92: A Stitch in Time

92: A Stitch in Time

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!

A Stitch in Time

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.

~Burton Hillis

My seven-year-old daughter wrote, “I was the servant today,” on my fine white linen tablecloth. Proud to have carried the delicate serving dishes from the kitchen into the dining room that Christmas Day, Kristin signed her name and wrote the year under her message. I embroidered her message in green.

Some people record their family history in a journal or letters. My family history is recorded on a tablecloth in pencil, then preserved with red and green embroidery over each word — red for odd years and green for even years. We’ve recorded events momentous and ordinary, such as our exciting family trip to Italy, the year the Red Sox won the World Series, Gary’s broken elbow and — four years later — Melissa’s broken elbow, new jobs, and adolescent rites of passage including getting braces, pierced ears and driver’s licenses. The tablecloth documents several extended family member milestones such as the year my niece Holly survived brain surgery and wrote, “Miracles Happen.” Sad events have been noted as well: my mother’s passing and when “The world changed on September 11, 2001.”

When I reach for the tablecloth in my linen closet the week before Christmas, it’s like unwrapping a treasure. I still get a thrill when I gingerly unfold it. Then I set the table in the dining room, creating a festive and nostalgic mood for my family. I spread the ironed cloth over the table pads, running my hands over the words of love while smoothing it out. Then I adorn it with my fine Lenox china and an elegant centerpiece.

With the dining table set, my husband, daughters, and I circle the gathering place to peruse the memories of years past. I particularly enjoy seeing my daughters’ handwriting change through the years: Melissa’s backward “s” at age five and Kristin’s large print, to match her outgoing personality. Kristin and Gary use a lot of space while Melissa and I write smaller. The randomness of the messages in content, shape, penmanship, and placement keeps me interested and feeling renewed every time I scan our humble work of art.

After the dinner plates are cleared away from the table on Christmas night, I lay several pencils in the center of the table, along with homemade biscotti and butter cookies, pies and chocolates. While relaxing with our coffee and dessert, each family member reflects on the year and recalls an event, milestone, or something significant that happened to them during those past twelve months. Then we write our messages on the tablecloth — anywhere we want. Sometimes we write a message of inspiration or wish for the coming year. I treasure the simple prayer “God Bless All My Family” written by my father in 1999.

After the holiday hubbub fades, the gifts are put away, and the needles from the Christmas tree are swept up, I sit down with my tablecloth of memories to begin embroidering. Sometimes I start right at the dining room table. Other times I nestle in a quiet corner chair in my living room with my sewing kit and start by separating the embroidery floss. I work slowly, striving to make each message legible with every stitch. My goal is to complete the embroidery by New Year’s Eve. When the final stitch is made, I launder the tablecloth on the gentle cycle, then dry, fold and store it until the following December.

This December will be the seventeenth time I spread my Christmas tablecloth on our dining room table. Sure, there are a couple of faded tea stains, but I simply cover them with a dinner plate or wine glass. Each year, more red and green appear and the white space diminishes. No worry. There’s plenty of room for many years of memories to be recorded. What started out as a blank white canvas has been transformed into a cherished family heirloom.

~Joyce Poggi Hager

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