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  • Writer's pictureRogene "Jeannie" McPherson, Country Notebook

The Red-and-White Checkered Dish Towel

Country Notebook

By Rogene "Jeanne" McPherson

During the half-time of a recent Chiefs football game, I carried the autumn decorations downstairs as I filled my arms with Christmas boxes for the return trip up the stairs. If I had planned better, I would have sought assistance from grandchildren during their recent visit. Their young legs seem to work better than mine, and it would have been a perfect way to burn off some of their excess energy while saving the meager supply I seem to have these days.

Fortunately, I had just enough foresight to ask my oldest grandson to bring up my pencil Christmas tree. What you ask, is a pencil tree? It’s a slim version of an artificial tree, tall but narrow from top to bottom so that it takes up less valuable space, especially necessary as grandchildren grow in height and others grow in width.


I have my share of inherited Christmas items from my mother, including the pencil tree. The top of the tree slants a little more than it supposed to, but a large red bow on the top minimizes its years of wear and tear. I’m sure I could find another tree in after-Christmas sales, but then I wouldn’t have the memories of how my siblings and their families piled around Mom’s pencil tree at Christmas.


When I opened a box of Mom’s ornaments, I smiled at the variety found inside. One summer day in the early 1960s, a traveling salesman stopped at our home and sold my mother a set of World Book Encyclopedias. He also left her with the promise that each year she would receive a free book updating the year’s events and a Christmas ornament symbolizing other world cultures. The ornaments were inexpensively made, but they were important to Mom. She kept every one of the ornaments representing countries she would not likely visit except by reading the accompanying literature. As adults going back home for Christmas, Mom always made sure we saw the new ornament that had arrived that year. World Book kept its promise for more than 40 years.


One day I ran across a red-and-white-checkered, thread-bare dish towel. It had seen better days, so I decided it could be used to wipe down my kitchen cabinets. About the same time, I also pulled out the old four-bowl Pyrex set Mom used for making homemade bread. The large yellow bowl and the towel side by side opened up a world of memories. Many batches of bread dough rose with Mom placing that checkered dish cloth across the bowl.


Homemade rolls were a frequent treat at our table, including Christmas dinner. Mom would have been up early mixing and kneading the dough, covering the bowl, and letting the dough rise for an hour or so. I think I’ll just save that old red and white towel.


Someday my family will go through the ornaments and see a ragged red-and-white-checkered dish towel. After all, isn’t one of the joys of Christmas having secrets and finding surprises? Hey, maybe that will be a new tradition, hiding something from Christmas past that will make my kids in the future wonder about my sanity. However, right now I’m living in the present and making an effort to enjoy every moment of it.


Rogene “Jeanne” McPherson, from the Centerville area, is a regular contributor to the Linn County Journal. She recently published a book about her experiences entitled Posts from the Country, Adventures in Rural Living. It is available online in both virtual and printed editions. Copies are on the shelves at all Linn County libraries.

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