Growing up in an immigrant family meant constant saving, eating everything on your plate, and being grateful for everything you had. My parents had fled massive deprivation, arriving in this country undernourished and fearful. They arrived with a few possessions which were divided into “everyday” and “for good,”–to be used only on special occasions. Over time, we had “good” dishes, silverware, and table linens as well as the everyday stainless steel and wash-and-use tablecloths.
Birthdays and celebrations weren’t “good” enough for the special dishes. Most of the use came at serious achievements or life milestones. So rare were these occasions that I my eyes would tear up when I saw the “good dishes” being washed because I was certain someone had died and we were using the dishes for a memorial service.
When I was 6 years old, my mother set me on the path of making “good” items for a hope chest. A hope chest was a cedar chest, purchased for a young girl and filled with items to be used when she got married. Many parents purchased items for their daughters’ hope chest; I hand made all of mine. In those days you could buy towel linen, which you then stamped with a pattern and embroidered. I didn’t like the tiny, detailed flowers that required small, delicate stitches, so I often drew my own, simple patterns.
I learned to embroider and crochet, make tatted lace and do hemstitching. I was not clever at this, and many tears went into the projects. Often I pulled out what had taken hours to complete. Of course, the thread had to be used again. My mother supervised my work with a stern look toward the future–embroidered pillowcases and towels would save whatever disasters I got into.
The hope chest was full when I left my parents’ house, and I never used the towels. They were heavy linen, needed to be ironed, and I cringed when I looked at them.
Yesterday I found the towels in the bottom of the hope chest. It’s been many years since I made them and I’ve decided to use them now. Often. Every day. I don’t want them displayed at my funeral. I want them worn down with loving use. I won’t iron them, simply wash, dry and use them. If you save them for good, they will never get the use they were meant to take.
I no longer have “good” dishes. I use what I have every day. My embroidered tablecloths have stains and small burns from blown-out candles. Birthday, anniversary, holidays. My tablecloths, and now my towels, will be used for good–everyday good. Because when I put them on the table, it becomes a good day.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at RawArtJournaling.com