I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it...Picasso

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wandering Wonders

 I've wanted to do this for a long time.  Blog, that is.  I've always written - I've even been paid to write for periods of time.  I have an on again, off again relationship with wordsmithing as, up until the last ten years of consistant work, I have had with what I call, my art.

I was a kid with very busy hands.  I was always looking for something to make.  I started cooking when I was seven.  My dad built me a stool so I could safely reach the stove and access the countertops in order to reach the cabinets.  I cooked from scratch.  I cooked from scratch because it took longer and kept my hands busy longer.  It also tasted better.  Even then I was a foodie.  But cooking could only happen at certain times in my mother's house.  What to do with my agile little hands when the kitchen was closed?

Mom bought me books full of craft projects.  Lots of popcicle stick projects which were not as easy to pull off back in the days of no Michaels.  I managed though and sooner than my mother would have liked, I needed another book because I had completed all the crafts in the book I had.  She found this annoying,  I found it frustrating.

Grandma saved the day.  She began to teach me the real deal.  It began with crochet.  She thought beginning with one needle was best for little hands.  I would sit on her left,  real close, and would follow her patient demonstrations.  She was a good teacher and I was a better student.  I was given  a crochet hook, sized appropriately to my hand and a limited amount of yarn.  I would practice my stitches until the  yarn ran out then pull it apart, roll the yarn and begin again.  Over and over.  On the front porch swing, on the stoop in the backyard, on the davenport (grandma's term) in front of the TV, in bed I would chain, loop, pull through and be happy.  Once I  proved myself worthy, I was handed knitting needles and there we were, back again, side by side on the davenport, her opera singer's voice repeating the moves over and over to me.  I'm not sure what I loved more - learning the crafts that made my hands happy or sitting so close to Grandma.

Grandma was the last of the pioneer women.  Literally.  Her father was a master carpenter on the railroad, the major employer in the day out in the western states.  Great grandpa Reinking also enjoyed homesteading and helped to forge new communities in Montana and Washington.  Grandma had mysterious stories of riding the railroad to Montana from Iowa, cooking on the train and being excited about the unsettled wilderness they were about to occupy.  She told stories of walking to the schoolhouse and being aware of being watched by the Blackfoot Indians who lived nearby.  She was a foriegner in their country.

Through the many years I was able to enjoy with my Grandma Matie, she taught me to sew on her trestle operated Singer,  how to embellish a pillowcase with freehand embroidery, how to mend a sock on a lightbulb, the proper way to sew a button on a coat,  and allowed me to follow her through her many adventures in stichery, many that I still have.

Canning was another "domestic science" (Matie's newlywed cookbook was called Twenty Lessons in Domestic Science) she shared with me.  Grandma had an outdoor canning shed which meant a wood stove in a barnwood shanty in the throes of  a sticky summer in Arkansas.  She'd take me out to the canning shed with a couple of bushels of something - peaches, apples, carrots, corn, whatever - and we would prepare the food,  boil the jars and lids and give the jars their final bath all on a wood stove and cast iron pots.  The results were a winter's worth of harvest delicacies.  The work was gruling and sweaty and taught me that hard, unglamous work could produce some of life's greatest rewards.  When I can now, over my fancy stove and in my air conditioned home,  I alway have a moment remembering the heat and the sweat and the intensity of the smells with the flies around our faces and aprons that dabbed and wiped everything from runny noses to perspiration to molten sugar.  Aprons or course, my grandma had made on her pedal operated sewing machine.  I was primed to face  a future of my own handmade life.


  1. Congratulations! I don't even know how you set this up much less found the time to write such beautiful stories! I love you and I love it!

  2. Neely! What memories this brought back to me, of time "idled" away learning the tricks from Nana, my ancient Swedish grandmother. I'll gladly follow you! Love, Nikki.

  3. Mazel Tov! Using a keyboard is certainly a productive way to keep those hands busy! Great job. Keep up the good work. Hugs, A.

  4. Hi Neely--I finally got a moment to check this out and it is SO WONDERFUL! You're such a good writer, so evocative and real.

    And I can only hope that Rose and the unknown one will see a Grandma Matie in me.

    Love, Connie