Saturday, July 30, 2011

Another project to finish

So, years ago, when my mom and aunt went through my mum's things, after she had been placed in a facility, as she needed 24 hour care, my mom brought home some of mum's things to me.  Some old buttons that were collected over years, that I treasure, and then quite a lot of these..
These transfers are for flour sack towels. Now, many people today do not know why flour sack towels are called that... let me explain, because it's a rant that I've been meaning to share, and this is my soap box, damn it. so.. 

Flour used to come in sacks, not made of paper, paper was very expensive to make, flour came in "sacking" you know, white material.  This was not wasted, it was used, for undergarments for children (my mom for example) or, they were cut out, and hemmed for use for drying the dishes.  Who had dishwashers after all?  This is where the rant begins, hold on.
Women had much work to do, but humans have always wanted to surround ourselves with art, with beauty, we crave it.  Women especially have tended to fill their everyday, practical possessions with beauty.  Not art to be hung on the wall, but art that was used, worn, covered our children's and our husband's bodies, and their beds.  Quilts, socks, sweaters, shawls, blankets, we've made them from new materials when we could afford it, and out of scraps of old things (old dresses became quilt pieces when the dresses could no longer be worn) so as not to waste anything.. who could afford to waste? Striped socks, after all, were striped only because you needed to use up bits of yarn that was left over from other projects. This is a rant, because so many of my friends, when I make things for them, don't want to use them, they want to frame them and put them on a wall... or I see these flour sack towels at antique shows.. like old furniture.

And we made our flour sack towels beautiful too.. my mother told me that my mum used to take seven towels with her during election day, when she and my mother's aunts would man the polls for the town, and she would take the embroidery floss, and each woman would get a towel.  By the end of the day, mum would come home with a new set of seven, the colors chosen by the woman doing the work.  I imagine that they discussed this with each other casually.  I bet my mom could tell, when mum got home, which aunt did which towel.. knowing my mom, I bet she tried to guess. My mom learned to embroidery on flour sack towels.. for that matter, so did I... After my first, laborious cross stitch, I still avoid cross stitch.

Circling back to the point, when I got those Aunt Martha's stamps, I tried to iron on the one in the picture up there (before the rant) and it was in red, and too faint to see.  I was so disappointed, I set the towels aside, they've been in a box for years.  The day I got home from my mum's funeral, John wanted to go to Joanne's for some gold ribbon for his Knug Fu belt... I went to the embroidery section (not my usual section as you know.. I was called, I swear) and I found this... just one was there...

It looked more modern, but is the exact same stamping... So instead of knitting lately, I've been working on these. 

 I've been asking various people at random intervals to pick out colors, people at work have gotten used to this, I had someone gripe at me the other day.. "HEY! it was my turn to pick the color for the guy's shirt!" (true story!)  My thought was to try to duplicate the different color choices that would have come that election day with my mum and all of my Great Aunts.  I'm starting the 5th one today, I've promised Sam that he can pick the color for the lettering (I always start there) but I'm going to be picking up my mom soon and we are going shopping today... I want her to pick out colors for the last one.  It's only fair.  

I will be using them, of course.  The ones I did way back in 2008 (you can see them in the history of the blog) have been well used, and need to be retired, they are stained with strawberry pop, and something greasy that John was cleaning up (God help me).  But these are to be USED, to be a part of every day. And I will save the old ones, maybe send them off to my quilting friends, they can use the old panels for quilting blocks.  Waste not, want not.. and everyday life, even doing the dishes, should be beautiful.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Gave the blanket to Rebecca this morning... she cried.  She's decided that she is giving it to her first grandchild.  Who is on the way. The beat goes on and on and on and on...and that is exactly what I was talking about, you know?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Finishing what's been started.

Do you know what this is?

This is Michelle, knitting on an afghan in 85+ heat, in a car, see?

Why you may ask?  It's kind of connected to the last post.. kinda, you see, I have been 3 times honored.. I have had people come to me and say,

 "My mother started this blanket, and she didn't finish it before she died, Michelle, do you think you can look at it and see if you can finish it for me?"

Actually one of the times was a man who's grandmother had made him an afghan for his high school graduation and it was unraveling.. Les is a grandpa himself now, mid 60's I patched it up, and I hope he will have it for the rest of his life.  He treasures it for what it is.

Anyway the point is that a friend handed me this garbage sack with a blanket in it (they have all brought them to me such... I wonder why?) and Rebecca-- who is a master baker, master canner, and master gardener.. among other things (I admire her greatly, I can tell you) said that her mother had it almost finished and just didn't quite get it done.  I opened this up today on the way to a family birthday party, knowing that I would have at least an hour both ways to work on this with no thoughts of "I should be doing the dishes" getting in the way, and I found that Rebecca was right.. there was only one row and then the casting off.. I wonder if she knew how close her mom really was to done.

As I finished this, I thought to myself, over the centuries, how many women have quietly picked up their mother's unfinished work, and stitch by stitch, completed it for her.  Not just because of the waste of the unfinished work.. that would be bad too, but because of the connection of the loved one.  The shared effort of the completed work. Mom would have wanted it to be finished, she was still working on it after all.  How stretching out over the time of humanity this compulsion must have happened again, and again, and again.  As a very private mourning between mother and daughter, or even father and son, they had work to be finished too. This compulsion is so strong, that even when the skills are not known by everyone, and every house no longer has a work basket, people reach out to someone who does have the skill to see the work completed.

I'll tell the truth here, tears slid down my checks as I cast off that last stitch today, and I prayed for Rebecca and her mother.. I don't even know what her name was, but I found one of her hairs knitted into the afghan and smiled.  I came home this evening and washed and dried the completed blanket. 
I feel a deep and true satisfaction that nearly no one can tell where her work started, and my ending came. 

After all, it was mother's work, and I was just finishing what she started, honorarily.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Amuma (Grandmother)

Amuma is Basque for Grandmother. (pronounced a moo ma--short a sound both times) This was my mother's mother, and June 1st she died.   We had gotten a call the day before to let us know that her kidneys were shutting down, and my mother called to let me know that she and my dad were going to drive to Eastern Oregon the next day.  I really wanted to go, but my husband was supposed to go to North Carolina for a Knug Fu Testing.  (He is a 6th degree black belt and was to sit on a testing board)  My wonderful husband cancelled his trip, and told me to go to the funeral.  So within an hour, I had called work let them know I would be gone, told my mom to pick me up on her way out of town, and had started to pack.

You see, my Amuma had a really rocky path of a life.  In a time when mental frailty was just not spoken of, and handled even worse, my Amuma had to deal with everyday life with what would have been called "having had a break down"  (my other Grandma Alice always used to say of the subject  "What did we know?  We knew nothing about mental illness, and we still know very little--Grandma Alice was very wise.)

Don't get me wrong, this did not define my mum (pronounced moom) She was in so many ways the most generous of women.  She loved fiercely, but often did not show it as easily, mum's way was to make sure that you had peaches when they were in season, or some money to take to the store to buy candy.   This, of course, was my perception as a child.   When I was a young woman, Mum and I went to the movies together, and my perception changed.  This is the story I told at her funeral.

After my Ichica (I-long sound cheecha) (grandfather) died my mum and I went to see the movie Ghost
and when the scene with Patrick Swazyee and Demi Moore came on with them working with the pottery wheel.. you know the one right? I was getting worried.  I thought to myself.  "Geesh, this is a little hot and heavy for my mum." and I looked over at her to see how she was taking the scene.  She had tears running down her face.  I was really worried, I said
"Mum, are you okay?"  she answered me without taking her eyes from the screen.

"I had the world's best lover."

This was spoken so softly, with such passion. I was completely floored.  My perception of humanity changed at that very moment.  Grandparents had lovers.  Mothers and Fathers had lovers.  Not just the knowledge of this that our heads have.. that in our minds we know this must be so because we ourselves are here.. but the heart felt, soul touched surety.  That before I felt the pull of passion, before I cried tears of joy from the beauty of my lover's embrace, my grandparents felt this same desire, the same pull toward each other.  I have never looked at any one person in the same way.  That moment with my Amuma changed my entire world view.  Every one of us, Grandparents, Parents, everyone you meet has had hopes, dreams, aspirations, despairs, and lovers.

My Grandmother lived  23 years after the death of her lover.

I had said to one of my cousins the day before the funeral that I was feeling guilty that I wasn't more upset (of course I started crying then when I said that at the funeral) but what came to me the next morning, and what I said at the end was that I knew that at the minute of my mum's death, my mum and cheech shared a kiss that shook the universe.  How could I be sad for that?

This isn't exactly how I said it of course.. I didn't write it down, and I was speaking to family, they all knew the love that my grandparents shared. At that country funeral, with their best wrangler jeans on, and their Stetsons covering their hearts, many of those still there witnessed that love from beginning to end.  What did I know?  I came in kind of late in the game after all.  But on that very windy hill, with the sun just peeking through some fluffy white clouds in a little town called Jordan Valley, Oregon it seemed the right time to point it out again.