Finding the Comfort in Tradition

I have fought against doing things the traditional way my whole life.Sometimes I’ve been successful, most of the time it has been a hard-won struggle with my psyche. My own personal preference is to be surrounded by things that are simple and clean, no fuss, no muss, no collections. I liked having a few of the Christmas decorations my family had given me, but I wanted to be able to try something new every year. We end up doing a bit of  both each year. My husband is happy but I’m not sure I’m ever completely happy with the end result.

When we got married, we shopped for furniture and while my lovely husband was pulled to the big overstuffed chairs and sofas, I headed right for the streamlined, curlicue-free couches and coffee tables. I appreciated the furniture we inherited from his parents – I mean, c’mon, it’s beautiful wood! – but I struggled to find ways to make the pieces look modern, using them in non-traditional ways when I could. I’m still hoping to paint them, a bastardization that anyone who prefers wood “as it is” finds obscene.

And yet now, as my mother struggles with Alzheimers and her memories are floating away on the wind, the things that were important to her -and to us – growing up, are now becoming incredibly important. Traditional as they are – and they’re incredibly traditional – I’m pulled towards them because they bring my mother into my home in a way that keeps her close. Throughout my life, a large trunk contained the few things she’d kept from her own mother – piles of linens (tablecloths, sheets, pillowcases) that had been hand-embroidered by either my mother or hers. They are exactly what you think they would be – inches of hand-crocheted lace surrounding a sheet or tablecloth, sweet and whimsical embroidered designs on small tablecloths, crocheted corners of large, ornate cloths, all of it beautiful and all of it absolutely, completely, and wonderfully traditional.

Each time my mother pulled out the contents of the trunk, I was enraptured. While my siblings searched through her jewelry or sought out furniture, I wished only for the linens. They spoke to me in a way nothing else did. So, when my mother finally let go of her linens (they were always kept for “good” and that never really happened, I guess), I got most of them. I’m figuring out what to do with them now. Maybe take one cloth and have the ornate corners framed. Maybe lay a sheet over a guest bed. Or maybe, as I’ve just done, take my favorite small cloth and cut it down to a size that exactly fits a little wooden stool that we inherited from my husband’s mother. Fitting, somehow, that both of our mothers are captured in that little piece of useful, simple, and very traditional piece of furniture. Thanks, mom – both of you.


My mother-in-law’s stool with my own mother’s embroidered cloth on it.