Friday, May 28, 2010

....If It's Friday, It Must Be New York.....

....and here I am, ensconced in a civilized Hampton Inn in downtown Albany, New York -- the launching point for my assault on the Massachusetts Sheep and Wool Festival tomorrow morning. My secret plan is to high-tail it away from Cummington, Massachusetts, by mid-afternoon (it's a medium sized festival) and make a bee-line for Wooster, OH, so that I can walk through the Great Lakes Fiber Event before it ends on Sunday. Somebody should remind me gently that, when you're in your mid-60s, you shouldn't drive for ten hours at a time, and certainly not twelve. To which I'd probably say, But I love to drive....and that's true. But I am tired, and I'm sure this wouldn't have happened so predictably even fifteen years ago. The body betrays us -- after all of those years of careful tending!!

Driving across western New York, and many parts of Pennsylvania, can be a Zen-like experience. Those who haven't been there might be surprised to learn that the New York portion of the drive especially is both very long and very beautiful. I find myself mesmerized by the accumulating evidence of age -- the further east, the more obviously old the countryside becomes, less raw, more visibly used and rounded at the edges. The fields, where there are fields and where they have been tilled, look more like their European counterpart, the ruts from many more centuries of cultivation actually showing in slanted sunshine, even more dramatically from the air. And, in New York, very old (by American standards) barns, shed, and four-square brick houses with widow's walks populate hillsides -- the equivalent of manorial houses in England or Ireland. Or Holland. It's probably my imagination, but here in New Amsterdam (sometimes called New York, especially by non-historians!), the countryside in valleys looks remarkably like Dutch landscape. In Holland, trees seem to crouch down, with small gaggles of livestock underneath; fens and small ponds are everywhere -- and the same here. Some part of it could indeed be an ancient Dutch imprint on the land, particularly along the Mohawk, where I actually got out this time and studied surviving locks from the Erie Canal. The camera is somewhere in the car, god knows where, so no pictures this time of that rather important artifact.

....and then I thought of my mother, particularly when I fairly soared over one utterly ravishing foothill and found myself witness to a painting -- I swear -- by the Hudson River School, all of the world laid out in front of me. Mom and I used to drive together, sometimes quietly, more often singing or talking about something of extreme importance (piano lessons, how to put food on the table, how to keep the brothers in decent clothing without any money at all -- which is how we both learned to tailor for men). She was the single most resourceful person I've ever known, and that from someone who has met some of the most resourceful people on earth. Mom (whose real name was Gladyce) was not a high school graduate; she became, through sheer intelligence and grit, secretary to the president of 3M in St. Paul, Minnesota. We crocheted together, sometimes by campfire at Spirit Lake, Iowa, where we had a tiny, ramshackle lakeside trailer for many years -- after the menfolk had gone to bed. I cannot describe the sense of quiet with her -- a woman who had no guile, so far as I could tell, and who could make something out of nothing each and every time. When there was no food, we had supper. She and I started some small businesses with handicrafts -- some of which actually made money for awhile. She was brilliant, undereducated, fiercely loyal to her children, appropriately critical of her romantic, impractical husband (what a dear, naive man he was!). I owe her everything I've ever done, and I think of her when I travel, particularly with bales of wool in the car. It would have made her puff with pride to see the contents of Aritsn Knitworks -- though the knitting part would have mystified her. Everyone knew that tailoring and crochet were the really important things.

I will never resolve the puzzle of why so many more crocheters than knitters operate without patterns. I didn't read a crochet pattern until I was in my 30s; it was simply more natural to create doilies, cafe curtains, tablecloths, tea cozies, and so on, without thinking much about it -- you just started and worked your way along. It's because (I think) crochet is more clearly a working-class art than knitting is, at least in the modern age; it is passed from woman to woman, part of the household lore that little girls are supposed to know to be suitable wives. Knitted items are simply more complex, and (bad information to the contrary notwithstanding) more time consuming. When I was studying for Ph.D. comprehensive exams I made (ready for this?) over 200 lace doilies -- a huge stack that I used for years afterward to wrap small gifts. And now, when I need to soothe the fevered brain, I don't knit. I crochet. It's second nature, almost inbred. And I can have wonderful, secret talks with my mother.

I will make report after I visit the Massachusetts festival -- perhaps by Sunday. It remains to be seen whether I will have what it takes to get myself to Wooster, Ohio, in time for the Great Lakes Festival, also tomorrow and Sunday. Forgive all typos. I am using my wee laptop, with its idiotic too-fast action and its keyboard designed for dwarves or small children. Time now to knit. svb

1 comment:

  1. Charming and insightful journey. Felt like I traveled with you for a bit.