood as it spreads before us, calling us to come gather and linger in a ceremony as old as mankind itself, the breaking of bread together.