WHAT I TREASURE
My tablecloths by Deb Atkinson
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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