My table­cloths by Deb Atkin­son

The Simple Things - - THINK -

Three table­cloths. Two, 60 years old, one a young­ster at 54. To any­one else they would mean noth­ing – things to be chucked in the near­est re­cy­cling bin with­out a sec­ond thought.

But to me, they are suf­fused with the sweet­est mem­o­ries. The soft, yel­low cloth with its black and red stitch­ing was the cover thrown over a long, teak ta­ble on which my nana would place our Sun­day tea spread. Tinned salmon, sliced pick­led cu­cum­ber and a bowl of crisp salad. Her swollen legs and arthritic fin­gers no doubt aching and sore, but the meal al­ways served with a smile. My grandad’s deep chuckle as he tucked in to mashed straw­ber­ries with milk and sugar, en­joyed with tri­an­gles of but­tered bread. Then the glo­ri­ous smell of pipe to­bacco as he and Dad lit up.

The sec­ond takes me back to the coal-fire warmth and smell of sweet sherry in my Scot­tish grandma and aunty’s front room. Deep red crushed vel­vet cur­tains pulled tight against the snowy night. Aunt Betty’s shaky fin­gers per­fectly em­broi­der­ing a white cloth with beau­ti­ful threads in mes­meris­ing colours. She would take me by bus in the school hol­i­days to the mar­ket where she would let me choose some­thing to em­broi­der. When her em­broi­dery was com­plete, she re­turned to the mar­ket for edg­ing lace. The fin­ished ar­ti­cle was packed off to the Chi­nese laun­dry to be starched within an inch of its life.

The baby of the three was em­broi­dered by my mum when her shoul­ders were too sore for knit­ting. It de­picts the wil­low pat­tern. What else! Our side­board was re­plete with wil­low pat­tern plates, la­dles, jugs and bowls. All despatched too quickly to a char­ity shop in my rush to clear her flat when she died. But I have the cloth. Which she em­broi­dered while sit­ting in a flo­ral mo­quette rock­ing chair. The lace, she dis­cov­ered rolled up – un­picked from a for­got­ten item – in the brown leather col­lar box that suf­ficed as a but­ton con­tainer. A box I would empty onto the car­pet to study the con­tents – I can see them now – yel­low but­tons in the shape of flow­ers, dull, grey four-holed but­tons and, best of all, mother-of-pearl shiny but­tons with di­a­mond cen­tres.

Me aged nine – ly­ing on our rug at home. Me aged five – at Nana’s con­ser­va­tory ta­ble and by the fire in my Grandma’s Vic­to­rian house. Who’d have thought three cloths could evoke such trea­sured mem­o­ries?

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