I had just finished eating lunch and reached for a napkin to wipe the few crumbs that had fallen into my beard. The napkin holder was empty. "Honey, do you have another napkin?" I asked, reaching my hand out.
"We're all out," she said. My hand remained outstretched.
"How can we be out of napkins?" I asked. That was a normal question to ask of a woman who insisted we buy napkins by the carton when we shopped.
"Well, if you really need one,' she answered as she stuffed my still-waiting hand with a rumpled napkin.
"Where did this one come from" I asked as I wiped away the crumbs into my plate.
She didn't answer. I looked at her for some secret supply of napkins, but all I saw was the quilting magazine she was reading. Lately she had decided the only time of the day she had left to read her quilting magazines was at table while she ate meals. To find out where she hid the napkins, I asked for a second napkin and watched her closely.
"This is the last one I have to spare," she said. She pulled the napkin from her quilting magazine and handed it to me. I looked at the quilting magazine. It was stuffed with napkins.
"What are all the napkins doing in your magazine?" I asked. I didn't dare try to guess.
"I ran out of Post-Its and Tape Flags," she said.
"Didn't we just buy some?" I asked. The question needed no answer, but she gave one.
"I used them," she said.
"What did you use the Post-Its and Tape Flags for that we ran out of that you replaced with all the napkins in the house?" Odd as that question came out, she understood it and answered.
"Place holders," she said.
"Place holders?" I heard her, but I had to be sure. I would investigate this puzzle until the end.
"To keep my place," she said in that tone of hers that suggested mine was a foolish question indeed.
"To keep your place where?" I asked. I was ruthless in pursuit.
"In the sewing magazines and quilting magazines and the embroidery magazines," she said. And she waved her hand at me to dismiss my question as being silly as well as useless. Where else would she need place holders?
"You ran out of Post-Its so you are using napkins to keep your place in the magazines. Do I have that right?"
"Absolutely," she said.
"What kind of places do you hold?" I asked naively.
"All the articles with tips or patterns or photos or useful information I need or might need some day."
"And how do you know where to look when you need the information?" I asked. It was the next logical question. But people who sew may not be ready for so logical a question.
"I look where the place holder is," she said logically. "And some of them are labeled."
"How many articles do you have marked?" I asked.
"Most of them," she said.
"Most of what you read?"
"There are a lot of good things in the magazines. That's why I read them. To find out everything."
"Do you mind showing me some of those articles or photos?" I asked. Seeing is believing.
"Go look on the shelves in the sewing room and the spare room and the bedroom and the bathroom and the living room," she said, all of which had become sewing rooms in our retirement years.
That was enough of a lead to continue my investigation. I picked up my used dishes and put them where they belonged. I threw away my used napkins so she wouldn't use them again and went into the sewing room. On one shelf was a pile of magazines. And the magazines were stuffed with napkins and Post-Its and pieces of tissue paper and toilet paper and strips of newspaper and even scraps of fabric. Article after article was marked. Kimberly-Clark and 3M suddenly became the place to invest my money, if I had any left over after buying more tissue and napkins and Post-Its. And, yes, some of the place holders were labeled, but most of the labels said the same thing: "Cute idea," or "Read this," or "Good idea." Some had more specific labels, such as "Churn Dash" or Log Cabin," or Paper-piecing."
I went back to her. You have a lot of places being held by your place holders," I said.
"Yes," she said. The way she said it also meant, "So what?"
"Do you plan to get back to those places?" I asked. "Ever?"
"Of course I plan to get back to them. Why do you think I marked them with place holders?"
"So, you are going to go back and find whatever you're looking for whenever you want to?" After seeing hundreds of place holders and the many duplicate labels, I thought I had her.
"Of course I am," she said.
"How?" I dared her.
"I'll just look through all the magazines again until I find what I want."
"Isn't that a lot of looking?"
"That's why I have the place holders," she said. I didn't reply to that. I needed a new question.
"And when you find the place, you'll remove the Post-It or napkin and use it again?"
"Of course. Every time I go back through a magazine, I find another article that's interesting. So I have to mark that, too, don't I?"
"Of course you do," I said. My investigation was over. "And if I want more napkins, I have to go buy you some more Post-Its, don't I?"
"And some napkins and tissue, too," she said.
Copyright A.B. Silver 1998
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