Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Heartbeat of the House

When I was a very little girl, my daddy brought home a clock for my mama. It was a chiming mantel clock, about a foot and a half tall, with wide carved "wings" around the clock face, and a gilded pendulum swinging back and forth behind a little glass door that had curlycue designs in gold leaf.
In a house with four children, there are few quiet moments, but occasionally in a lull in the chaos the tick-tock-tick of the clock could be heard. The chime sounded once one the half-hour, and chimed the time on the hour. It was so much a part of our home that we rarely noticed it except when it ran down. It had to be wound every eight days. Daddy wound the clock on Sunday nights, setting the hands carefully, and dusting the heavily carved case. No one else ever touched the clock.
The chimes sounded day and night, and during the night, if I woke up, the clock told me if it was middle of the night, or nearly time to get up. If for some reason it wound down and stopped, I had trouble getting back to sleep.

When I married and left home, my darlin husband bought a chiming clock for our house. It wasn't an antique, but it did have a swinging pendulum, and it chimed on the hour and half hour, and its tick-tock-tick measured our nights and days, keeping me company when I was up late rocking a sick baby, and tracking the minutes when one of our teenagers was late coming home.

When our house burned, the clock was one of the things we lost. We replaced it with a pendulum clock that hangs on the wall. Since we currently live in our RV, the clock is in storage. I miss the ticking and the chiming.

When our little cabin is finished, when we are retired and living there, one of the first things I plan to do is hang the clock, and set our home's heart ticking again.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Are You Smarter than a Four Year Old?

Jeana recently posted about a conversation with her eldest child, which left her feeling somewhat at a loss. It reminded me of a similar conversation some years ago--same child, talking to my husband (Pepaw)
There had been a severe wind storm just a few days before, and my husband, trying to find conversational ground with his four-year-old grandchild, asked:
What did you think about that big wind storm the other night? Were you scared?

K: Actually, Pepaw, it was a vortex. A vortex in the air. Like when you let the water out of the bathtub.

Baffled at this point, Pepaw encouraged her to continue.

K: When you let the water out of the bath tub, it swirls around as it goes down the drain. If you are here, it goes clock wise. If you are in Australia, it goes counter clockwise. The storm last night was like that, only in the air, not in water.

My husband then noticed a large poster on the wall, with an illustration of an ant. He pointed it out, and asked her if she knew why the ant had such a big tummy.

K: Actually, Pepaw, that is the ant's thorax.
She proceeded to give him a brief dissertation on the other parts of the ant, its habits, what it eats.

I don't remember how Pepaw disengaged himself from the conversation, but I do remember his aside to me:
If she is this smart now, we won't even be able to talk to her by the time she is twelve.

After reading Jeana's post, I think I agree with him. Why would either of us think ourselves capable of explaining anything to her?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tending to My Knitting

I taught myself to knit from a book many years ago, while expecting my first child. Somehow, it seemed like a good idea--quiet, relaxing, productive. I made two afghans during those nine months, and decided that crochet is more my cup of tea. I gave up knitting until just recently, when I decided to relearn it.
I taught myself to crochet from a book. I taught myself to embroider from a book. I learned to bake bread from a book. These and many other home making skills were once handed down generation to generation, the elder teaching the younger, but as we have become more and more industrialized, and fewer and fewer mothers stay home with their young children, the experience of learning from observation has become less the rule and more the exception.

Where did I get the idea that these skills were important? I remember quite vividly reading Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins, in which a guardian uncle who has inherited a half-grown girl child, expounds on the simple skills, crafts, and arts that are dying out, no longer valued by society. Remember, Alcott was writing some 150 years ago, and things haven't gotten better in this area since then.

Somehow I was inspired to learn these "homely" tasks. I wanted to be a good wife and mother in the traditional mold. I was blessed to be able to stay at home with my children until the youngest, Jeana, started school. During those years, we always had some kind of project going, whether it was sewing, cutting and pasting, cooking, embroidery, making curtains, whatever skill I was struggling to acquire at the time.
How much easier, if I had been living close enough to my mother or grandmother to ask questions. They did me the great favor of handing on to me many projects begun by my great-grandmother, unfinished after her death, and I used them as guidelines and inspirations, but how I yearned for a model, a mentor, to guide me.

It has been so long ago that when I had my first child, breast feeding not only was not "in style", but was actively discouraged by many doctors, on the grounds that so few women were successful.
Why were they unsuccessful? After all, women had been breastfeeding for thousands of years, and most had been successful, so why were women in 1971 so lacking? It finally dawned on me. We had no models. Not a single person I knew was choosing to breast feed. I had only seen women breastfeeding in books on natural childbirth. I struggled mightily, encouraged only by my husband. How I would have valued a teacher to guide me.

All this rambling is to the past few years I have realized my dream of passing my "homely" skills on to another generation; I have the opportunity to be for my grandchildren a model and a teacher. Some of them are taking to it quickly and easily. Some are struggling. And some are just more interested in other skills, such as soccer. And that's okay too.

When Katushka calls or e-mails with a question about her knitting or crocheting...when daughterJeana mentions in her blog ( Diversifying Your Stockpile) that she is crocheting and that I taught her how...I once more have that sense of connecting across the years, across the generations, with all those women who came before, who made quilts to warm their families and stretch their budget, who knitted warm socks for their husbands who were going off to war, who baked bread and made their meals "from scratch" every day (must have been a mighty big sack of scratch, to feed all those young'uns).

And that connection feels good.