Mine has never been a place-mat family. Growing up on the farm, our kitchen table was where we ate our meals, washed the dishes in dishpans, did our homework, helped Mom saw up sides of pork, and Mom stacked the wrung out laundry she had scrubbed along with her knuckles on an aluminum washboard in a washtub set on two chairs, in water carried by the pailful from a well in summer, a slough in spring, or snow melted on the cookstove in winter.
Our table was topped with linoleum in a bold green checkered pattern glued securely in place, the edges smoothed round so they were comfortable while leaning an arm on them. The linoleum withstood years of nicks from knives, cushioned the clatter of cutlery, and resisted refinement by anything less than a full length tablecloth, slung over it at Christmas.
Placemats are to protect the dinner table from water marks, food stains or heat damage. They also serve as decoration. In restaurants they can be used to advertise menu items, specials, and local businesses. They may also have games for children.
A placemat would have been one more frivolous item for Mom to launder and me to iron. Such ‘putting on the dog’ we left to our city aunts who had standing weekly invitations for ‘the girls’ to visit for afternoon tea.
Outside of books, we didn’t know what a dining table or a dining room was until we visited those aunts in our teenage years.
When I was given a Darby microwave three years ago I quickly adopted a placemat to save my vinyl tablecloth. My morning bowl of oatmeal, even heated for only 55 seconds, comes out of the microwave hot enough to imperil the vinyl. I harbour visions of the bowl melting down through to the bare wood of the table like the sofa cushion brought in by a young man with a perfect circle of yellow foam visible where he had set a cup of cocoa fresh from his microwave and melted the fabric to oblivion.
I wonder if he heated his cocoa unnecessarily hot. And did he need to use pot holders or retrieve the cup balancing it on two dinner forks like Erma Bombeck taking a pie from her oven?
I’m still not comfortable with my microwave. Sometimes the dish comes out too hot to touch; other times the dish and its contents are little more than warm. I’m never sure what to expect.
While others cook entire meals of roast pork and such, I use mine strictly to heat up a portion of something I’ve cooked by old fashioned means in the oven or a stove-top pan a day or two before.
Having lots of upholstery scraps to choose from, I cut a circle the size of a coaster from garment-weight leather dyed cream. Because the leather barely peeps out from around the Corelle bowl’s base, and fresh from the microwave the bowl always has enough condensation to provide super suction, the leather often transfers along into the sink. Fortunately, water doesn’t damage the leather but hiding in the sink leaves me placemat-less at the next microwaved meal unless I’ve caught up on dishwashing.
Glossy leaflets from fast food restaurants that arrive in every Wednesday’s mail make good substitutes. They cover ample space to protect the tablecloth, and later can be added to the recycling. For dinner plates, tabloid-sized leaflets, almost laminated, arrive in the Western Producer as advertisements from major suppliers of seed, fertilizer, fuels or farm equipment.
Their impenetrable surface can be wiped clean with a damp dish cloth and the leaflet reused many times.
A Saskatchewan bachelor arranges his place setting on a Kramer auction catalogue similar to a thin Telus phone directory. After a messy meal, he tears off the stained page and he’s got a clean page for the next meal.
Lazy or practical? In my case, both.