Saturday, April 01, 2006

humble tools

Occasionally, if I'm not too lazy or distracted I will read to Allison at bedtime. I brought with us several young reader books with a similar theme: life in early America. Stuff about pilgrims, colonists, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross; things I knew she'd be learning about if she were in school back home. She should know a little of our history to balance out what she's learning here, especially, since she's standing for the Mexican pledge of allegiance every morning.

All this reading about pre-industrial life brings up a lot of questions about how people managed without the conveniences we know today. As far as I knew, I told her, Betsy Ross did not have a sewing machine. Well, how then did she make the flag?, my daughter asks. She had it designed and peasant women in a Chinese factory assembled it by hand, I tell her. No, no. I'm joking. "Needle, thread and fabric," I answer, which led her to inquire as to how one does that. Then, "I want to do that. I want to sew. Teach me to sew."

The lazy person in me started to say, "later, when you're older." But I was instantly overcome with the feeling that the women who have passed before me were peering down at me awaiting my answer to the call. I have been summoned to pass the torch, from mother to daughter, an important tool in civilization--the ability to sew and therefore make articles necessary to man's survival. I saw my grandmother, my aunt, my seventh-grade home-ec teacher, and even Betsy Ross glaring at me, expectant, waiting. But God, the tediousness of it. All the stuff to buy and no Hobby Lobby in sight. What's the spanish word for "pincushion?," "thimble?"

"Sure, why not?," I answered.

I remember my grandmother showing me how to crochet (though I was much older than six.) I think I learned one summer vacation at her cabin in the pines of Prescott, Arizona. She lived with a Depression-era mindset, simply and independently before the days of cable tv and Nintendo. Days at grandma's house were what good literature is to pulp fiction. Being with grandma was good for you, good for your developing character. Left to my own devices at home in the California suburbs, I might waste my days on roller skates dashing to the 7-11 to throw money away on Charms pops and giant Sweet-tarts or sit at home three feet in front of the televison for marathon viewing of cartoons, Star-Trek, Brady Bunch and other brain-rotting programs.

After a few days exploring the terrain around her house, catching horned-back toads, collecting pine cones, jumping from one mossy rock to the next, I probably grew quite bored to where her crocheting paraphernalia began to look interesting. She wasn't a patient teacher, and she sighed a lot (a response I understand fully now.) But I learned to make a granny square and was quite proud of myself.

So, today I taught Allison to thread a needle, make a knot and sew on a button. She is a quick learner and after a few passes with the thread she sent me away to do it by herself. My reward? When she came running to me with her scrap of fabric now outfitted with a button, exclaiming, "Look, mama. I can sew! On the way to dinner at Pepe and Marta's we stopped at the fabric store and I fuddled my way through purchasing a yard of fabric and the notions for her to take up the craft. We put it all in a rubbermade container. She was barely through Marta's door before she was pulling it all out to demonstrate her new skill. The other women there were delighted and so happy to help her and she found a spot under the arm of one who guided her, saying, "Mira, mira." "Look, look." I smiled at the power of the most humble tool with the awesome power to cross time and culture.

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