Thursday, July 25, 2013

Worth remembering

They sit in a chest along with doilies and other handmade linens. I can't part with them. They are made by the women of my history. They are pieces of art pieces I take out often and remember.

A lump of dough was the first napkin used by the Spartans. These lumps were called apomagdalie and were made into small rolls then kneaded at the table. I'm not sure that these slippery pieces of flour and water were very absorbent, but then I've never tried this method of hands cleansing myself. Not surprisingly, sliced bread followed. I guess you could eat your napkin if you were still hungry. The Romans came along with napkins known as sudaria. These came in small or large sizes. They were smaller fabric used to wipe the brow during mealtime since the climate in Rome was a bit toasty most days. A mappa was spread over the lounging couch to protect it from food. Difficult to eat lying down. Has to be a messy bit of business.

Of course as a child, I often did what they did in the Middle ages. In place of the napkin, mouths and hands were wiped on whatever was easiest at the time: back of the hand, clothing, a sister's sleeve.The twins seem to like this method.

There was a later tradition where the servant presented the guests with a small bowl of water and a towel. I have been to restaurants that now offer the same minus the servant. I remember the first time I a small bowl of water was set before me. Doing what I usually do in such circumstances, I watched everyone else. Wasn't such a good idea. They were watching me! When the small warm towel was delivered, we all breathed a sigh of relief.

You might wonder what has brought on this napkin mania. Last night I was trying to get to sleep and an image of me as a child sitting with my parents came to mind. There I sat at a table while Dad tied a cloth napkin behind my head giving me a bib (grown up bib). I had forgotten about that simple task that was both sweet and practical. If the napkin could not be tied, a corner was tucked inside the top of my shirt or dress. Of course, it came untucked several times. A simple memory but one that makes me smile.

I like this history of the napkin. I like that I can look at those pieces of cloth in the chest and think of the hands that created them. It is those simple things in life that are worth remembering.

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