Provence on My Table

While digging around in my pantry, my eyes fell on folds of blue printed fabric. I have scanned past the tablecloth countless times since it found its place years ago, never really seeing it. This day, though, I lingered, gazing at the folds, wondering if it would fit my dining table, not remembering entirely what it looked like. Instead of leaving it in its place, I pulled it out, feeling the cheap cotton with my fingers, remembering more and more as it unfolded in my hands.

Rain sprinkled around us as we took shelter beneath a canopy, crowded around folding tables piled with tablecloths and sets of napkins, all in brightly colored Provencal fabrics. The rain dripped down off the edges of the canopy and dribbled down our sides, precariously half exposed to the late summer storm. The city today was Arles, but it might as well have been Avignon or any other number of beautiful Provencal towns; the beautiful fabrics were everywhere to be seen. I had been in France for only a handful of days by this time, my first time out of the country. And I found myself in a group of girls as part of a study abroad program through our university. We were to live in Paris for a semester, but we started off the semester with a beautiful week in Provence. As we huddled together, avoiding the warm rain that September day, I flipped through the stacks of fabrics, looking toward the future thinking how wonderful it would be to bring home a beautiful Provencal tablecloth for my future home, an item for a hope chest, if I had one. I selected one with a blue textured background and bordered with olives and green vines with just a hint of yellow. It wasn’t the most elegant or most beautiful, but it was as much as I wanted to spend. It was, I reasoned, perfectly casual, and I would, therefore be more likely to use it often. At the time, I had no idea how large typical dining tables were, and even if I had, it wouldn’t have helped since all measurements in France were in metric. I bought one, hoping for the best.

When I pulled it out, nearly ten years later, I hoped it would fit. I unfolded it, and tried to measure as best I could, seeing as how my dining table was full of stuff. Books, toys, keys, mail, my dining table is too often a landing pad for stuff. I stretched it out next to the table, and found to my delight it was just right. While dinner simmered away, I relocated the stuff to the counter (heaven forbid I put it away!) and spread the table cloth out. Having been buried beneath a pile in the pantry, the tablecloth wasn’t dusty, and the creases weren’t bad. I admired it, noting the blue was a nice hue with the blue walls we painted last summer. I didn’t adore it, my tastes have changed, and it’s certainly dated, but I do like it. And more to the point, it holds my dear memories of Provence.

Sous Chef walked in just then, and with a perplexed look on her face, she pointed at the table and asked, “what’s that?”

I had to laugh at myself. I told her it was a tablecloth, and shook my head as I did. Was my three-year-old really not familiar with tablecloths? It wasn’t that, I’m sure. We had just had a plastic Curious George tablecloth for her birthday party, and we’ve certainly been around tablecloths elsewhere as well. Rather, I’m sure she was surprised to see such a brightly colored one. I liked it though, however strange Sous Chef thought it was, and I decided to keep it out. It reminded me of happy times in France and helped me feel a bit more put together, even with the mess relegated to the counter. It was a way of bridging my memories with my reality, weaving together two important components of my self.

That is, until Sous Chef spilled a cup full of milk on it at dinner one night. Then it was time for laundering, which comes around altogether too often with a three-year-old in the house.


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