A glimpse of the past

When Rita sold her big house last fall and moved into an apartment she had a lot of work to do shrinking not just a house full of furniture but everything else she and her husband had packed into the house during the past thirty or forty years. Rita never threw anything away, so that when she came to the attic she visited one of her many past occupations, one which Judy and I shared.

Judy and Rita were both experts at sewing and other handcrafts and I had a particular interest in olden times and how my grandmothers had lived  lives that were, at least on the surface, so different from mine. We must, this one year have been together at the state fair, but I don’t remember now whether it was at handicraft exhibits or  somewhere around sheep that we began to watch a local sheep farmer, Betty Russ, effortlessly spinning wool she fed into the wheel with both hands as she pumped the wheel around with her feet. We hung around her for a long time, asking questions and at some point we decided to take lessons from her.

Betty dressed up in a 19th century style of house dress, full skirt, long, cotton, put her hair up in a bun, and in general gave off the air of another time and place. We gathered in a room of her house specifically set aside for spinning and weaving and there was some mysterious aura in the place that made us really want to be just like her. The times did favor feelings like that. Back to the earthers found cheap dwellings all around Otsego county (and I think probably all around the whole United States) where the discovery was being made that we had hands for a purpose more relevant than the typewriter and the steering wheel. We wanted to share. Before the first session was over we had ordered our new spinning wheels from New Zealand and were well on our way toward performing at craft fairs, mall sales and elementary school historical sessions. More plainly we envisioned ourselves a commercial success making money, as we expressed it, hand over fist. And thus began a few years of living halfway into the 19th century. Judy and Rita both had a scholarly bent that led them deeper into a study of raising sheep, as well as the various skills needed to produce a sweater or an afghan, and all the things in between.

We invested in dresses like Betty’; we put up our hair. We developed a welcoming way with children that won their hearts and we taught them quickly the rudiments of spinning. My own family by this time was a bit tired of my obsession. After all, I haven’t mentioned the hours we spent combing the woods and fields for dye stuffs, or the huge on on the stove bubbling with lilacs and vinegar. I think. I find it strange right now to imagine that something so meaningful to me at the time has now faded, at least a lot of it into foggy generalities. Priscilla is still capable of expressing my carelessness in spinning wool fibers into the atmosphere at our house, thus inflaming her allergy to wool.

But Rita and Judy were scholars. They wanted to know everything there was to know, so when I would come home at noon  from my job in the special education room at Greater Plains School, I changed into my jeans, and met my friends for another tour of the countryside, petting more sheep, looking for fleeces to buy, looking for a substitute for cochineal red. And I have to say I felt pretty satisfied with myself. For one thing we did make a little money selling yarn and hats and mittens that we knit for the sales. It is only now at my advanced age that I see what a false idea we had engendered in ourselves, or that I had in mine. Billy remembers an afternoon when I came in from the Fair at Riverside School and cracked open a Budweiser beer.  The irony is only apparent to me now. And no one will  be surprised to learn that it was our willingness to buzz around the whole county learning what it was like to be an Old Fashioned girl while making use of every modern convenience available to us.

I am very much in doubt at this point that any  of the steps I have taken to learn “what it used to be like” have revealed much of the truth of that other time, and I am sure that none of my other attempts are very successful  The gardens are filled with hybrids right from the start; nobody would think of using a lawnmower to make that kind of old-fashioned discovery, and as for paint, it all has lead in it.

I really think I’ll abandon all such attempts from now on and get my info from books that somebody else wrote.



About dorothybloom

Well, I'm a bit on the elderly side , but I'm fighting the decline with my entry into the virtual world. I've been thinking for while that my situation is worth talking a, and for this reason. There is a tension between old and new. The old are intent upon keeping their authority and the young are intent on getting it for themselves. hereThis tension is as old as the Neanderthal and many of his four-legged cousins. And I want to explore that.
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6 Responses to A glimpse of the past

  1. Nancy Bloom says:

    Favorite part – Our grandmothers’ lives were different – AT LEAST ON THE SURFACE.

    • dorothybloom says:

      David pointed out that on a normal day of tooling around the countryside I petted a lot more sheep than your average old fashiouned girl girl patted in a season.love, mom


  2. David says:

    Keep in mind that the Old Fashioned Girl never got to go anywhere–she never petted more than one kind of sheep, as it were. So you learned a dozen times what she did, just by tooling around the countryside. Laugh at yourself if you want but it’s true!

  3. Patty Biggs says:

    I spent Saturday at a Alpaca Show & got to handle a lot of wool (on & off the animals) & yarns & talked about natural dyeing, etc.., & read your blog Sunday morning. Your ears must have been burning, I talked about you-the spinning, knitting,weaving, etc… You can dye wool in the micorwave now!
    I remember after you cracked open that can of Bud, you light a Tareyton cigarette.

  4. Mary Solano says:

    Dorothy, I have no idea where in time this rememberance falls, I have a feeling it may be years before my own memories but I was just (as in last week just!) telling a friend how I loved my sick days from school, because I was allowed to stay with a neighbor, who seemed magical to me because she had a spinning wheel in her basement, where she actually spun wool, and then a loom in this bright sunny room where she wove. The conversation came up because we were talking about sick days, and I said I was amazed that I have no memory of ever “faking” it, which surprised me as I remember how much I loved them.

    Full of irony or not, I loved that spinning wheel!

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