There it sat, on a crowded shelf at the back of Miss Kane’s second-hand store in small, rural Truxton. Folded neatly over itself several times into the shape of a square, the warm orange and toasted butterscotch hues of the yarn sparkled in the sunlight pouring in from the window.
The woven tablecloth ended up here because of the passing of the venerable Mrs. Johnson, matriarch of the Johnson Dairy Farm. Mrs. Johnson was known for her large family gatherings and overflowing tables of delicious, hearty food. Many Truxton-ites had the pleasure of filling up on her famous goulash, a family recipe passed down from storied Hungarian relatives. Indeed, Mrs. Johnson had been a well-loved, intrinsic part of the town; those who were fortunate enough to have dined at her table would always remember it as an honor.
But yet, here sat her beloved tablecloth in Miss Kane’s shop. Old Farmer Johnson couldn’t bear to look at it as 48 years’ worth of memories seemed to spill out of every crease. His seven children didn’t want the tablecloth, either, as it didn’t suit their trendier tastes or it, too, reminded them of Mama’s laughter, which used to fill every room of the huge farmhouse.
Along with most of her knick-knacks, piles of matronly barn clothes, and dusty trinkets from every corner of the creaky house, the tablecloth was thrust onto the immense pile of “donations” created after her passing. Volunteers sifted through the boxes and sent many items to other charities in neighboring towns. Miss Kane’s tiny store simply didn’t have room for more, so the tablecloth and a couple of aged figurines were the only things that scored shelf-space in her quiet nook.
Eileen wracked her brain about how she would make ends meet as a single mother. That good-for-nothing louse had cheated on her for the last time. This go-round, he got the girl pregnant. His lazy ass had been glued to her couch non-stop when he wasn’t out carousing, banging the newest piece of meat, or working at the auto repair shop just a few hours a week (when they needed an extra hand). It was difficult for him to focus even those few hours at the garage as he was constantly vacillating between being tanked and hungover. It felt good to kick him out the front door the other day – to literally kick him out in his underwear – but, soon the fear began to set in. While he was absolutely useless, she knew, her co-dependency was heightened as she feared being utterly alone to raise her son.
After an hour sitting in a gas line that was now the new normal of 1979, Eileen paid the attendant with the last coins she could dig out of her change purse. With her car half-filled up, she could now attempt to find work. Derek, almost two, faded in and out of sleep in the backseat as she deliberated about which direction to travel. These rural roads would take her to another small town with few, if any, jobs available; but she had no choice. As she merged onto the two-lane road, she fretted about conserving gas.
Fifteen miles east, she heard a loud noise as her rusty car lurched to the right. She was able to pull over to the side of the road safely, but her heart sank as she remembered this had happened months before. She had asked Leon to take care of it last time, and now silently prayed he had been on top of it. A quick peek into the trunk revealed a deflated spare tire under the fake floor, and she cursed Leon a thousand times more.
Hand-in-hand, she and Derek, cranky from being woken up from a sound nap, walked down the country road toward a building she saw in the distance. As they got closer, she could read the sign, Miss Kane’s Attic Treasures. Before they could cross the road, the skies opened up and poured heavy tears, almost as heavy as the tears streaming down Eileen’s cheeks. Drenched, she opened the door to the shop and ushered Derek inside in front of her. The elderly woman at the counter gasped when she saw the dripping duo and jumped up to find something with which to dry them. The little boy’s teeth were chattering as she scanned the shelves for an old towel or any piece of fabric. She grabbed hand towels and facecloths before she remembered Mrs. Johnson’s tablecloth in the back.
She offered her chair to the little family, grabbed the tablecloth off the shelf, and wrapped them both up in it, snug as a bug. While Eileen explained what happened, Miss Kane began dialing the rotary phone. “Hi Steve, yeah, can you come down here real quick? We’ve got a flat tire that needs fixing.”
In five minutes, a pudgy man of about thirty entered the store. Eileen immediately noticed his gentle eyes as he asked the whereabouts of the vehicle. An hour later he returned with three pieces of news: 1) he had found an old, but workable tire in his shed from a vehicle he once owned and, 2) by extreme luck, it fit her car and, 3) he went ahead and inflated her spare tire so she’d be prepared for any future emergency. She was ready to go!
Eileen was stunned. After enduring such horrible treatment from Leon for so long, she couldn’t believe the benevolence she had received in the last hour. She burst into tears, again, and jumped up to hug this mysterious, kind Steve. She also hugged Miss Kane, who was doting on Derek. Eileen pulled the tablecloth off the chair and handed it back to Miss Kane.
“I’m sorry to have made this so wet!”
“Nonsense,” replied Miss Kane, pushing the tablecloth back into Eileen’s hands. “The sun is going down and you know how cold these upstate NY nights get. Please, take it with you. Keep this little guy warm in it.”
“But...I have no money to pay for it.”
Miss Kane shook her head and gently ushered them out the door where Steve walked them to the car.
In the months that followed, that tablecloth was used as a coverlet on Derek’s small bed, as a temporary window shade, and as a makeshift pillow for the couch with the broken springs where Derek watched his cartoons. It was also used as a picnic blanket when Eileen and Derek ate tuna salad sandwiches under a tree in the park…with Steve.
A year later, Eileen returned to Miss Kane’s shop with the tablecloth in hand. She wanted to return it as she didn’t need it anymore. She and Steve were getting married and planning to buy a home together. Eileen had found a job waiting tables near her old home and was excited to be able to afford new linens and décor for the future home. The woven tablecloth had been well-used, but was still in perfect condition, and she wanted to return it so someone else could use it.
Miss Kane got a lump in her throat as she accepted the tablecloth. She would put it right back on the shelf where it used to reside, but only after she took the wedding invitation from Eileen’s hand and promised to be there with bells on.
Jeanne-Marie had spent the last two hours driving through hilly farmland, singing along to her new Hall and Oates cassette tape playing at full blast. She was getting hungry, but her best friend Maureen was still asleep in the passenger seat with her feet on the dashboard. She braked when she saw Miss Kane’s shop and pulled into the gravel lot. Hopefully there would be a bathroom inside!
A budding seamstress, Jeanne-Marie was actually studying biology at Albany State; but, that was only because her parents insisted that she major in something solid. In her heart she knew she would design clothes no matter what major was displayed on her diploma. She and Maureen entered the shop and asked politely if there was a bathroom. Miss Kane smiled and pointed to the back of the room, then went back to her knitting.
While Maureen was locked in the bathroom, Jeanne-Marie perused the shelves in the shop. Always on the lookout for unique items, Jeanne-Marie loved romping around Salvation Army Thrift Stores on a regular basis. She’d often leave with armloads of retro clothes featuring fringe and beads from the early 70s, even though it was currently the early 80s with big hair, shoulder pads, and gasket bracelets the rage amongst her peers. How serendipitous that, in the middle of nowhere, she fell upon a thrift store!
“Let’s go, I’m starved,” Maureen said as she emerged from the bathroom.
“Wait,” Jeanne-Marie said as she lifted an old tablecloth off the shelf. She admired the orange and brown lines, with tiny blue flowers scattered within the pattern. “This looks so cool! Imagine this as part of a dress or shirt.”
Maureen was used to her friend’s obsession with quirky items and stood there silently as Jeanne-Marie asked the price of this bundle of fabric.
“You’re the first person to show interest in that tablecloth in two years,” sighed Miss Kane as her heart jumped thinking of the history of that piece. “I’ll let you have it for free so I can make room on my shelves for new items.”
“Seriously?!” Jeanne-Marie squealed. She was always a bit dramatic. “Thank you so much! You’re too kind.”
She held the cloth against her chest and skipped outside, back into the driver’s seat, thrilled with her new treasure.
Miss Kane smiled poignantly as she watched them drive away.
Cindy searched through a rack of women’s clothes in a cute second-hand shop in Albany. She was on the hunt for items she could re-sell in her own shop. Since her grandmother’s death, Miss Kane’s Attic Treasures had remained closed for nearly a year, but Cindy was planning to reopen it to sell upscale, trendy clothing now that Truxton had a surge of new residents. She was the new Miss Kane in town, but the shop’s name would have to reflect its transformation. Surely the word “attic” couldn’t be used in the name as it clashed with her marketing plan, but she hadn’t quite figured out a new moniker yet. For now, building an inventory was her top priority.
At the back of the rack, a blouse caught her eye. It was made of different fabrics, creatively sown together. The puffy sleeves were made of denim while the chest and back were made from an older-looking fabric that screamed “retro”. The stitches were zigzagged so the front resembled a halter top. She lifted the hanger off the rack and held it in front of her face for a minute, admiring the orange and brown lines with small blue flowers. What a lucky find! On the rack below, there appeared to be a matching pair of pants – denim with patches of the same retro fabric sewed in creative squares on the legs. She quickly grabbed them both and held them together to see if she had a match. She did!
Nothing else in that store interested Cindy that day, but this cute pants outfit made the trip worthwhile. In fact, she loved it so much she’d hang it in the front window on opening day, she decided.
When she returned to Truxton a few hours later and entered the dusty shop, she laid the pants and blouse on grandma’s old chair while she fiddled with the lock. The room was full of empty clothing racks and boxes of hangers, but she wasn’t put off by the hours of work ahead needed to start her new enterprise.
She ran her fingers over the blouse again and smiled at her luck. “Oh, you’d really like this one, Grandma,” she whispered. Then she turned out the light and locked the door.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
Such a sweet story, love how the old table cloth keeps circling around and finding its way into new people’s lives. And the fact that it was repurposed into something completely different, something maybe more relevant to a younger generation, was a clever ending. Great job!
Thanks so much!!! ☺️
Clapping. The narration is really clear. The rural setting is lovely. Even when I was mentally hung up about a tablecloth you made it appear to derive from yarn. A very thick tablecloth in my experience.... The characters and storyline just plotted along beautifully. Thank you for giving me something enjoyable to read.
Thank you for reading it and commenting. Much appreciated!!
This is a great take on the prompt! A non-human character, bearing witness to many stories. It's also a neat look at how the items that have meaning to us connect us. I wonder where else the table cloth will wind up? In any case, it's story sounds like one Mrs. Johnson would have been pleased with.
I consider this high praise coming from you. Thanks!!!