She Started a Unique Thanksgiving Tradition

Every year, her Thanksgiving guests sign her tablecloth, then she embroiders their signatures.

Posted in , Oct 4, 2021

Deb embroidering her Thanksgiving tablecloth

I kept it in a special box stored with the other holiday decorations and pulled it out on the day my brother was to arrive with his wife for Thanksgiving. I carried it to the dining room. When I unfolded the simple white tablecloth, its colorful adornments popped to life. The signatures of all the family and friends who’d ever shared a Thanksgiving meal at our table were hand-embroidered on top.

I’d started my embroidery tradition 20 years ago, on our inaugural Thanksgiving together as a blended family. My husband, David, and his five children. My daughter and me. I wanted a tradition that was uniquely ours. Something we could look forward to.

The first time I laid out the clean white cloth and asked the kids to sign it, my family looked at me as if I were crazy. Write on the tablecloth we hoped to protect from gravy and cranberry sauce spills? Yes! And these days, David and I have grandkids to do the spilling.

Each year I used a different color embroidery thread, so we could relive the highlights of particular gatherings. I saw my grandkids’ signatures go from scribbles to print. We added drawings for milestones—a baby’s handprint, a graduation cap. Everyone left a mark, including boyfriends and girlfriends, who came and (often) went. A teenage grandson showed some concern one year: “Will you remove her name if we break up?”

“She was a part of our Thanksgiving, so her name stays,” I said. (Although I strategically placed our dishware when there was a broken heart at our table.)

Now I smoothed out the tablecloth, my fingers running over the threaded ridges. I lingered over our daughter Mary’s name. I wish you could be here with us, Mary. I had lost her to an aneurysm when she was 44. It would be our eighth Thanksgiving without her, and it never got easier for me.

The doorbell rang, and I ran to let in my brother, Tom, and his wife. They’d traveled from North Carolina for their first Thanksgiving with us. After greetings and hugs, I led them into the dining room. Tom looked wide-eyed at the tablecloth he had seen only in pictures. He traced over our mom’s signature, and I put my hand on his. “I’m thankful to have started this while she was alive.”

“It’s almost as if she’s with us here still,” he said. “Same for Mary.”

More than something to look forward to, our tradition holds memories to look back on. Everyone we love is at our table when we sit down for Thanksgiving dinner.

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