Lucy Mangan: The joy of New Napkins

Dad is in America, directing a play in Cape Cod. Or, as the rest of his family calls it, "poncing about wi' actors 'n' that - never had a proper job in 40 years, tha' knows". And my sister Emily and I are staying at my mother's for the few days before she flies out to join him, on the grounds that a) it is her first time leaving the country; b) it is her first time flying; and c) even on a normal day, the lithium-feeding duties are fast becoming too onerous for one person, as she is clearly destined to retain her upper-body strength intact until long past retirement age.

It has been, therefore, a tiring week. But one not unstudded with occasional moments of delight and jubilation. There was, for example, the admittance of The New Napkins into daily domestic life. I capitalise them because they have been a potent presence in the house for many years now, revered yet unseen, a set of eight squares of fabric bought in Bhs two decades ago and husbanded against the day when the old, uncapitalised napkins were finally demoted from meal-time companions to floor cloths - and, in due course, perhaps four or five years from now, to toilet rags.

"I'm bringing them out," Mum announced.

"Oh, gladsome morn!" cried my sister, clasping her hands together in joy.

Mum spread the 10 worn cloth squares before us, and I won't pretend that hers was the only eye wet with emotion at the sight. "I made these from a yard of material 20 years ago," she said fondly. "But it wasn't cotton. I've had to iron non-cotton napkins for all that time."

"Twenty years!" I echoed in disbelief. "And only now has she struck the board and cried, 'No more!' "

"I cut, frayed and stitched the edges," she said mistily, running a hand over her work as we listened to the familiar faint crackle of static electricity that accompanied our every childhood meal and made eating with fillings such an interesting experience.

"I remember."

"I was there."

"Our history is your history," we said.

"It's in every fold," said my sister, picking up a particularly determinedly creased specimen. "Mainly because you used to hit us if we folded them the wrong way."

" 'Flower facing outward or I'll break your bloody neck'," I quoted dreamily.

We stood and watched as the changeover took place. To think this day would ever come...

"Should we salute?" Emily asked.

"Just make sure it's white smoke coming out of the chimney," I said.

Later that day, Mum gave me a lift home. She - unusually, given that by her standards my house looks like a medieval midden - stayed for coffee, reaching for a mug as I was trying to open the sugar jar without letting her see inside (cross-pollination with the Nescafé had occurred on several occasions, rendering me liable for fines and a possible custodial sentence). "Not that one!" I said.

"Why not?"

"Where the top bit of the handle joins the cup - it's cracked."

"Why don't you throw it away?"

"Because it still works. I just don't use it for anything other than cold, non-staining liquids, drunk over the sink. One day it will break properly. Then I'll fix it and bump it back up to the hot drinks shelf again."

We looked at each other for a long moment. The ground between us shifted slightly. We reached a new, silent accommodation. Or possibly a suicide pact.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.