View from a Prairie Home

By Hege Herfindahl, Columnist

I am standing here in our guest bedroom. Ironing. Many people might think this is an avoidable chore, but I like ironing. It is a meditative time for me. My mind wanders as my iron strokes the white damask napkins. Worn thin with wear. At the edge of each napkin, my grandmother has embroidered her initials: DG in a fancy satin stitch. Dagny Gabrielsen. Her married name. Nobody has told me this, but knowing the times in which she lived, (she was born in 1889), I know rather than presume, she embroidered these napkins for her so-called trousseau. I also have tablecloths with her initials and silverware inscribed with her wedding date: September 15, 1915.

I sometimes wonder why I use these napkins since they have to be ironed to look good. To ease the ironing, the cloth has to be relatively stiff, which can only be achieved when I don’t use the dryer but hang them. And why would I just have them in a drawer? For parties, I like to use them. And even though my guests rarely notices that I use stiff large damask napkins with white-on-white embroidery, I notice them and enjoy the way they feel as I put them in my lap; I send a little thought up to my long-departed grandmother and feel a warmth run through me.

I also use her wedding silverware when I entertain. Even if they cannot be washed in the dishwasher and have to be polished as they tarnish easily. My mother had inherited silverware from her grandfather. A different set that had the initials of all the previous owners on the back of each spoon, each fork. And there were many different sizes of spoons and forks. The initials dated back to the 1600s. Each second owner had the initial OH- Ove Holm. My brother, who had been named Ove Holm according to family traditions, were to inherit everything. Not a problem for my sister and me.

But my mother hated polishing the silver, so she bought a special cloth that slowed down the tarnishing process and wrapped them in these cloths and put them in two drawers in our dining room. We rarely used them.

Then one day, as my mother drove to the recycling center and left the garage door open, thieves entered our house through a bathroom window which was open. They took all the silver. It was easy, I presume, because they were all in only two drawers. My mother saw their muddy footprints as she came home. She called the police who told her the thieves likely would melt the silver. Each fork and spoon were heavy; probably containing a lot of silver. The police notified antique stores in the area, but the spoons and forks were never found.

So, I use my old napkins and the silver, not as old as my mother’s and without the impressive array of initials, but beautiful and a bequest from my grandmother to me in her will. In fact, when Grant and I have one of our many special suppers; in the dining room or on the porch, we use the silver and the good china. In the winters, I light candles in special candleholders that come from my family. They too have to be polished. The china has to be washed by hand, but we have time. We are retired and soon we will both be in our 70s.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring? A storm or fire could demolish our house. Thieves could come. One of us could die. One never knows. Each family has their share of darkness, cancer, accidents, war and other calamities. But we all have today. This moment. Which is special if we make it so. I am lucky. I have a man I love, and we share this life in an old house with its simple joys. Asparagus soup with asparagus harvested fresh from our garden, good wine, a table set with the good china that we got for our wedding. Today is special so we celebrate and use the old napkins that have to be hung out in the sun and ironed afterwards.