Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet’s friend Shelley was teaching her how to weave. The first thing Aunt Lillibet made that didn’t fall apart was a tea-towel. She was very proud of it.
“It’s very good for your first try,” said Benson’s mother.
“It’s not really my first try,” said Aunt Lillibet. “It’s my seventh try. The first six things turned out to be just strings with gaps between them. But I’m quite proud of this one. I’m going to give it to Nanna. You know how she loves tea-towels.”
They all went to visit Nanna. When Aunt Lillibet gave her the tea-towel, she said, “Lillibet, it’s beautiful! You’ve done such a good job!”
“I’m glad you like it,” said Aunt Lillibet. “Now make sure you use it. Don’t just put it away in a cupboard.”
“Of course I’ll use it!” said Nanna, “but it may take me a while.” Nanna opened up the bottom drawer in her kitchen to put the tea-towel in. It was stuffed so full of tea-towels that she couldn’t fit Aunt Lillibet’s tea-towel in.
“Nanna!” said Benson. “You’ve got so many tea-towels! How many do you have?”
Nanna said, “Well, there are quite a lot in this drawer.” She opened up another drawer, so full of tea-towels that they leapt out of the drawer as soon as she opened it. “And even more in here,” she said. Then she opened a cupboard next to the sink. More and more tea-towels spilled out. “Most of them are in here. I don’t know how many there are. When I try to count them, I lose count.”
“Nanna!” said Benson’s mother. “That’s far too many tea-towels! Why don’t you use them?”
“I do use them!” Nanna said. “I dry the dishes after breakfast and after lunch and after dinner every day, and sometimes I do an extra washing-up even when everything’s clean, just so I can use my tea-towels! But it takes a very long time to wear out a tea-towel.”
Benson was lifting out some of the tea-towels in the cupboard. “Some of these are really old,” he said. “Here’s one with the Queen on it.”
“My sister gave that to me a long time ago,” Nanna said. “I only use that to dry the dishes on special occasions like the Queen’s birthday.”
“I remember giving you this one,” Benson’s mother said, holding up a tea-towel covered with wild-flowers.
“I love that one so much I use it every Friday. Friday is my favourite day of the week,” Nanna said.
“This one’s really cool,” Benson said. He held up a tea-towel that had pictures of thorny devils and desert frogs and lizards on it.
“That’s the one your Uncle Lionel gave me after his trip to the desert,” Nanna said. “I use it whenever he comes over for afternoon tea. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Benson pulled out more and more tea-towels. There were tea-towels with calendars on them, tea-towels with Christmas songs on them, tea-towels with teddy-bears, tea-towels with birds, tea-towels with smiling wombats, tea-towels with baby wombats, tea-towels with wombats in hats, tea-towels with wombats dressed as teddy-bears, so many tea-towels that Benson started to feel dizzy.
“Why do you have so many tea-towels, Nanna?” he said.
“People give them to me,” she said. “Whenever someone goes away on a trip they bring me a tea-towel, or for my birthday, or Mother’s Day, or Christmas. They say to themselves, ‘Nanna loves tea-towels, let’s get her a tea-towel,’ and I do love them. I love washing them and ironing them nice and straight, and I like the way they make nice stacks in the drawers and in the cupboard, and most of all I love drying the dishes with a tea-towel that someone I love has given me. It’s just that there are quite a lot of them now. I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to use them all.”
Benson nodded and said, “Because you’re very old now.”
“Benson!” said Aunt Lillibet. “That’s very rude!”
“I only mean that even if Nanna washed up six times a day for the rest of her life she wouldn’t be able to wear out all these tea-towels,” Benson said.
“Yes, you’re right,” Nanna said. “It makes me sad to think of all these beautiful gifts lying in drawers and cupboards and not getting used.”
Aunt Moss had been thinking. “Nanna, don’t you think your curtains are looking a bit old and worn out?” she said.
“Yes, Moss, a bit like me,” Nanna said.
“No, I mean, why not make some new curtains out of tea-towels?” Aunt Moss said. “Lillibet can sew them together for you. Then whenever you close your curtains, you could see all your beautiful tea-towels spread out.”
“That’s a wonderful idea!” Nanna said.
They all set to work with Nanna’s old sewing machine and made beautiful new curtains. There were still plenty of tea-towels left so they made curtains for Benson’s room and Aunt Moss’s room too. Benson’s had tea-towels with wild animals on them, and whales and swordfish. Aunt Moss’s had ducks and lizards and turtles.
“There are still so many tea-towels left,” said Benson’s mother. “What about making table-cloths?”
They set to work again and made table-cloths for Uncle Lionel and Uncle Elton, and for Zali’s mum Teresa, and one for Benson’s mother with wombats dressed as Santas on them.
When they were finished, they had scones and carrot cake and crumpets and lavender shortbread, and there was so much washing-up to do, everyone had to help, and they used every last tea-towel in the drawer.
Benson’s mother said, “I never thought I’d say this, but I think you’ve run out of tea-towels, Nanna.”
“Oh no, there’s no fear of that,” Nanna said. She went to the big linen cupboard in the hall and opened it. Inside there were stacks and stacks of neatly-ironed tea-towels.