My Mother’s Friend’s Napkins
Many years ago while rummaging through my mothers’ dining room curio cabinet I came across a package of napkins. Wrapped in clear cellophane I could see they were pretty napkins. Not real linen, but well constructed with a soft, heavy ply paper, and a long, narrow rectangular shape like the ones you find so elegantly displayed at fancy restaurants. They were white with a simple thin bright cheery orange line that traced the perimeter of the napkin approximately one half inch in from the edge. The bottom right hand corner was embossed with a small pile of sea shells; cone shaped , fan shaped and little snail shaped ones all in soft hues of blues, oranges and tans. Yes, they were pretty, very pretty and seemed to evoke a feeling of tranquility and happiness. Extremely attractive to a young child of five or six, I immediately took them out of the drawer excited to use them for dinner that night. But when my mother saw I had them out she looked horrified. “ OH NO, Put them back” she cried. “ Those are special napkins. I bought them for my friend before you were even born!” She told me how she found them in a little store out east and how they so perfectly personified her friend, a lovely, sweet person who loved the beach. And that she was saving them for a party she would some day throw for her. “And they were under five dollars!” she stated proudly. So back in the drawer they went.
Over the years and three more children later the napkins remained in the drawer in the same dining room cabinet, periodically being discovered and brought out by new, curious hands only to be told the same tale, “ Those are special napkins. I bought them for my friend before you were even born! I found them in a great little store out east. And they were under five dollars!” We children chalked it up to just another one of Mom’s many odd, eccentric behaviors, like her need to do experimental cooking that no one really eats or always taking strange, and usually creepy back roads to wherever we go or buying weird gifts people shake their heads at. Her “under five dollar treasure hunts” became the norm during our annual treks to our favorite east end spot nestled in the peaceful town of Montauk. And so we left the napkins alone and untouched and waiting.
Then it happened. Almost two decades later we were having a party at our house. The occasion, I don’t even remember but Colleen was there. Colleen, the sweet and lovely person that seemed to evoke a sense of peace and cheer and still loved the beach, was there. The napkins and the friend in the same place at the same time. Forgotten in their drawer the napkins had not made an appearance in our house for quite a while but that night they inadvertently made their way to the kitchen counter. This time the look on my mother’s face was one of pure joy. She could finally share her special gift with her special friend. As we recounted the tale of my mother’s weirdly obsessive behavior toward the napkins over the years we all laughed so hard we had to use those napkins to wipe away the tears. Then I watched as Colleen took her napkin, folded it neatly, and quietly tucked it into her purse. My mother’s “under five dollar” east end find was truly a priceless gift.
Now as I look around the home I grew up in I see so many priceless five dollar treasures my mother discovered for each one of us out there. First was the orange ceramic goldfish with big bulging eyes that sits on our sink holding old sponges in a now cracked jaw. A simple little thing she just loves. There’s the Fisherman hand- made backpack , a deep, rich blue material covered in fishing gear so well stitched it has made it through many a boating excursions with my dad , discovered in the local corner store’s bargain basement section and my sister’s ballet slipper hair clip that is now a must in her bag of dance accessories, and the summer daisy shirt found in the five dollar bargain bucket outside a store on Edgemere Street; now able to be shared between two family members. Each and every one of these treasures speak of its receiver and of the love my mother put into finding each. Thank you Colleen for being at the party and sharing my mother’s gift of napkins.