Do you have placemats? the woman enthusiastically asked the mercantile manager.
Placemats? I thought. Do people still use placemats?
I kept my mouth shut.
No, the manager said, we don’t.
I’m sure they’d really sell here, the woman said. You should get some.
The woman and her kids walked around the store a bit longer, then took their items for purchase up to the register.
We were in the John Muir Woods last year, and we bought placemats, the tourist woman told The Man.
Placemats? he asked, obviously perplexed.
Yeah, placemats, she said. You know, you go into any store, any grocery store, and they sell placemats, she said.
I tried to remember the last time I’d seen placemats for sale in a store. Maybe Wal-Mart? Maybe a small-town thrift store, way in a back corner? I certainly didn’t recall seeing placemats in a grocery store any time since we moved into a new century.
The Man must have still looked confused, because the tourist lady clarified by saying, Plastic placemats.
Oh, those things, I thought. There was a brief time of tackiness in the late 70s or maybe the early 80s when my family used plastic placemats, but they were long gone before the 90s rolled in. I was surprised to hear someone was still using plastic placemats.
They’re great souvenirs, the tourist woman was telling The Man. They’re inexpensive and easy to pack. They have really pretty photos on both sides, she went on. Now whenever we eat dinner, we can remember our trip. You should get some, she said. They’d be really easy to make. You just need photos to put between the plastic. I bet you would sell out of them in two weeks.
I bet we wouldn’t sell out of plastic placemats in two weeks since this woman was the only person in almost two months who’d ever mentioned such a thing. But I kept my mouth shut.
At the end of the transaction, The Man handed the receipt to the tourist woman.
Is there a phone number on here? she asked while waving the receipt.
The Man retrieved the receipt from the woman’s hand and looked it over to find a phone number. Once found, he pointed it out to her.
Oh good! She said. When I get back home, I’ll look on the placemats and see if there’s an 800 number for the company that makes them. If there’s a phone number, I’ll call and give it to you. I know they would sell really well out here. Is there someone particular I should ask for?
We all named the manager who was standing right there and had not said a single encouraging thing about selling plastic souvenir placemats.
The tourist woman and her kids left the store.
She really likes placemats, I observed. All of my coworkers agreed, that woman really likes placemats.
She’s a placemat evangelist, I told them.
A few days later while I was alone in the mercantile, the phone rang. I answered it, and the woman on the other end of the line asked for the manager. I told her the manager would be in on Friday. I asked the caller if she wanted to leave a message. She did.
She gave me her name and number, and when I asked her what I should tell the manager the call was about, she said, Regarding placemats.
It was her! It was the placemat evangelist! She really had called about the placemats!
When The Man came back into the store, I said with a grin, Guess who called.
He couldn’t guess, so I said, The placemat evangelist!
Well, he said, when she says she’s going to do something, I guess she really means it.
Hi, speaking as an an apparent anachronism, I’m just curious: If you don’t use placemats under your food, how to you protect the surface from getting dirty or stained? I have a wood dining table, and I use placemats to protect the wood — not plastic ones with photos, but usually cloth or other natural materials. They also collect crumbs that can be shaken out. Much easier than washing a tablecloth. I wasn’t aware they were out of style. What do people do instead these days?
Hi Muriel! Thanks for letting us know that placemats are alive and well outside the home of the placemat evangelist! I always enjoy and appreciate your input.
I suppose I should not be writing about what’s “normal” or in style when it comes to place settings. I rarely sit at a table to eat, and when I do, it’s typically a picnic table. I actually have no idea what normal people do with their tables.
Now I’m thinking about friends who live in houses and what their tables are like.
One friend has a dining room table in a nook off her kitchen, but I’ve never sat at it. Whenever I eat over there, we usually use the coffee table in the living room, in front of the television.
Another couple I’m friends with has a table (formica, maybe? is that a thing?) but we never sit at the table to eat.
At my sibling’s house, we do eat at a dining room table made of wood. There’s no placemats or tablecloth, although we do use coasters under our beverages.
Maybe it’s a generational thing? My excuse is that I live in a van and don’t really eat at a dining room table. All the other people I mentioned are in their 40s, which means we grew up in the 70s. Maybe those folks don’t have tables nice enough to worry about or they just don’t care very much. I’m not sure.
As far as crumbs, I think my friends probably wipe them off with a damp cloth.
Your placemats made from cloth or other natural material sound nicer, than plastic ones and totally easier than dealing with a tablecloth.
I have placemat sets going back to the seventies. Where are they all? In a drawer.
Oh, Nelda, take the placemats out of the drawer and start using them, especially the ones from the 70s! (Are there images of mushrooms on the mats from the 70s?)