Tag Archives: recycling

Prayer for St. Paulinus

This short story is part of a series I wrote while working in literacy settings with vulnerable people. In this one, the venerable tea-leaf reading Allegra works the system to get a new toilet for her house.

It’s been published today on a great site called Commuter Lit, out of Toronto, and it’s purpose is to entertain on the morning (or evening) commute. Read it for free!

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Setting the table

Linen napkins cut from a vintage tablecloth.

Linen napkins cut from a vintage tablecloth.

Maybe this is a generational thing, maybe it still happens, but family dinners on Sundays and holidays used be quite formal.

At the centre of it all was the large dining room table.  During the week, it might the place for doing homework, for cutting out sewing patterns, or once at our house, for a quilting bee.  On holidays, the table was extended to fit 12 or 14 people.  The boards that extend the length are called leaves, as though we were adding to a tree.  The final act of transformation came when the white linen cloth was placed on top.  Pure, fresh.  A sacred space created.

In the afternoon before the dinner, real silverware, bone china dishes, wine glasses, a centrepiece,  napkins, serving dishes, butter dishes, crystal stemmed salt and pepper shakers, and gravy boats were set out on the white sea.  The table was set.

Recently, I met Marilyn, who told me she is in her eighties and  how she found some table cloths that she had no use for, but there were memories attached.  She asked me over for coffee, then spread out her mother’s and grandmother’s linen table cloths on her dining room table.  They’d been well-used.  Here’s where the gravy spilled, still a large yellow stain.  And there were holes, small ones from the wear of weekly washings, and a large plate-sized one.  Perhaps a hot pan had burned through.  Marilyn asked if there was enough “good” fabric to make a set of large table napkins, as a keepsake for her niece.  To throw the linen out seemed wrong.

The Mary Campbell Cooperative on Talbot Street, London ON

The housing cooperative on Talbot Street, London ON named after Mary Campbell.

When I delivered the set of eight large linen napkins, Marilyn didn’t look at them right away.  Instead, she talked about another kind of table she’d sat around.  When she’d first come to London, she  became friends with Mary Campbell, also from the west, but an activist who would start a co-op movement in this rather white-collar city.

Marilyn remembers the Campbells’ table, how she read there, reading things she didn’t always understand: Communist treatises, trade union booklets, socialist literature.  She remembers falling in with a movement where working as equals was preferred, and then having the courage to leave a bad marriage and go to college to become a social worker.

Now it’s a choice for a woman to stay in a marriage, but 40 or 50 years ago, to leave brought on a lot of judgement and shame, like spilling gravy or red wine on the white table cloth.  I thanked Marilyn for her courage, for making it easier for the women of my generation.  It’s not that we don’t love the traditions, the white linen and beautiful place settings, but we know there are other tables, tables set with a different cloth.

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Dissecting style, a t-shirt intervention

There was a nice green t-shirt in my dresser drawer.  Nice, but I never wore it because … well … I didn’t like it.  An indefinable not-liking.

It became unwearable last November when I dissected it.  By picking apart the features that bothered me, I hoped to learn more about its character and nature.  The colour was great.  But not the band around the bottom and not the little gathered bit in front.  Surely there was a better way to put this garment together.

The interesting thing about dissection is that one knows it won’t go back together the same way. Ever. It’s like getting the recipe for a favourite dish a friend makes, and you have all the ingredients, but it doesn’t taste the same as your friends when you make it.  It’s like when a friend, spouse, family member shares something that’s normally hidden.  You can maintain the routines and habits, but the person is different, the relationship is different.  It’s risky to share, to look at the underside or inner workings.  I could truly wreck the t-shirt, but that was cool.  It was stuck in a drawer anyway.  Although, Goodwill or some other recycling enterprise might have found a better home for it.

So a choice had to made:  throw it out or reinvent.

And there the green tee sat on my workroom table next to a bright green and orange print fabric from already cannibalized blouse which had three really cute, tiny covered buttons.  The t-shirt sat for the whole month of December in the flurry of holiday card making and last minute sewing, flirting with the green bits in a brown print skirt, destined to be remodeled in 2013, or 2014.

Same nice t-shirt as the green with the original styling.

Same nice t-shirt as the green with the original styling.

Reinvented, and should be a bright Kelly green as you'll see from the sister tee beside it.

Reinvented, and it really is a bright Kelly green as you can see from the sister tee above.

So as the snow fell in January, the plain, proper, nice little t-shirt was reinvented into something a little different.  I will wear it now because it’s gone from nice to being fun.  It has some depth.  And if it had a voice, I could hear it praying for me to finish the brown print skirt, which was finished but also in need an intervention and became another victim of dissection by seam-ripper.  The skirt was nice, but not fun. Not flirty, or flattering … or interesting enough to wear.

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