(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
When it is time to dress the table for dinner I open the old oak armoire that serves as my linen and china closet and take out the one of the bundles of napkins, table runners and tablecloths I've collected from all over the world.
Folded and tied with ribbon and stacked in the armoire, the old textiles are more than just pieces of cloth to cover the table or place under the centerpiece. The natural textures and hues, from snowy whilte to soft vanilla to almost burlap-brown, are pleasing to the eye and to the touch. A few pieces are monogrammed, stitched with the initials of the woman who owned them first. Some are sewn with fine stitches and edged in delicate lace. Others are more crudely made, finished with heavy crochet. Some are not decorated at all, simply hemmed lengths of fabric.
Before I select a piece I run my fingers over the folds and, in my mind, draw a map of the world, connecting one place to another with a trail of purchases. The short piece of very old linen I found in a bin in a Paris shop. The table runner picked up for a song in Biloxi, Mississippi. The woven second-hand souvenirs of trips to Belgium and Germany. The linen tea towel from a thift store in San Antonio. The Irish linen napkins purchased from an antiques shop in Birmingham, Alabama
These fabrics bring out the hausfrau in me. If the tulips dust them with pollen, or the wine spills or coffee cups leave rings, I shrug. These small sins almost always disappear in the wash. And on the first hot day of summer I soak them in hot water and hang them out to dry and bleach in the sun before bundling them again, tying each stack with a length of white ribbon.
I am not naturally tidy. I have to work at it. When I open the cabinet I almost always find a jumble of china and crystal and odds and ends that weren't put away properly. Perhaps it is an indication of how much I love these old, worn fabrics, but I take the time and enjoy the ritual of folding and stacking them for the next use. It gives me the opportunity to admire the handiwork of another woman, the beauty of natural things. And each piece reminds me of the place it was discovered and tucked into my suitcase before coming home with me.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance journalist based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country.
CAM is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org