Your Placemat or Mine?




It began when she couldn't find the fourth placemat for the table. "I can't find the fourth placemat," she said.

"It was probably lost in moving," I said.

"We need more placemats," she said.

"We'll buy some tomorrow," I said.

"I'll make some," she said.

"All right," I said.


She still hadn't gotten back to her quilting, and when she said she would make new placemats, she wasn't saying that she would cut some fabric and roll the edges and call them placemats. She was saying that she needed something easy to quilt. What she actually said was, "I need to get back into the swing of things." (As I had a lot of experience I assumed she wasn't talking about baseball, tennis, or the public playground. She had many times told me that quilters swing, too; that is, they swing when quilting. Or something like that.)


"I have the fabric and I have the time and I have an idea, so I'll make the mats," she said.

"Make them soft," I advised, reminding her of her last set of quilted placemats. She had thought she was using iron-on batting, but, having lost the wrapper that had probably once identified it as iron-on steel plates for ship bottoms, and, because the interfacing looked similar to what she had used before (even though it was shiny and looked very much like an insulating blanket for a water heater), what she unknowingly used made for very heavy placemats that would not have moved during an earthquake. They didn't flex; they didn't bend; they didn't fold. I think she later used them as stepping stones in our old back yard.

"These will be soft and nice," she said.

"Go quilt them," I said.


She spent a day and a half picking out the fabric. In the meantime, as there were only two of us, we used two of the three old placemats. She spent two more days deciding on a design. "I'm a slow swinger," she confessed when I asked her how the placements were coming along.


Yesterday, I heard a sound I hadn't heard in over two weeks: her sewing machine. In our new house the sound comes out of her sewing room, goes around a corner, hops down the stairs one by one and comes searching me out wherever I may be. Today I was out deadheading some flowers I hadn't yet identified but which grew along our back fence. They are yellow and large flowers, so I call them "Big Yellow Fellows." But the sound of the machine only lasted five seconds or so, the same amount of time it took to pluck off three spent flowers.

"I heard you sewing," I said to her a few minutes later when she joined me in the yard. "Then I heard you not sewing."

"I turned on the machine, but then I decided I didn't want to work on any complicated quilting pattern for the placemats, so I turned the machine off. In a little while I will look for a very simple design to make very simple placemats."

"So you're not really ready to quilt?" I asked.

"I'm very ready to quilt, but I'm not ready to quilt big time complicated and difficult blocks."

"You could use a cheater fabric," I said, ready to jump into the pile of deadheads accumulating on the ground. It was large enough for me to hide in if she took offense to my suggesting she use preprinted fabric where she only had to quilt following the lines. No quilt-by-numbers for her. But I didn't have to hide.

"I'm going to make a real quilted placemat, but it will be simple."

"All right," I said. I was beginning to wonder if she would ever quilt again.


This morning I had breakfast alone as she planned to eat later, after she went out walking with some of our new neighbors. Three times a week, the women gathered on the sidewalks in front of our houses and went their way. I went my way. As I began my third sip of coffee, she came down from upstairs, her feet skipping over most of the steps on her way down.

"Getting ready for your walk?" I asked between sips. She had on a lightweight nylon jacket. Morning fog had rolled in from the ocean and she was prepared for it.

"Uh-huh," she said.

"You missed a few steps on the way down," I said.

"I didn't need them this morning," she said.

"Something going on?" I asked.

She looked at me straight on. Her eyes twinkled, but she didn't. She was poised on the tip of her toes as if she were about to jump. "I sewed one seam," she said as she raised her arms in what looked like some victory celebration. "I'm back," she said as she jumped eighteen feet in the air and banged her head on the high ceiling.

"You're back," I repeated after her, taking in the message.

"I sewed a seam," she said. "It was wonderful!"

"You sewed a wonderful seam?" That didn't surprise me. Back before our move, back when she was quilting 72 hours a day (in quilting time), she sewed a lot of wonderful seams.

"The seam wasn't wonderful. Sewing the seam was wonderful," she said. Not being total unaware of the English language, I knew the difference immediately. But I was wary, unsure.

"And?" I asked carefully.

"And when I get back from the walk and after I eat breakfast, I'm going to sew another seam," she said.

"Quilting again?"


"The placemats?"

"Of course."

"Okay," I said. Inside my head, so she couldn't hear me and get all excited, I shouted, "Okay!"

"You bet," she said, and she came down from her high and turned and went out for her walk. I took another sip of coffee.

"You bet," I called after her.


Copyright 2001 by A.B. Silver



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