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Chelsea O'Byrne/The Globe and Mail

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

As I ironed my hand-crocheted tablecloth, I realized it was turning 40 this year. I was ironing an anachronism. Crocheting is almost a lost art and tablecloths are not a common sight when dining at home.

Gramma Domaratzki gave it to me when I turned 18 (she made one for all the women in our family) and while it would be 10 years before I used it, I ever so carefully moved, stored and treasured the heirloom.

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This year, I notice a few stains are stubbornly hanging on – much like the age spots I see when I check the mirror. Neither cause me to change course, life happens and it is not always a Tide commercial.

Gramma used white cotton thread for her creations. She crocheted lacy, large tablecloths that were made of many identical, individual pieces, which she invisibly stitched together to make the finished piece. A field of white flowers or pinwheels was then ready to cover an eight-to-10-seat table.

I don’t think I ever saw Gramma without a crochet hook and thread except when she was eating. She completed tablecloths for each of her daughters and daughters-in-law – 10 in number – before she started crocheting tablecloths for the next generation.

These gifts were made for the eldest daughter in each family because the younger sister was to inherit their mother’s tablecloth. But once Gramma finished those tablecloths, she realized she had time left to work on more, so she crocheted one for each younger daughter after all. Now do the math: she had 10 children who married; five had two daughters, three had three daughters and two had one daughter. So, 31 tablecloths satisfied the female complement in her family.

When my grandmother turned 80, her birthday party was held at the hall in Ethelbert, Man. All the tables were covered with her creations. Gramma had raised her family in this town and even though she lived less than an hour away in Dauphin, Man., the family still liked to gather in Ethelbert. I was 23 then, but this was long before Instagram – an opportunity lost. To see such a display of one woman’s labour was heartwarming, and the food was delicious. The food was always sublime in Ethelbert, largely due to my Aunt Mary and her outdoor summer kitchen. It had a stove, fridge, freezer and a large table down the middle with benches on each side. When I say sublime, I really mean it. Chicken soup at noon from a chicken butchered at dawn followed by fresh strawberries and unpasteurized farm cream. She taught me the diligence it takes to prepare great food from a recipe that probably only existed in her head.

According to my mother, Gramma only worked on one tablecloth at a time, so it was quite a surprise when Gramma passed away that my mother received two tablecloths that were partially complete. She was the only one of 10 children who knew how to crochet. (Something I took advantage of years ago when a candle dropped embers on my tablecloth and burnt through in three places.) My mother finished these cloths for the next two grandsons to marry, one of whom is my brother.

These days, my mother no longer crochets, and the wear and tear on my heirloom tablecloth is evident. But I take pride in the gravy dripped, wine spilled and sauces slopped because my imperfect tablecloth is an indication of time spent with friends and family, sharing stories, food and time together. The tablecloth has listened while the Gulf War raged, free trade was debated, the Saskatchewan treasury went bankrupt, it’s heard about canoe trips, overseas travel, births, marriages, retirements and deaths. It has heard laughter from many, and maybe a tear or two, but mostly laughter. If only my tablecloth could write this story.

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Some in my extended family may choose to save their tablecloth for the next generation, but I intend to use it up. Much as I am sure that while my Gramma understood her grandchildren wouldn’t be crocheting tablecloths, it didn’t stop her from creating and giving them. Maybe our grandchildren won’t host family dinners or even have a dining room table (I’m aghast at this notion), but they are welcome around our table any time. Life goes fast and taking time for dinner has linked our lives in the sharing of so many joyful events and milestones.

At this year’s Christmas meal, our youngest grandson, who is 2, pulled up to the table and managed to get most of his cabbage rolls into his mouth, but not all. I didn’t blink and didn’t worry – this is how young ones come to enjoy family gatherings. The look on his face – proud to be sitting and devouring a meal at the adult table – was better than having a pristine cloth at the meal’s end.

I will soak the cloth, and soak it again and then handwash it and pray that it lightens up so that by the time he joins us next, the evidence of a two-year-old will be gone. But soon his little sister will be pulling up a chair and enjoying her dinner, and she already looks like she’ll love cabbage rolls.

It is the greatest of pleasures that our family, now numbering 15, loves getting together around our table. My grandmother’s 40-year-old tablecloth makes the celebration that much sweeter.

Catherine Folkersen lives in Saskatoon.

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