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.

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