I almost threw away my old lace napkins.
They have rust stains on them. In order to cover the stains, I threw them in a pot of green dye and boiled them. The dye was not a success. The napkins all came out in slightly varying shades of green, and the rust stains—while less noticeable—were still there. I used them once and was self-conscious the whole time.
“People are going to think I didn’t wash the napkins!” I worried. But I washed them again, ironed them and kept them anyway.
Then, over the holidays, I had the whole family over. I eyed the old green napkins.
They have what appears to be handmade lace around the edges and a crocheted medallion in one corner. They are a generous size and made of good, sturdy cotton. They are serviceable napkins in every way except for the small spots that appear on almost every one of them.
“Not one person in 10 can see those spots!” my husband, Peter, says when I tell him I’m thinking of throwing out the old napkins.
(There are 12 napkins so, even if Peter is right, that still means one person might notice and think, “Did she wash these napkins?”)
But I used them anyway. I don’t think anyone noticed. Then I washed them again and looked at them before I ironed them. The stains were just as noticeable. The shades of green are no more uniform.
And I realized I kind of liked them.
I have no idea where these napkins came from. I found them when I was cleaning out my barn, preparing to sell my old farmhouse years ago. They are not family heirlooms. I have to assume I picked them up at a garage sale somewhere. I probably didn’t look at them closely until I got home, saw the rust stains on them and tucked them away—unsure from the very beginning whether or not I should keep them.
I wonder who made them. It was a lot of work. I wonder where the rust stains came from. That must have been disappointing for whoever owned them. I’m guessing it happened many years ago. And here I am, still using them. And I do like them.
Things don’t have to be perfect. That’s what I’m finally coming to accept.
My own inability to reach perfection was an ongoing source of frustration for decades until I reconciled myself to the fact that I was, in fact, good enough. Good enough was a laudable goal. And these napkins, while they would never be featured on any magazine cover, are good enough—more than adequate, in fact—for the celebrations I host, which will also not be perfect, but hopefully good enough for everyone in attendance.
It is nice to use something that is old and loved and imperfect.
I look at these napkins and imagine the life they must have had when they were new. Likely they were a wedding present to somebody a very long time ago. They were used for festive gatherings I cannot imagine by people I never knew and maybe just a little of that history is left, maybe a little of that laughter remains, somewhere in their imperfections.
I ironed the old napkins. I folded them. I put them in the drawer for another use at another celebration with different people—of whom, perhaps, one in 10 might wonder about the rust stains, now camouflaged with green dye.
They still have a purpose—imperfect as they are. And I take inspiration from that.
Till next time,
Carrie Classon is a freelance writer and author and lives in New Mexico. Her columns appear each week.