Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Just women's work . . . nothin'' much . . .

Ah, it's just women's work. You know . . . menial, mindless, no lasting value.

Glass protector
Really? Take a look at these works of art--most of them created by great-grandmother, Mary Sprague Elwell Elmendorf and a few created by her mother. They're just table linens . . .what a waste of time and eyesight. Does anyone even care anymore?

Yes, I do, and probably lots of others care, as well, people who've received samples of this amazing work handed down from their female ancestors.

Close-up of table runner
Table runner or dresser scarf
Close up of glass protector
When our mother died more than fifty years ago, my sister and I each took a good measure of the treasured handcrafted lace and thread-pulled table-works created by the great-grandmother we never knew, plus a sampling of handwork by her daughter-in-law, our own dear grandmother Elmendorf. Imagine making time for this activity--especially if your house wasn't yet lit dependably with electricity!

Not that my sister and I were going to use them in our daily lives, but because we were (and still are) in awe of the work that had gone into them. Yes, even back in 1969, this handwork was incredibly out of fashion (although of few of our mother's friends still used antimacassars on their chairs). When Mary Elmendorf became a widow at age thirty-seven in 1880, she supported her family of three young sons, ages ten, twelve, and thirteen, by doing this type of needlework for hire.

Once in awhile, I take a trip down ancestor-reverence-lane by pulling these treasures out of their storage pouches, setting them out, then just admiring them. I have a lot more samples than pictured here, but you get the idea.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

My godmother, Genevieve

My godmother, a woman I didn't meet (except as an infant at the Christening service) until I was twelve, was always an enigma. Never having her own family, the gifts she sent me for Christmas and birthdays were things she herself probably enjoyed. But a child doesn't necessarily appreciate sachets or small jars of jams and jellies. In fifth grade she sent me earrings, a gift that shocked my mother! No 'nice girl' in the 1950s wore earrings! I still have the sterling silver earrings and wore them a lot in my twenties and thirties, until I finally had my ears pierced.

Sadly, throughout my grade school and junior high years, Genevieve was just a woman to whom I had to write thank you notes twice yearly. When I was in junior high, she lived less than seventy miles away, and my mother periodically arranged for luncheons for the three of us at a restaurant in her city, so Genevieve and I could become better acquainted. But by then, even my mother had little in common with Genevieve, so as I recollect, the lunches were formal, restrained, and awkward. What they were not was fun.

To make matters worse, from first-grade until I was in college (!), I could never remember how to spell Genevieve when it came time to writing a thank you note for a gift I couldn't yet appreciate. Even now, when I just typed her name, I could still hear my mother loudly calling out the spelling rhythmically in reply to my question as I sat at the desk in my room: "G E N . . . E V . . . I E . . . VE." In fact, even now, that rhythmic breakout is the way I remember the spelling.

But in 1971, two years after my mother died, and long after Genevieve had reduced her remembrances of Christmas and birthdays to small, densely handwritten notes with well wishes and weather news, she sent me an amazing gift. It's a treasure that I recently came across wrapped in acid-free tissue in a draw in my dining room chest-of-drawers. I have transcribed the accompanying note (at least, the part describing the gift). I was absolutely thrilled to be the recipient of such an amazing treasure, and wrote her a note oozing with genuine appreciation.

February 23, 1971
Dear Sallie: Under separate cover I am forwarding to you an antique linen buffet scarf woven in 1850. One of my father's aunts held the royal patent to furnish all the linen for Buckingham Palace. The mill was located at ______ [ed. note: I cannot make out the name--it looks like Lapham, but there is no such place. Is it Harpham?], England. I have in my possession several pieces and would like you to have one. I don't know whether you have your mother's love of antiques, as I know so little of your interests, hobbies, etc.; since it takes 12 days for a package to reach Seattle, I am mailing early with the hope that it reaches you around March 8.

Needless to say, it did reach me and I love that it was entrusted to me by Genevieve Bale, my godmother.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Extended Family: A warm and fuzzy stand-in

When my sister-in-law, Joan, emailed that she was sending me photos from her large family gathering over Thanksgiving, I was expecting a little packet of 4 x 6 photos in the mail. I actually wondered why she'd written to give the heads up for what was obviously a self-explanatory piece of mail. 

Hah! Little did I know what was coming. The postman rang the bell to alert me to the puffy package the size of a bed pillow he delivered. I couldn't have been more surprised to find the photos Joan had promised inside--printed on a giant blanket! Jay's two sisters, along with seven of Jay's nieces and nephews and with their children and spouses cover its surface.

Yes, a soft, fuzzy, washable coverlet for chilly nights (and amusing conversation when draped over a chair in the living room and a friend stops by) is unique among my photo albums. With Seattle area's unusually snowy and chilly last few days, I find myself swooping around the house in the evenings, enveloped by Jay's family. Nice feeling . . . to be literally covered by their photos! Besides, I feel like royalty in my one-of-a-kind robe. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020