Somewhere in the corner, there’s usually a box sitting undisturbed.  Neatly folded, ironed and starched, pieces of linen, clothwork and lace are housed in plastic zip lock bags.  When opened, a whisper of air rushes out making a sound vaguely like the words “use me”.

Like most others, when browsing through antique stores we would casually walk right past these boxes.  But a recent gift changed all of that.

For the past year, Jackie Purcell and Lois Mapes have been working on a table covering for The Table (click here to see it naked)

The Beekman Mansion Crocheted Tablecloth–the stats

Total woman hours                                             1,173 hours
Total thread used                        17,280 yards (9.82 miles!)
Total stitches                                             1,165,270 stitches

For over a year, this mantra went through their heads (and likely their dreams):

Round 1:  Chain 8.  Join with slip stitch to first chain to form ring.  Chain 5 .  double crochet in next chain.  Chain 2.  Repeat

When she presented the cloth, Jackie wrote:

“Lay the cloth, there is company coming.”  Lay the cloth………why? The table cloth covered table scars, muted the clatter of utensils, protected the table top from more wounds, and perhaps even enhanced the china to be used.  “Lay the cloth”…..not an easy task when the table top is 6 1/2’ x 8’.

Where to begin………how about searching for months for a design that would help showcase an already beautiful space……the dinning room at Beekman.  Of course this cloth would be hand crafted like the mansion itself.  Small squares that could be carried with ease and ready to work on at any time.  Square to match the sharp, clean Federal lines of the woodwork and mantle in the dinning room.  Ahh………yes, add a spiral centered within each square to mimic the wavy lines in the wall paper……confined, graceful motion.

These squares were crocheted by three women; some never having met. Not even living near each other.  There were some days a square was a balm to loneliness, grief or just disquiet.  There were times when crocheting a square hastened travel time to a foreign place, or seemed to lessen the wait time before a physicians appointment and diagnosis. Fingers learned pattern by repetition.  No need to carry directions. They had learned the dance.  Merely a ball of thread and a hook; a hook to hold onto.

Even after carefully washing hands before picking up “the work”, the memory of a faint scent might linger.  Perhaps sun tan lotion, or a salve for sore joints, or onions and garlic paired with freshly stripped rosemary. Maybe a lavender lotion for chapped hands or baby lotion from a visiting grandchild.  On a few days……a tear or two from the frustration of being a woman!  All the scents of a woman’s day.

This cloth is done.  So many new hands will now wander along the stitches as they seek to join in a circle to pray for the bounty placed before them and give thanksgiving for every living thing at Beekman. They will reach to share a dish to pass and slide a glass to be refilled.

So “lay the cloth” to welcome the future of Beekman hospitality.  Amen.


The saddest thing about many “heirlooms” is that we find them so precious that we never use them…the china, the crystal, the silver…but to what end?  So they can sit in a pristine “as new” state…in the corner of an old storefront a century from now?

If you have them tucked away in a cabinet, go get them this instant.  So what if their fate is a stain, a chip or a scratch?  Who are you saving them for?

When we look at our table now, it is evident.  Each knot holds together not just a piece of fabric.  It binds and protects one generation’s love for the next.  And love should not be unrequited.

So the next time, you are in an antique store, look for that box in the corner.  Thumb through the parcels.  And if you come across one with a design that speaks to you or that displays your  family’s monogram,  buy it.

Use it.

Love it.

Which family heirloom do you vow to use more often?

by Josh and Brent

Reader Comments

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Melissa

The tatted cloth, lays upon the mahogany harvest table. The table was built by my father John, while stationed on Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. I was a 6 month old when we arrived and 3 when we left. His mother, Grandmother Pless, tatted a table cloth to fit that old 6 ft table with drop leaves. Each circle was lovingly stitched with her nimble hands. As a 5 yr old, I can remember her making a circle with her fingers, and the movement of her fingers filling that ring with stitches and that old shuttle. For years she tatted while watching t.v. or listening to a radio. She truly believed that " idle fingers were a sign of the devils workshop". So her hands were never idle. I now own both the table and the cloth. I am never afraid to use them. The love that went into both of them are treasures in themselves. Funny how a T.V. show, and the Beekman Boys, can trigger such memories with their own table. How precious that cloth is that your mom and others have made. As precious as you and Josh are together.

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Nancy McGee

My mother has ALWAYS used all of her china and crystal — there's no point in having it if you're not going to use it. Even after she asked my alcoholic father to leave and took on the role of a single mother working 3 jobs just to make ends meet in Queens we would eat our hard-earned hot dogs at a table set for a king. At 6 years old she was letting us drink milk out of her Waterford Crystal glasses — and you know, in all that time we only broke two glasses… which we replaced when she got remarried after my brother and I had moved out. Her table has always been a gathering place for family and friends alike — and ALWAYS with a tablecloth! And my friends wonder where I get my drive to entertain at home… 🙂

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Diana

I use my Grandmothers silverware and my china that came from my stepmom's Grandma Miller.

I feel like they are here with us when we have a meal.

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Cheryl

I came across this while searching for a simpler, easier tablecloth pattern than the one I started for my grandsons wedding gift. But after reading this beautiful posting, I can see that not a second of the time I put into this could be too much or a waste. Thank you so much for sharing.

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Dr. Brent

Hi, Cheryl

It's a lesson lost that "instantly gratifying" is often paired with "instantly forgotten". Good for you for committing to and rising to the challenge

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centralia heart

The heirloom that I use the most is my grandmother's tiffany lamp. We found it in the attic of her house in Budd Lake NJ, when the house was being sold. No one had used it in years. It went to my mom's house and then came to me. I turn it on every evening when the sun goes down and it provides a nice soft light in my diningroom. The lamp has olive toned green glass and a wide ornate base. I put it on the scale once to see if it could be knocked over by my cats. It weighs 27 pounds. Absolutely cat proof. Centralia

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penny willoughby

There are three generations of crocheters in my family, and I have treasures from both my grandmothers, my mom and now my daughter. I crochet with my mother's hook, worn and shiny from millions of stitches. What you have is a most precious gift, the gift of someone's love for you both. As my Mom used to say, "Use it in good health!"

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L.L.Coleman

Wow– Josh's mom has the talent for writing that her son has. Her note beautifully conveys the soul of the work put into it, as well as why a crocheted tablecloth has so much more to it than meets the eye. Love it

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Erin R.

I don't have any true heirloom pieces at my house but what I do have are my mother's olive green Pyrex mixing bowls that she received as a wedding gift. I remember so many cakes, sauces and of course pancake mixes lovingly stirred in those bowls. It always makes me smile when I fix anything in them to serve my own family. Thank you for sharing this post 🙂

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Karen Hartley

Quilts,I most recentley lost my best friend. I am 48 ,She was 83. We spent hours talking and Quilting together . After her death , I was giving all her Quilts And all her Quilting stuff. I love her and I miss her.I made a quilt wall to hang up some of her Quilts. I guard them with my life. I have them all over the house but they are for decoration.I use her old quilts but the new ones are in my closet.

Thanks for asking and letting me share. I learned alot more from her than just quilting. I learned how to be a friend. 🙂 Karen

I love you guys.

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Monica Hommerding

I love looking for doilies and embroidered table coverings when I am "junking". With a little TLC, a castaway doily, potholder or table runner can become a treasure. Some of my greatest finds came from those bins and boxes that you refer to. My aunt has a little antique potholder obsession that numbers in the thousands now.

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pat

Beautifully written- a tribute to a table covering made with love!!! I have started using all my inherited china- sitting behind closed doors of a cupboard gives no one a chance to enjoy what past generations used!!!

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Cee Cee

What a wonderful entry! I agree…if you love it…use it! Thank you for the reminder.

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Cheryl Dwyer

I, too, crochet tablecloths, to give as gifts to family and friends. Thank you for this lovely essay… I use my Moms favorite bowl for serving, and my grandmothers dishes and silver are now used by my daughter and her family. When the older things are brought out, its as if the loved ones are with us again, if only for a little while…

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Charlotte Hawk

As a knitter I can appreciate the time, love and work that went into this. So much love is put into work like this. What a treasured gift.

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Melissa

What a wonderful gift made of love. I am sure Dr.Brent will take great care of his new tablecloth. Thanks for the stats, never knew they had so many stitches.

When I first recieved my grandmothers china, I ran out and bought a a beautiful cabinet to place it in. There I would admire it while remembering how she selected me to enjoy it. Not much time passed before I realized she would want me to use that timeless blue and white china.

My friends felt so special when coming over for dinner and I was using my grandmothers china. Wonderful food deserves to be served on special dishes to make my own memories.

Enjoy your holiday,

Melissa

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Alaine

The amount of love put into that cloth can only begin to be measured in miles of thread.

I whole heartedly agree that we should use our heirlooms, enjoy them, and remember all the memories created with and around them.

(Fabulous Beekman Boys seasons should be longer to cover all these great things!)

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Skip Haughay

That cloth on your dining table is a beautiful piece of work. You can just FEEL the number of hours that must have gone into its construction… the scope of it even more impressive with the sizable dimensions of the underlying table.

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Tammy Wolford

I learned to crochet myself due to the inspiration of my grandmother. It hit me one day when I pulled out a table runner and doilies she had made years ago. She is gone now, but she has given me not only some treasured heirlooms, but a lifelong hobby.

It was beautiful to read Jackie's note. You are so lucky to have loving mothers…and ones who are so talented and well spoken too. Inspirational words.

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Pam

I use my granny linens, ancient silver-plated candlesticks and serving pieces. My great-aunt's Bavarian china sugar bowl sweetens coffee and tea. All through the house I am "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses". This post of yours brought tears to my eyes. My beloved grandmother will be 103 on 9 July. I have doilies and bedspreads she has tatted and they are so very cherished and very used.

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Yvonne

You two are so lucky to have that great woman in your lives…kiss her hug her and tell her you love her daily…..she is a saint

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Maggie Carrico

I do have some heirlooms packed away somewhere maybe this shall be the time to find them and bring them out.

What a beautiful letter that came with the tablecloth. You can tell that Josh is a very lucky man to have a mom like his who loves him very much.

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Martha P

I love Josh's mom. 🙂

I use cloth napkins at my house–no fancy matched set, just odd napkins, some singles, some pairs, some out of full sets. Some belonged to my late mother, some were her sisters. They always remind me of family dinners from my childhood. Some are a bit stained, a bit worn, but some are decades old, but they still serve their purpose. Now I will think of your table covering when I pass out the napkins.

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