The Doornink family gathers every (close to) Christmas Eve for our celebration of love and family, and sometimes a little Jesus. We sit around the dining table and enjoy a meal of turkey, swedish sausage, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, and rolls. Although my family has been altered in some big ways over the years, this dinner remains comfortingly unchanged.
Every year after dinner and before presents, a big white tablecloth makes its appearance and is spread out on the cleared, clean table. My family (usually about 15 of us) gathers around. We somehow get the kids to join us, even though there are visions of sugar plums and lots of gifts dancing in their heads and they can think of nothing else.
We spend a couple minutes gazing fondly at the tablecloth, with all of its colorful names, years and scribbles written in pen and sewn over in small, careful stitches.
This tablecloth is a family memento, with signatures from those who’ve passed away, those who’ve been divorced out of the family, and those old boyfriends and girlfriends that embarrass us with their inky presence year after year. Every Christmas, everyone in attendance must sign the cloth. It’s a rite of passage in the Doornink family – you come to Christmas, you sign the cloth, no matter your relationship with us.
Started in the ‘80s by my nostalgic mother, the Christmas tablecloth has my scribbles on it from baby and toddler holidays, my bubble letters in my middle school years, an i dotted with a heart, and finally my simple, adult, neatly-penned letters. I also wrote little messages along the way, such as “graduated!” and “married!”. My entire life on a tablecloth.
Every year in about November, mom would go to the closet, take out her sewing supply tote bag with a Cathy comic on it, and get to work embroidering every name, scribble, message, and drawing with ridiculous accuracy. There are amazing feats of needlework on that cloth! Just imagine sewing along the random lines of toddler scribbles.
Each time we got together for Christmas, my mom and I would talk about “one day” when I’d inherit the tablecloth. I’d smile and make some remark about learning to sew, knowing that my stitches would never measure up to hers.
On November 13, 2014, “one day” came far too early when my mom died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 54. At the age of 27, not only did I feel far too young to be without a mom, but she left the Earth without teaching me how to embroider. The tablecloth was doomed.
In the post-funeral haze, somehow, someone remembered that the tablecloth would need to be sewn. We opened the cupboard, took out the Cathy bag, and there it was: done. Every 2013 signature was sewn in those tiny impeccable stitches, done far in advance of Christmas 2014.
Mom, you’re amazing.
That Christmas, a mere month and a week or two after my mom left the Earth, we spread that cloth out on the table, knowing the last of her stitches were there in the 2013 signatures. Yet, we knew the tradition must go on, so we got out our pens and we signed with vigor, not holding back any swoops or toddler scribbles.
Luckily for me, the last couple of years the tablecloth has been stitched by my sister-in-law with help from my aunt. I joined them and attempted a few feeble and juvenile stitches, but was twice as slow as them and kept messing things up. I may have inherited many qualities from my mother, but sewing neatly is so far not one them.
Every year, the tablecloth still comes out between dinner and presents. No matter who’s there, we sign. No matter how much our stitches pale in comparison to my mom’s, we sew. We remember. The tablecloth tradition lives on, just as my mom’s spirit does. Her love, her family, and her life are all there in her careful, intricate stitches.