Sunday, February 3, 2008

memories of my gran

I had been having trouble deciding on a theme for the Arsenic and Old Lace doll on BAD ( ). I have collected lace over the years, unable to resist the yard sales with old bits hidden amongst yarnball ends and scraps of fabric. Much of it is from my youth in the 70's, when I used to sew it to my jeans, to lengthen them (before they actually had jeans with 36 inch inseams!).

Then, there is the special lace, that I received after my GreatGrandma Agnes' passing. She was a truly wonderous chrocheter and tatter, and I have all sorts of pieces, from lengths of cotton lace to sofa doilys, to needle- and bobbin-tatted what-nots! In her original Poland, if you wanted something beautiful, and were not of the richer classes, you made it yourself or traded for it. I suspect my Gran was one of the creators, and that the wooden chest of silver dollars we played in as children was filled by trading for, or selling the laces she made!

She was small in stature, being just under 5', but tough. After all, she had outlived 5 husbands, then moved herself and her daughter to the United States in the early 1900's, to live in the mostly Polish suburb of Hamtramck, in Detroit. I remember visiting an apartment she had, with the famed silver dollar chest being the center of a hall coattree, with mirror above. You could look out her window, and there were all these lovely (to me!) steam engines, pushing and pulling railroad cars in a switchyard. It must have been the devil's own work to keep her place as spotless as she did, with all the soot and cinders from below, but I remember that window being shining and clean, every time we came to visit.

After awhile, she bought a small house in the 'burbs, near my Aunt Mimi, in Roseville. A small two bedroom, with sunny yellow kitchen and a black cat clock, whose tail wagged back and forth in time with the ticking, became her true home, and fortress! She kept her sidewalks AND the section of street in front of her home swept and clean, with flowers growing in the yard.
From time to time, we smaller girls would be allowed to spend the night, when the homes of the Aunts and Uncles filled with family for Christmas. One time, an older cousin, the type with the leather jacket, greasy ducktail and cigarette pack rolled into his shirt sleeve came in very late. We were sleeping in his room. I suspect he was living with Gran because his parents didn't know what to do with him. While she had a soft spot for her grandkids, and would do what she could to help them, she didn't tolerate what she called 'nonsense' from any of us, no matter how old or 'scarey-looking' they got.

So, when he came home, a bit drunk, and tried to go into the bedroom where he usually slept, where we were sleeping now, and turned on the light, loudly delighted to see us, she grabbed him by the ear and took him into the hallway. He protested, but not too loudly. We woke up, hearing their voices, hers soft and insistent, his trying to be quieter, but wanting to see his little cousins. I remember her telling him "You should have come home sooner, and now you have to sleep on the sofa til morning. Let them sleep. They are tired after all the late time."

In the morning, we all met for pancakes in the sunny, Winter kitchen, with my cousin freshly shaved, hair slicked back, and no leather jacket in sight. He was quietly eating, ready for Mass with my Gran, and she was at the stove, cooking more for us. A bright, white smile from him, almost shy, and we sat to eat, then got dressed to join them.

I am sure my Aunt and Uncle were weekly amazed to see their son, clean-shaven and dressed in his suit, sitting by my Gran in the pew.
My Gran knew where and when to rein him in, and he responded by knowing when he could run free, and when he had to walk.
As a Polish Gypsy, she was born knowing how to handle high-strung horses, such as he. She would have made a helluva of an equine horsewoman!

So, here is the beginning. The form and face came from Maggie ( ) as a thank-you for some cuff blanks. The lace with the bobbles on top right was done as needle tatting. The lace on the card, far left, was done as thread crochet. The rest are collected laces.
I added a flower to her back, for the love of the flowers she grew in the yard of her home, and in her windowboxes in her apartment. The gold fan behind her head signifies her love of the Madonna, as do the pearls. My Gran adored pearls, and diamonds, though hers were of the paste variety. I still have a hair comb with paste diamonds that she wore, and got my fondness for wearing my hair up, with combs, from her. The lace shawl is just like what she wore, preferring to keep her home on the cool side (yep, got that from her, as well). The button at the front of the shawl is a technique she taught me for decorating an outfit - place a decorative, clear button on top of a plainer, color button.

I will be adding lots of lace to her 'dress', although the dresses she wore were more utilitarian. I believe there was a Gypsy Spirit inside her, that she held in firm check, but would have come out if she didn't have so much to care for, to worry over. She was a true worrier, from wanting to see her granchildren get all that was good from this new country. My Mom and her sisters, my Aunts, had it hard with their mom, her daughter, dying while they were very young. My Gran did a fair amount of their raising.
I get that trait from her too, worrying, though work hard at letting my Gypsy Spirit balance that factor. She did handwork for her relaxation, and yes, me, too.

When I grow up, I want to be more and more like her; strong, happy, moving through and owning all my days with quiet pleasure.


Phyl said...

...oh, Gypsy, I think you are already leading the kind of life your Gran would love and be proud of!
She lives on in you and your artworks, dear!What a sweet Arsenic & Old Lace doll for it!

Maggie R said...

Oh Gypsy, what a lovely story , your Gran would definitely be proud of you..
Amazing what one tiny doll can portray! well done my friend!