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Recycled Linens - A Mother's Day Tribute

In a pastor’s home there were many expectations and in the 1950s and 1960s; entertaining was a big one. Fortunately, mama and daddy both enjoyed that aspect of the job – at least in my earliest childhood. I was about 9 when mama returned to teach school after daddy’s heart attack. As her responsibilities for work, church, children, and housework overwhelmed the hours, we entertained somewhat less – though we always had a big Sunday lunch and invited church visitors to join us. The preparation, presentation, and cleanup for hosting guests was exhausting.

Regardless of effort, on Sundays and holidays and other special occasions the linens came out, crisply starched and white, along with the “good” china and silver and sometimes the crystal. I learned to iron on those napkins. I inherited them, soft and some of them frayed, filled with memories of pot roasts and fried chicken, daddy’s creamed potatoes, Jello salads, mama’s hot biscuits, fresh vegetables of every kind from friends’ gardens. Echoes of the laughter from those long- ago tables emanate from the very fabric, released now by my touch.

Not too long ago I sorted through a closet and mama’s old cedar chest to rediscover these napkins. I had forgotten just how many there were! Dozens of them. Three sets had aged beautifully and a triple-soaking and hot wash energized them for table use again. Now that I’m retired I have the time to keep them pressed and ready, turning daily meals into smiles of remembrance.

But what to do with the others?

One of Mama’s Major Maxims was “waste not, want not.” As a child I was sure that was somewhere in the Bible; it certainly had near-Biblical importance in our house. We were constantly admonished to turn off the lights not to waste electricity. I would forget. And it would seem mama waited until I had just settled into my book or practicing piano before she sent me back to cut the switch. Wrapping paper was carefully smoothed and reused. As long as it hadn’t had meat on it, we washed and reused aluminum foil – a task I hated. Clothes were mended; socks were darned. Food was carefully preserved and she tried really hard not to throw any food away. I realize now that their earnings – daddy a preacher at a small church and mama a teacher in our small town – had to stretch a long way for even simple living.

Although I’ve sworn never to wash and reuse aluminum foil, these early lessons made me care for the things in my life. Being environmentally aware is important to me now. I see it not only for economic benefit, but as a steward and caretaker of our Mother Earth. We are part of Her, our Earth.

I simply couldn’t bear to throw the napkins out in the trash. In fact, these are themselves recycled from some of her worn out tablecloths. I remember her cutting around the frays to make perfect squares and then hemming them carefully. So, they have become a beloved accessory, both useful and environmentally friendly, replacing paper towels for many uses in the kitchen. I can scrub potatoes, set them to drain on a big napkin, then gather up the four corners and take them to the island to prepare. Try moving 3 pounds of potatoes in a wet paper towel!

They have new frays and new holes now from daily use. And like the Velveteen Rabbit, they have been loved into being Real. Love makes things Real, the Skin Horse told the Velveteen Rabbit. Being loved into Realness happens over time; “…but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” [1]

Useful. Environmentally sound. Evoking lovely memories of mama, who taught me well and loved me deeply. Real. Love. Always. Happy Mother’s Day!

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[1] The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

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