Ghosts of Holidays Past

ghost linens

An older post that I dust off every couple of years to encourage you to dig out your grandma’s vintage table linens and USE them this holiday season!


This is the time of year that we all start thinking about setting a nice table for whatever holidays we celebrate. Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa—you name it, it involves a meal and we want the meal to be special in both the foods served and in presentation.

It will surprise no one who has been following along, that I like to use vintage linens on the table at these big holidays. A few of the items I have belonged to one or another ancestor but, mostly, I’ve accumulated my linens second hand.

Over the years, I piled up dozens of damask linen napkins to use at parties and many tablecloths as well.  Good-quality damask is like no other fabric—it is heavy and crisp and has a beautiful sheen. It looks good in any setting and doesn’t compete with the rest of your serving items.

Another benefit of these beautiful linens is that you can find superior quality at very good prices—just take a look at Etsy or eBay and you’ll find tablecloths in all sizes and napkins ranging from cocktail size through the huge size that some people call “lapkins.” The lapkins were often as big as 25 inches square and were used both to cover expensive clothing, in a time when laundry was a lot more difficult to do, and as a display of wealth and refinement.

One problem with buying vintage linens, though, is that most of them have been used and, if they were used for meals, they probably have some sort of spots or stains.

In my time as a purveyor of vintage linens, I’ve learned a lot about getting stains out; most of the techniques involve patience and a willingness to let the items soak, for long hours, in hot water and whatever concoction I’m using.

I’ve also learned, though, with my own linens, to leave the spots alone. I see it this way—the spots on the cloths came from a family having fun. They were sitting around a holiday table, maybe the only time all year they’d all be together. The men, at least in my family, were talking about the farm and the herd and the women were talking about how they shouldn’t have another piece of pie but maybe just a sliver . . .

The kids were at the “children’s table” in the kitchen and, mostly, glad to be there because the grown-ups sat around the big table FOREVER, talking and talking and drinking coffee and talking.

And in all of that family time, things got spilled on the tablecloth. Maybe it was when the gravy boat was going one direction and the cranberry sauce headed the other. Or someone was laughing and sloshed the coffee.

And the spills left the shadow of a spot. The proof, really, that a good time was had and people weren’t worried about the furnishings when there were stories to tell and relatives to get caught up with.

So I pretty much think of the faint spots on my table linens as the ghosts of good times past. Good times that left little marks on the linens but made a far greater impression on the people around the table.

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After the Storm . . .

IMG_0385“It’s like a dark cloud encroaching on a sunny day . . . that cloud hovers there and distracts us from carefree joys of summer, causes deep concern for what comes next, brings a measure of dread.”

I wrote those words two months ago, feeling like a storm was approaching, threatening to rock our world.

Sometimes storms change direction and pass us by. Sometimes they peter out.

Sometimes they hit us hard and cause damage from which it is difficult to rebuild.

My step-dad, John Malcolm Bauman, died about a month ago. He had been in an intensive care unit for about 3 weeks before he died.

He was an exceptionally fine man, which made his loss exceptionally difficult. Even the medical personnel who worked with him commented frequently on their affection for him—one ICU nurse told me, “we’ve all fallen a little in love with him.”

He was a retired newsman, had worked as the evening TV anchor in a good-sized mid-western market. He was the Voice of the Quad Cities, and what a voice it was–mellifluous, intelligent, quietly funny, and wise.

Our loss of him has shaken our world, all of us, but it has been hardest on his wife, my mother.

She has moderate dementia and he was her anchor. He did most everything for her and considered it a privilege to do so, so he said.

Now I do those things for her, at least for the time being, and doing so has changed my day-to-day life in major ways.

For the last two months, she has lived with us and much of my time has been spent learning what I need to know to help her through this transition—what medications does she take? From where do we order them? How are they administered? Where are her bank accounts? How do I gain access to them? What do we do about her belongings at the home in Florida she shared with her husband? And what do we do about the place she owns here and will no longer be able to use?

I give you all this information by way of explanation. My time has been spent on family this summer, with little flexibility. What time I have claimed for myself has been spent, not on writing, but on making things. I’ve used my limited free time to quilt and to weave, my quiet pursuits that provide the balm I’ve needed.

In some ways, the sky is clearing. My mom plans to move to a lovely assisted living facility nearby and, when she does, she and I can resume our fine mother-daughter relationship, which has been unavoidably altered by my becoming her caregiver.

In all of this, we’ve found silver linings to that dark cloud. We are lucky in many ways. She worked hard for many years and lived frugally, so money is no issue at all. She is emotionally strong and a real trouper, ready to move past her grief and forge ahead, into the next stage. When we were kids, she told us to view every challenge as an “adventure,” and she is taking her own advice.

Some day, when things are more settled, I’ll tell you about the things I’ve been making. I’ll be back to rhapsodize about the joys of ironing vintage linens, weaving cloth, finding the perfect autumn apple, enjoying making something by hand.

In the meantime, know that your writings have buoyed me. I hope you’re weathering whatever storms have blown through your lives!

And, John, I have three words for you—alors, pellucid, forsythia. You’ll know what I mean . . .

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John and my mom, on their wedding day.

Busy, Busy . . . Happy

Autumn is always this way.

We realize that time’s a’wastin’, that soon we’ll be hunkering down for winter, and we try to pack a lot of living into these perfect days.

Chores abound. The perennials are being cut back. The outdoor furniture needs to be stored.

A quilt is basted, waiting to be finished this winter. The yoyos are almost, almost, sewn together and finished. Two other quilt projects wait in the wings.

The looms are momentarily naked but plans have been planned and one warp has been wound, a yummy wool for fall.

It’s time for chocolate, a new and different venture on Etsy, and, always, vintage linens.

It’s the time for spending quality hours with family snowbirds who are ready to fly away and it’s time for a little travel of our own, to enjoy autumn in New England.

Busy, busy. Happy, happy. And you?

 

A Day to Remember . . .

Let’s take a poll:

What’s nicer?

Young love? Or mature love?

Certainly love is always lovely, at any age.

But my vote in the poll goes to mature love, the love that two people find when they least expect it, maybe when they stopped hoping for it at all.

Young love is sweet but anticipated. We all expect our young friends and relatives to find love. We expect to go to an exquisite, big wedding and we hope that the love, and the marriage, lasts.

There’s something richer, deeper, more poignant and thrilling, to me, about mature love, though. Love between two people who know themselves well and have known love before, and who are lucky enough to find someone else who carries the same knowledge and is ready and enthusiastic for another ride on the merry-go-round.

Exhibit A:

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Today, August 2nd, is the fifth wedding anniversary of my mother, Evelyn, and her husband, John.

My mother had been a widow for 30-plus years and John a widower for long enough to begin to be able to consider another relationship.

They had known each other, as passing acquaintances, for some time.

One day, their paths crossed on a walk and he got his courage up and asked, “Do you play bridge?”

How lucky for us all that my mom could say, “Yes”! It’s enough to make a person take up bridge, just in case . . .

They married on our lawn at camp, with just immediate family, and the cats, present.

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Photos were taken, champagne was sipped, a tear or two flowed.

Our very small family expanded by one and there could be no more natural and wonderful fit than welcoming John into the fold. We now cannot imagine our lives without him.

Evelyn and John, realizing that they would never achieve big, impressive anniversary numbers, decided to count anniversary months instead. We recently celebrated their 50th!

And tonight we will celebrate their fifth. We have another perfect day to enjoy.

We will go to the same restaurant we visited the night of the wedding.

We will celebrate 5 years together but also what an anniversary always stands for—the confidence to believe that life with that other person is better than life alone, that a good marriage exceeds the sum of its parts, and that, at any age, love can come again.

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Loving Hands and A Birthday to Remember

IMG_7907How would you celebrate your 90th birthday?

My aunt is coming up to that milestone and she chose to throw herself a birthday bash with bonfire this past weekend.IMG_7843

This party had it all. Her guests came from many circles—colleagues from her years as a teacher, church members, people from her swim class, family, and many, many neighbors.

One of my aunt’s long-time friends traveled from England. Her oldest friend was there—they’ve known each other for almost every minute of their lives. Almost 90 years—astounding!

The party was at my aunt’s rural home, on a hill overlooking the Champlain Valley of upstate New York, about a mile from the farm where I grew up. That meant I saw some of the people I grew up with but haven’t seen in forever—my sister’s first puppy love, members of the family with whom my family was closest and with whom I share wonderful childhood memories, kids for whom I used to babysit and who are now growing gray.

The party had a definite “loving hands at home” quality, in the best sense of that phrase. Many people chipped in, to make it happen. Daughters made snacks and worried about the details, a son-in-law chopped veggies and arranged food to perfection.

There was plenty of homemade music—we sang “Happy Birthday” to a bagpipe accompaniment and “Auld Lang Syne” to guitar. The birthday girl was serenaded to Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.”IMG_7853

Because an enormous bonfire was the focal point of the evening, the campfire theme prevailed. The ladies from my aunt’s church made cupcakes with a campfire motif and a neighbor friend contributed floral centerpieces in campfire colors.11728979_10153592498309901_5267262041501630761_o (1) 11845088_10153592321439901_4960895211403482030_o (1)

The weather was perfect. The evening ended with the enormous, rip-roaring bonfire. Smaller fires provided toasted marshmallows for s’mores. Falling stars streaked across the sky, offering opportunities for wishes made upon them.

Friends. Family. Warmth. Wishes on stars.

How will you celebrate your 90th birthday, should you be lucky enough to reach it?


Forever Young, by Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

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A Blur of Summer

IMG_7471It went by in a blur, faster than the speed of camera, fueled by s’mores and ice cream. The photos aren’t good but the summer visit was!IMG_7407

Two small boys and their mother. Playgrounds and beaches and music. Long walks, badminton on the lawn, grilled food, the first local corn of the season.

Chasing cats.

Time on the water, and in it.

And quiet moments to replenish energy.

Summer Abecedary: Ps and Quiet

This summer has been brought to me by the letter P.

Piquant: As always, summer is the season of grilling and barbecue. My husband has taken to making his own barbecue sauces—my favorite has 25 ingredients. And there’s the piquancy of knowing that so many summer flavors, and experiences, are available only briefly, and more beloved because we wait all year for them.

Pesky: For all the perks of summer, we still have Japanese beetles, red lily beetles, crabgrass, chickweed and . . .

Poison ivy: The peskiest of pests, brought home as oil on the fur of cats I love to cuddle.

Predictable: Summer in our neck of the woods and lake means certain obligatory outdoor décor—Adirondack chairs, lighthouses, and day lilies. Being over-achievers and highly competitive, we have all three.

Pellucid: Summer is the only time of year I use this word. And it is the only word that really describes the satiny smoothness of the water ripples, on certain summer evenings.

Pellucid waters

Pellucid waters

Poignant: Summer is a time of so many cherished traditions, involving family and friends. Sometimes I can’t help but think, how long can this last? Can I just freeze this moment in time, with these people, forever? Please?

This photo I took several years ago sums up “poignant” for me—it captures a perfect summer moment.2008 em tess-05

But the ball dropped and splashed. The dog has since passed on, to the big lake in the sky. The girl has grown and is heading to a new stage in her life. The sun set.

The moment passed.

Yet summers continue to roll over us, and catch us up in their charms. We turn our thoughts to new moments to be lived and memories to be made . . .

. . . periods of perfection to be pondered, and exulted in.

That’s my summer—pretty and perfect and Ps-full peaceful.

Has your current (or most recent!) summer been sponsored by a specific letter? Here’s hoping you’ve found it letter perfect!

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