Wednesday, May 03, 2017

and once again

This is a couple years old, but I just now saw it: Actually, it IS my grandma's knitting.

I think if you've read me for long, you're well aware of my annoyance with the "Not your grandmother's X" (or: "Not your mom's," "not your father's," "not your whatever-older-and-presumably-unhip-relative's X")

Several reasons for this.

First of all: my own grandmothers kicked butt. One of them helped her slightly-less (shall we say) "grounded" husband run some vacation cottages. She grew up as more or less a socialite, but apparently decided she wanted to pay her own way - so she got a job, in the early 1920s, in downtown Chicago, before she met and married my grandfather. She also went to college though I don't know what her degree was in - she quit working after she married, and stayed at home to raise three boys and later help run the cabins.

The other grandmother was a farm girl. She married a man she barely knew who was almost twice her age (she married at 17) because, as she later told a daughter, "I wanted to get off the farm." She was also more handy than her husband (but at least he seemed to have his feet fairly firmly on the ground: he is the one who was an accountant in lumber camps). She did the repairs around the house, raised four children to adulthood (two children died, and apparently she had three miscarriages - so her life was not all rosy). A lot of this was done during the Great Depression (two of my aunts were born in the 1920s) and World War II, and a lot of it was done while her husband was working in the lumber camps and was 50 miles away (and they had no phone in their home in those days, even if there was one in the lumber camps). She lived without running water in the house until the 1950s. She knew how to make clothing over to look new - my mom talks about a suit of clothes she had made from my Uncle Stanley's "dress blues" when he left the Navy after WWII. My maternal grandmother was smart and tough and could do lots of things. (She also left school just before the 10th grade, but probably in some ways had a more solid education than many of today's college graduates)

Oh, and that husband she barely knew? She was a good judge of character - they remained married for something like 55 years - until he died. And then she carried on for 20 years or more on her own.

So yeah. My grandmothers were pretty cool. My mom is pretty cool, too, as is my dad. So I tend to look with annoyance at people who would sweep the earlier generations away because "coolness" or something.

The other thing, though, is that I think that attitude - mentioned in the article - of "oh, wow, I have just DISCOVERED this THING" and treating it like it's this new thing - it's pretty common. (Young people and sex - that's kind of an ongoing joke, that when someone hits 20 or whatever age and they first get in their first real physical "relationship," they act like they discovered it, when, in fact, they would not exist had their parents not previously discovered that thing). It's the weird ahistoricality some people espouse. And I think that's what really bugs me about "not my grandma's...." - it's the idea of "look mine is better because"

And I don't think my knitting, or quilting, or whatever, is better than what past people did. If anything, I marvel at the Shetland knitters and others who figured stuff out without patterns or perhaps even much in the way of "prior art" (I still cannot do the thing of looking, for example, at something knitted in a lace pattern, and being able to figure out the correct sequence of yarn-overs and decreases to recreate it. I probably COULD, with trial-and-error, eventually - but there were knitters in the past who could apparently glance at a thing and then re-create it from memory, which to me is as amazing as the person who can hear a tune and then improvise a whole piece based on it. (I struggle with chording a known melody).

Also, all too often, the push to "make all things new" means throwing out the good, the time-tested, the what-works in favor of stuff that has as its main virtue, "It's new."

I see this in education, where fads crop up. Some of them are good, maybe, but a lot of them are not. But I regularly get told to completely upend the way I've been teaching for nearly 20 years - a mode of teaching that the students seem to like and tell me they enjoy my classes and demonstrate they have learned the material - for this New Thing because is is new.

I see this in church music in some churches, where "praise choruses" are brought in and totally replace the hymns people have sung for 200 years or more, because the "praise choruses" are new, and they might be the "magic bullet" to get the Unchurched into the pews. (One of the things I tend to dislike about any measure to try to get "new people"  into some group is that it often totally overlooks or pooh-poohs the wishes or needs of the long-term members: sort of like, "Oh, they'll ALWAYS come, so it doesn't matter to them what we do" and that leads to a very isolating feeling when you're the person who's always been there, who's always been available for volunteer stuff, etc.) Don't get me wrong: some modern songs are fine, just....don't wholesale replace the hymns people love, that people remember from their childhood, with newer songs. I've seen some church songbooks where it was difficult to find anything with a "written in" date earlier than 1976.

I dunno. Maybe I am just standing athwart history yelling "STOP" but I don't like the unmoored feeling that comes from being surrounded by things that are only of the past 30 years or so. I know this isn't a universal feeling, but....I take comfort in doing something my grandmother would recognize (like hand quilting). I use recipes that came down from both my grandmothers.Maybe I feel this need for "connection" more strongly because (a) I am far from all my relatives and sometimes it does seem a little tenuous living all on one's own and (b) I don't have a family of my own, so I have to reach back for connections.

Also, there are a lot of things that confuse me. Part of the reason I never married or even had a really long-term relationship is that I hate the hook-up culture that was developing on campus even as I was a student nearly 30 years ago. I don't understand and can't negotiate that because my understanding of courtship rituals come from older books and magazines and yes, dangit, I want to be courted - I want to go out on dates and eat food or go to plays together and do stuff before I decide "Is this guy worthy of me giving this very personal attention that I have?" and it seems that feeling that way in the world today means you're mostly alone. (Well, okay then. There are some things I'm not fully willing to compromise on).

And I don't fully understand the strain of modern culture (though how modern it is, I don't know, it's been around for a while) of everything being all surface and snark, and you can't genuinely admit to caring about or loving something because being passionate about stuff is for nerds - or else, you don't want to seem passionate lest you are passionate about the wrong thing - so it's easier to make everything a joke or an object of criticism and I can't DO that because when I love something, I love it pretty deeply and completely and I don't like people rolling their eyes about it, whether that thing is soil invertebrates or pollinator-plant relationships or native prairie or vintage mystery novels or old cookbooks or even My Little Ponies. I am not really capable of enjoying things "ironically," when I try I usually actually falling in love uncritically with the thing.

(And actually - there may be more of a connection between my inability to be ironic about something I care about and my dislike of casual intimate relationships than there would seem at first.)

Don't get me wrong: there are plenty of new things that are good. My grandmother who did a little quilting (my great-grandmother actually did more) would have LOVED rotary cutters - I love them too, and after the first few years of patterns I saw that seemed to be more wasteful of fabric, it seems designers have figured them out and now the patterns probably take no more - or perhaps even less - fabric than cutting by hand would. (Though still: it would be harder to use the worn parts of clothing for a quilt with a rotary cutter). And I think they would have loved the wide availability of supplies, even if maybe my frugal grandma would question cutting up "good" fabric (yardage) for quilts instead of using leftovers or worn clothing.

And I suspect buying stuff off the internet wouldn't have seemed so weird; I know my maternal grandmother heavily used the Sears catalog, since they lived in a small town with few stores.

But anyway. I find it deeply comforting to come home at the end of the day and look at the doily crocheted by one of my great-grandmothers (whom I never knew; she died before I was born), or all the old family pictures I have up on the wall, or look at the old Farm Journal cookbooks - copies of the same editions my mom acquired in the 1960s as a young wife - and knit a simple sock the same way my grandmother might have knitted boot socks for her husband in the lumber camps. Somehow it all makes me feel less rootless, less like I'm floating in space not-attached to anything.

(And it's no mystery why I keep a very worn, almost-40-year-old, but still deeply-loved soft toy hidden under one of the pillows on my bed)

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