Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hankie Heaven

My youngest and I ran across an estate sale a while back and met a couple of sisters in their sixties who were selling the crochet, tatting, and embroidery work that their mother had made (along with drifts of other items). I couldn't bring myself to ask the price. If it was a dollar, that would make me sad. If it was a hundred dollars, I wouldn't buy it. But I did have a conversation with the women and mentioned that my children use handkerchiefs instead of tissues. The lady in charge disappeared into the house and came back with an ancient Kraft Caramels box filled with handkerchiefs. She sold 17 hankies, many hand embellished, to my daughter for five dollars. And then she offered her the box as a free bonus.

So here's the question. Do we use the hankies? Yes, we do. They were not doing anybody any good sitting on a shelf in the closet. And every time I wash them or see my children use them, I think of the woman who made them. (The box, on the other hand is displayed in my craft space and will be given back to my daughter when she is old enough to use it carefully.)

I am reminded of Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use", about a woman who has to decide whether to give her family's heirloom quilts to her worldly daughter (who wants to preserve them), or to her just plain hard working daughter who is going to use the quilts. In the end, she gives the quilts to the daughter who is going to put the quilts to everyday use.

Using things in an everyday way, especially handmade items, puts us in touch with the person who made them. It is a kind of intimacy that we have mostly lost in today's world. Although items become worn with use, sometimes we become curious about how they were made, and learn to make them ourselves. If we hide these things away on shelves, they will be forgotten and the art/craft/knowledge to make them can die.

Or not. There is hope. I love that YouTube has such a stash of instructional videos about creating. You can learn how to crochet, knit, tat, lace, and sew. You can figure out how to build a fort for your kids or a backyard wood-fired oven. You can find out how to make the recipes your grandma made when you were a kid. You can also watch endless music videos and Pokemon hacks, as well as prat falls, babies babbling and 911 calls. Just saying, you know, use your video-watching time wisely.


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