Stitching the Family Archive
Her Thanksgiving tablecloth spells out 17 years of holiday gatherings.
When my husband, David, and I married, we blended five children into one family. We have since welcomed into the fold 11 grandchildren, ages 1 to
27, plus one great-grandchild.
I’d heard of events involving signatures on tablecloths, and it sounded like a good idea. So 17 years ago I put an off-white tablecloth on the Thanksgiving table. Our kids thought I was crazy when I first asked them to sign it.
Since then, all Thanksgiving guests have signed the tablecloth with a special fabric marker that disappears in the wash. I put the cloth away until January, and then during the winter months I embroider it, using a different color each year.
Early on, if the kids broke up with their sweethearts, they’d ask if I would remove the stitching of those names. I told them no, they had to be selective about who they invited to dinner. We joke about strategically placing the gravy boat over a few names, but the bottom line is that everyone on our tablecloth is important to us, even if they’re no longer part of our tribe. There are probably close to 350 names now.
When the grands arrive for Thanksgiving, I often find them gathered around the table trying to find their names from earlier years. To help keep everything straight, I embroidered a color key around the edge of the cloth.
As time passes, the value of the tablecloth increases. It is so special to have the signatures of those who have been dear to us
but are no longer here—including my mom, David’s father and our eldest daughter, Mary, whom we lost in 2014. When I pull the cloth out each year and see her name, it feels like she’s still with us.
Along with the names there are milestones: a graduation cap, the footprint of a newborn grandchild, handprints. A few years ago when I sat down to embroider, I found a message from our then-8-yearold grandson: “I love Grammy and Papa.” Last year, our pregnant daughter-in-law drew a baby next to her name.
During a recent conversation, our eldest granddaughters said they’d learn to embroider so they could eventually start tablecloth traditions of their own. And that’s really what it’s all about: making treasures for the next generation and memories to last.