It was a quiet pleasure to go to the cabinet and take out cloth napkins for a weeknight supper at my fiancé Len’s house. I’d given the napkins to him as a gift a few months ago. I bought him an everyday set, as well as a set for festive occasions. I am sure that he and his teenage son rarely, if ever, use them when I am not here (do they use any napkins?), but I am not hurt by that.
I’m finding it is simply satisfying for me to have cloth napkins for when I am there. Paper napkins grate me, and using cloth instead has become as much who I am as is cooking without chemically-laden packaged food. It isn’t that I am trying to force tree-saving, eco-friendly living on Len and his family, I realize, but that the cloth napkin habit is more about my own comfort level.
Most of my pleasure in cloth napkins reflects my love of trees, wanting to be their ally, not wanting to waste them. Maybe when I sit down to dinner and pick up a cloth napkin the symbol of them sparks my feelings about trees and it exudes through me in a way, opening my heart. Maybe it is that a table set with cloth napkins becomes a form of reverence, a gesture of gratitude for nature, the way a prayer before eating would.
I haven’t bought paper napkins in about 15 years, so you can only imagine how ingrained the cloth napkin habit has become instilled in me. But what you might not know is the fun of cloth napkins.
We have a napkin drawer at home and each napkin in there has its own history of where it came from. Many are gifts, like the set one of my sister’s gave us to go with the heirloom table cloth I inherited from our mother and that I bring out every Thanksgiving. Many I bought for specific festivities, such as brightly colored ones for a dinner party I gave mid-winter, just to allay the winter doldrums. And many I bought because they were so pretty. I think of these stories every time I set the table. Each napkin carries a fond memory and family history.
Recently named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine, Annie has authored four books, including “Home Enlightenment” (Rodale Press, 2005) and “Better Basics for the Home” (Three Rivers Press, 1999). A renowned expert in non-toxic and green living, Annie is the executive editor of Care2′s Healthy & Green Living.