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...a sweatshop of moxie

Saturday, September 03, 2005


She had fingers used to work.

Not the punishing work of physical labour. Not the arthritic, gnarled fingers of one-too-many pots scrubbed.


She had the fingers of someone used to knit, to pray, to caress.

She had the fingers of someone who was always filling out dance cards. Fingers used to fanning herself at night. Fingers who were broad but long, with spatula-like tips -- strong and resourceful fingers.

She had the fingers of a great-grandmother, a lavender-scented, rosy-cheeked, Edwardian creature with silvery-purply hair. And that's because that's what she was.

My Urgrossmutter with the biblical name, born just before the lights went out all over Europe.

I always took her for granted, this aged loving woman who died two years after her daughter, my grandmother. I thought she would live forever, and just like that, she was gone.

She buried all 5 of her children, 3 in the 1920's after the last rounds of the Spanish influenza epidemic. My grannie was the lone survivor, sent to boarding school in Spain to escape her siblings' destinies.

It's not true that I adored her -- although my mother did. Does.

Perhaps I was too like her physically, and it made me shy.

Before she went completely white-haired aged a mere 25 (burying three children will do that to anyone), she was a shortish strawberry blonde, with hazel eyes -- like me.

Her tastes were simple too, like me.

Easily satisfied, placid, somewhat unconcerned with her future -- again like me.

She had the air of someone who didn't really mind what life offered up, as long as she could be with her family, her books, in her home, she was content.

Yes, like me.

But she was unlike me in very obvious ways as well.

She could cook, oh how she could cook.

Her Apfelstrudel was a triumph, her Spaghetti a la Bolognese...a family legend, and that Sauerbraten, her husband always said, should have been canonised.

She could sew, oh how she could sew.

She would make me little outfits for my 3 Barbies of such flouncy prettiness, that they were a dozen times better than any sold at Hamley's.

Her doilies in pink fringe adorn my parents' bedroom still -- a testament to those fingers working, always working to produce something of use, even if obsolete use.

What were Edwardians, after all, but late-born, industrious, but more earthy Victorians to whom sloth was still anathema?

(She would tell me stories about her Edwardian childhood too, in her high-up in the mountains finishing school for young ladies, where sometimes the Empreror Franz Josef would appear down the road -- and all these white-frocked young ladies would wave white hankies at his lederhosen-hunting figure passing by; a sweet vignette of another, more deliberately enchanting world)

And she could pray, oh how she could pray.

Always seated late at night, with her half-moon spectacles over her German potato but pert nose, as I called it (and yes, like my nose), always to one side of the room, with a mother-of-pearl Bavarian prayerbook in indecipherable Fraktur script -- clasped in her fingers, silent for a moment with her thoughts and her God.

All these ways, all these sweet, natural, innocent ways which showed me up as wanting in character, a pale copy of a true saint -- the truest I ever knew.

She had the round, open eyes of a child, with a trusting expression, the kind of eyes no one ever wanted to let down.

She never lied. She never cheated. She never lost her temper. She was generous to a fault.

She could love the dirty, the ugly, the stupid with as much joy as I love the clean, the beautiful, and the quick.

She was everything I should be, but am not.

She was my great-grandmother.


  • That was beautiful. Thank you. Our hearts and prays are with you.

    We've just launched a new public-service message board/support group for Katrina. www.katrinatalk.org Come over and give some support and get some, too. Would you add a link somewhere in your Katrina posts? --Thanks

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Sep 03, 05:24:00 pm GMT-4  

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