And climb the stairs to the beach...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Perfect Winter Morn

It's about 7:00 in the morning. Ed left for work about a half hour ago, wishing me luck with the full day of preparations I have ahead of me for our Christmas visitors arriving tonight.

Ed's younger son Joe and girlfriend Caitlin are coming to spend a few days. They live way down in Wilmington, NC and are coming in time for the Pats game at 7:00 tonight. They'll stay a few days, help Ed celebrate his birthday tomorrow and head off to Caitlin's parents' home for a few days in South Carolina. We are really grateful that they are traveling all this way and can't wait to see them.

We have the tree all decorated, and it looks really nice. But the big job of putting out the many Santas I  have for the annual Santa count we do with the grandkids hasn't even begun. Along with the other decorations for Christmas, the Santas are all still in their big plastic bins on the back deck, waiting to be freed for their big day. But back to this morning.

The scene is set. It's beginning to get light outside. I bypass the timer and turn on the lights on the tree which sparkle in the still, shadows of the early morning, reflecting the green and red ornaments. Christmas music is on the Bose, Rosemary Clooney singing I'll Be Home for Christmas is on now. There's a loaf of cinnamon chip bread in the oven and the aroma is divine. I pour myself a cup of steaming black coffee in my favorite Salmon Falls blueberry basket mug and the anticipation is building. There's nothing like a little bit of delayed gratification to make something even sweeter, and I don't mean the cinnamon bread. And now I am ready to begin...

...ironing the table napkins.

There is very little I like about housework, which probably comes as no surprise to most people who know me. But ironing table napkins is my favorite of all chores.

I only started using cloth napkins a few years ago, at Ed's request, who liked the idea of taking them to work in his lunch. Since then, it has become a guilty pleasure to go look for them in stores like Homegoods, Tuesday Mornings, TJ Maxx, etc., to search out the normally-expensive-on-sale-due-to-limited-availability-or-odd-lots, etc. cloth napkins. As a result, I have drawers full of beautiful and plain, dressy and everyday napkins on hand.

We don't go through them that fast here, just the two of us, and so they pile up in the laundry and then in the ironing pile. Some don't really need to be ironed, like Ed's gingham ones that practically iron themselves. But some really do need to be ironed and they sit folded in a canvas bin in the laundry room until just the right moment.

Other things sit in the laundry room waiting to be ironed may never make it to the ironing board. Like the summer blouses I still have hanging by the dryer. They have been waiting months, but between you and me, they will probably just go in the closet in the guest room all wrinkly until next spring when they'd need to be ironed again anyway even if they had been put up wrinkle-free.

Now folding warm towels right out of the dryer comes close to the satisfaction I get from ironing my table napkins. The pile of warm fluffy towels right out of the dryer, in which, I admit, I do sometimes bury my face and breathe in deeply, is something to be proud of and looks very impressive. (Hint for everyone out there, if you want to make your significant other happy, just put a towel in the dryer for 10 minutes before you hand it to her/him as he/she exits the shower/bath. What a luxury!But I digress.)

However, the process of ironing the napkins is all of that and more. It's transcendent and spiritual and very therapeutic. First, I dampen them with a spray bottle of water, thinking about that shaker bottle my mother used to use. But now, with a plastic spray bottle from the Dollar Store, I spray them all at once so there is a chaotic pile of slightly dampened napkins, from which I get to choose. And I choose the white cotton ones first. There are more of them than the others and they offer a certain challenge that I like.

Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I really get irritated when folding fitted sheets or things that don't line up just so. But, after a few washings, inexpensive table linens do lose their squareness. It becomes difficult to "kiss the corners" as my Godmother instructed me when teaching me how to fold laundry. But, laying the clean, white imperfect napkin completely unfolded, flat on the ironing board, I apply the steam iron, hot and ready, first to the center and work my way toward the hemmed edges. The steam wafts up to meet me and softly comes a scent similar to Clean Cotton, Fresh Linen and all those other scents we pay for at Bath and Body Works or Bed Bath and Beyond. But those aren't quite the same because the warm smell of freshly laundered, damp cotton just can't be duplicated.

I fold the napkin in half, horizontally, noticing that the right hand corner of the top layer doesn't meet the same on the bottom layer. But, not to worry. A bit of an adjustment, ironing the fold to a crease as sharp as a knife, and folding in half once again, the short side is invisible and there in front of me is a perfect, warm, slightly damp square.

One by one, they pile up and soon I have a lovely, satisfying, pile of perfect white squares. Then, I take on the others, not so often used, but delightful to look at. They are more square and less of a challenge to be sure, but nonetheless, satisfying in their completeness and in their numbers. I even iron the gingham ones, just to prolong my meditative state.

And while I iron these lovely singularly perfect hemmed squares I start to think of Deepak Chopra's radio show yesterday, which I seldom listen to because it's altogether so bizarre, usually. But I think of how he believes that we are all connected, one big collective consciousness, like a bee hive. And I think I may understand his theory better now. And maybe that's why piles of perfectly ironed and folded napkins are so satisfyingly wonderful and seem to speak to me. It's all of these individuals that alone aren't that great, but when they're all done, in one collective pile of napkins, it's something to behold.  Finally I can make some sense of Deepak.

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring is on the Bose.
The kitchen timer just went off and the bread is out of the oven, all beautifully browned and ready to sample.

My coffee needs refilling now. The mood is slightly broken, but I look at the pile of napkins and think about all those bins on the back deck waiting to be tackled. And I wonder...

...which one has the Christmas napkins in it?

Have a fabulous day!



  1. Suzanne, You made me feel I should stop using those nasty paper ones and run right out and buy some cloth ones. Or emulate my mom and make some! But if you think I would ever iron them, forget it!! Have a great holiday and a happy new year!

  2. I have to share what my poetic Uncle left for a comment on my blog about table napkins! He is a talented poet!

    "Oh! what a charming linen fable
    on how you grace your dining table,
    while all the rest when we eat our supper
    make do with a Bounty Picker upper."

  3. OMG, Sue, this is wonderful stuff. Thank you, good buddy. You've made my holiday complete.

  4. I'm remembering all of the cloth napkins of my childhood. We each had our own napkin ring, so we could reuse unspoiled napkins. Mine was red I believe.

  5. We've used cotton napkins for years, as a nod to reducing our impact on the environment (and saving money on paper). Usually, we just use them as they come out of the dryer. Recently, Larry has become increasingly attached to ironed napkins and he is ironing these as well as his handkerchiefs! I appreciate the look of ironed napkins but I'm glad he's doing it. I do understand the satisfaction of the process well done. On the other hand, I'm amazed that one of my first chores as a girl was to iron handkerchiefs, sheets, and my dad's boxer shorts! Now, that's ridiculous!


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