EST. May 2000 (AD)


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Antique Linens as Emergency Shrouds

By Elizabeth Hanes

Ah, it's that time of year again: the holidays. And along with good food, festive decorations and presents, the holidays also bring family members. Lots and lots of family members. The old and the young, the large and the small, they all pilgrimage to your hospitable door because, let's face it, you're the only one in your family who can cook decently, decorate festively, and who actually had the drive to make something of herself in life and thereby possesses the wherewithal to give generous presents.

Of course, this annual influx of dozens of houseguests can only mean one thing: drinking. Lots and lots of drinking. Everything from traditional spiked eggnog to champagne to cooking sherry and vanilla extract. Wherever and whenever you can tipple, you will, out of self-defense. And so will everyone else, frankly. How else could you graciously ignore Great-Aunt Edna's habitual throat-clearing, Uncle Harvey's off-color Santa jokes or little Bobby's incessant, bratty whining? Yes, it is alcohol that makes the holidays the warm and fuzzy family occasion we've come to know and love.

Some family members no doubt will overindulge, adding a little too much vodka to their eggnog or drinking the entire bottle of peppermint schnapps you had squirreled away in the freezer for a "special occasion." When this occurs, someone's going to end up passed out. This presents no problem for the perky hostess until one discovers that Great-Aunt Edna, having swiftly consumed a trio of snifters of cognac, no longer is snoring, or even breathing, and has not been for quite some time. You realize she is not simply passed out on the sofa but, rather, has permanently passed out. To put it delicately, she has passed away.

The obvious question now becomes: how do you decorate around Great-Aunt Edna so that the rest of you can enjoy your holiday festivities until the coroner's office arrives to transport her?

A couple of ideas spring to mind. You could, of course, simply throw an old drop-cloth over the top of her and let it go at that. However, since Great-Aunt Edna had no children of her own, was fabulously wealthy, and you were her favorite niece (who stands to inherit the whole kit and caboodle), your conscience might niggle you to do something a bit more classy for the old dame. If your conscience doesn't prod you, surely your desire to show off your superior breeding and impeccable taste in front of the rest of your family members will. Thus, I would suggest making a visit to the linen closet.

Antique linens make splendid emergency shrouds. In fact, the Egyptians used linen for mummification, a fact which might come in handy if, for example, you're forced to use your ostentatious, gas-guzzling Lincoln Navigator to run down a disgruntled ex-gardener who's somehow managed to slip past the security system into your heavily-guarded enclave. Simply toss his body into a brine pond for several days, fish him out, wind him tightly in an early-1920s hand-tatted standard sized bed sheet, roll him around in the dust a bit, leave him to cure in the hayloft for several weeks (in order to produce a convincing patina) and, voila! You have a sensational conversation piece for your library.

But I digress.

In the case of Great-Aunt Edna, no winding is required. I recommend you choose a festively-colored antique damask tablecloth (but not one of the really expensive ones because, let's face it, you won't be getting this one back) in the general proportions of the dear departed. If she's tall and slender, a typical oblong tablecloth will do, and if she's shorter and more rotund then perhaps you should consider a large round. Drape the cloth casually over her body, allowing the natural softness of the cloth to create folds over the irregular contours. Depending on how the old gal is positioned, you might then consider placing a handmade pine wreath atop her head or torso area and adding a few colored tapers or glass tree ornaments to complete the effect. Use your imagination.

As you await the whine of the ambulance sirens approaching to pick up the dear departed, you can relax, sip a cup of seriously spiked eggnog, and lead the family in a rousing chorus of Christmas carols knowing that, once again, you have averted what could have been a major decorating disaster. And that's just one more thing to celebrate during this holiday season.


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