Like many women of my age, I learned various practical homekeeping skills while still in the single digits, things like darning, sewing buttons, patching, knitting, knife sharpening, sewing, knitting, crochet and the less practical crafts like embroidery, crewel, needlepoint, beading and fine hand finishing (my godmother was a tailor). I learned to measure, to adjust patterns to fit, to sew and alter clothing, and to cook meals consisting of two veggies, one starch, one protein and a fruity dessert without benefit of boxes, cans, microwaves or a take-out menu. Not only did I learn these things by watching my mother, my aunts and my grandmothers, but many of these things were also required classes in school. Public school. Many of the things that I learned, I just don't do anymore, mostly because I don't have time, the need, or the inclination.
These homemaking skills are not commonly practiced anymore, and if they are, they are practiced as creative art forms rather than because these are the things that make every day life run more smoothly. They are just not a part of every day life anymore. It's a shame, really, but I fully understand that the go go go pace of our modern life does not allow for homely pursuits.
I am now 57, and my only child is 23. She has no interest in most of these things, though she also watched her grandmother and I practice them. She has not learned most of these skills, so she cannot pull them out when needed, or more importantly, wanted, in the future. At least she sees the inherent value of the quirky, handmade item, lovingly crafted by Mom, but still, she has no desire to learn to do these things for herself. I don't think her peers are much different.
I've gone through various craft stages in my life, from quilting, embroidery and crewel, to a decades-long obsession with needlepoint, to a decade or so where I sewed all my clothing, but always, I have drawn and painted and cooked and knit, although I put knitting aside when Dear Daughter came along because I loved my mother's sheer joy at knitting for her grandchild so much.
A few years ago, I took up knitting again; somehow it caught me, and I am helpless to stop. The rhythmic, repetitive nature of the craft is mesmerizing and relaxing, and the click of the needles transports me to a simpler time when I was little and my mother was knitting something beautiful while sitting in her lipstick red leather recliner. That clickety click is truly the background music of my life. My mother never, ever simply sat - she always had some knitting, or handwork, or a book in her hands, and I find it hard to simply do one thing at a time as well. My mind is always running in a dozen different directions, but when I knit, it quiets down and I can focus better.
My cousin Ethel is another person who really, really loved to knit. I say loved in the past tense, because although she is only ten years older than me, she hasn't been able to knit at all for probably ten or twelve years due to carpal tunnel surgery and arthritis. She simply cannot do it, and it has created a real void in her life. She misses it.
I was washing dishes this morning, and the warm water soothed my aching fingers so much. I noticed that my hands no longer look like my hands - they look like my Mother's hands. My index fingers ache so much, and they have arthritic knobs in the same places, and are slowly turning and twisting like her hands. How long will my hands allow me to do the things I love to do? The things that tie me to the beloved women that went before? The things that make ordinary things like sweaters or mittens into unique works of art, but carry my love and prayers?