Rapunzel, Rapunzel!

My daughter is a spinster. Yeah, yeah, I know, there’s a lot of single women these days. Well, my daughter is single, but I meant that in the literal sense. Unlike Rapunzel, she can’t spin straw into gold, but she does spin a variety of materials into some very nice artisan yarns and threads.

My son suffered from some psycho-social problems, which meant he didn’t leave home after he graduated from high-school. He didn’t get a job for over ten years. Instead he was our majordomo. He vacuumed and dusted, mowed grass and shovelled snow, helped with laundry, ran errands and did a lot of the cooking while the wife still worked. The daughter had an independent streak and was already out on her own when he failed to launch. Unlike the three of us loners, she has a big list of friends and acquaintances.

She had several jobs, including living on a farm and tending horses. She suffered numerous non-work-related accidents which pretty much ruined both of her knees. After giving birth to her son, at home, in a cleaned and sanitized bathtub, with the assistance of a friend and two mid-wives, she lived on mother’s allowance until the government announced some major changes in social assistance which forced her to work with her doctor to qualify for the disability benefits.

She/we found that the numerous physical shocks like that, can cause fibromyalgia, a neurological affliction which can cause great pain and weakness. Doctors are a little more aware of it now. Back then it took two years to diagnose. First they thought she had chronic fatigue syndrome, yuppie disease. Then they felt she might have Lupus. They all appeared similar, which turned out to be unfortunate, as the treatment she received to deal with what they thought was Lupus, made the fibro worse for her. On her “good” days she only requires one forearm crutch, worse days take two, and bad days have her moving in a power wheelchair, if she can get out of bed at all.

She has become very computer-able because of being stuck inside so much. She has a friend who has a less intense version of the illness, and also spends a lot of time indoors, with four kids. To bleed off the stress, she took instruction in spinning yarn, and then taught my daughter, so that she would have something therapeutic and constructive to pass time with. There is just something so mindlessly calming about spinning, it is meditative to both the spinner and watcher alike, and the results are pretty too.

The daughter is now on her third spinning wheel. She sold number two, added money and bought number three. This one is a double-treadle model so that she can run it with both feet. The friend saved like mad and bought a custom wheel from British Columbia. It has six gears, like a bicycle. Even in second gear, it spews out yarn so fast she can barely keep up. She can’t imagine anyone fast enough to run it in sixth gear. She does fun, interesting stuff, like dying the yarn with Kool-Aid powder; it can produce some bright colours.

The daughter has learned a couple of ways to spin yarn without the wheel, including the use of a drop-spindle [she has 12 of them, 6 of which she made herself]. This is a system for making yarn & types of rope that was used before artisans began to build spinning wheels. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs show them using this method.  Evidence has been found in archaeology sites that have dated spinning going back much farther as well.

The daughter spins a variety of material, fibres like wool, mohair [fibre from goat], alpaca, llama, Qiviut, buffalo, yak, camel, cashmere, silk, dog, cat & rabbit furs. Other fibres [either natural or processed] she has spun are cotton, flax, ramie, soy silk, bamboo, viscose, nylon and even milk weed fluff.

Did I say dog? Yes, any long fine fibre can be spun. A client’s poodle-cross was getting older, so she saved several trimmings, and the daughter spun it to yarn. The dog is gone, but the mitts live on. One of her closest friends has a poodle and they have saved his coat like a mini lamb’s fleece and several years’ worth was mixed with wool, spun into yarn and knitted into a lovely shawl. They are still saving his yearly ‘fleece’ in hopes of being able to make another project in the future.

My wife’s niece, who is also our massage therapist/osteopath, used to do a major grooming of her Malamute twice a year and she had saved two years’ worth of the clean fur. The daughter spun it with some lamb’s wool, and the wife knitted her a headband and a pair of mitts out of the yarn. The new Jack Russell terrier chewed a hole in the headband, but the daughter found a small amount of the fibres used in the original yarn, spun up another small batch and the wife dismantled the headband and repaired it.

I can barely play the radio. It’s the wife and daughter who are the creative ones. We tend to do certain things the old-fashioned way, if only to keep the skills in use. The daughter used mid-wives and home-birth for her son. She can spin and weave. She and the wife both knit and both crochet. The wife learned how to tat, which is the hand-production of lace, with tiny knots.

The co-worker who showed her how, was not a good teacher. There are slip-knots which must be rotated, so that they will slide to produce a loop. She didn’t explain this to the wife. We went to visit my parents for a weekend, and the wife was getting frustrated. She knew something was wrong, but not what. I had done a little study of knot theory, so I asked her to describe the problem. I had to go and get an eight-foot, heavy, black, telephone lead cord, so that she could see large-scale, what had to happen in miniature, but the light finally went on. Now when someone asks her who taught her to make lace, she claims I did.

The wife says that, sometimes she feels stupid when the son and I are discussing esoteric subjects like super-string theory, black holes, or just the precise usage of the English language. Both of us though, bask in the reflected glory of both these creative ladies’ abilities.

The daughter blogs as LadyRyl, http://ladyryl.wordpress.com/, and has an on-line catalogue of beautiful, hand crafted yarn, and some items already knitted or crocheted from it. I think it’s easily as pretty and useful as SightsandBytes’ sister’s glass jewellery. Perhaps some of the ladies might wish to have a look at it, and be as impressed with some old-fashioned productivity, as I am. On-line payment and shipping are available.

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Home Sweet Home

SavortheFolly wondered what it was like, growing up in a small town.  She seems, sadly, to have left the blogosphere.  We can only hope that things turn out well for her and she returns at some future time.  For her, and for the rest of my readers who don’t doze off, I present this little trip back in time, to see what shaped little Archon into what he is today.

The road to “different” and “loner” probably started on the property, and, in the house where I was born.  When I was born, there was no hospital in my town.  I was astounded to discover that, because, diagonally across the corner from my house, was a hospital.  I was born at home, because at that time, the “hospital” was a summer tourist lodge.  It failed, financially, when I was a couple of years old, and the town seized it for back-taxes and converted it.

Three years after I was born, my mother went to a birthing home in the next town, a week before her due date, to give birth to my brother.  She said it was actually a horrible experience.  There were no TVs and no radios.  The drapes were always drawn, and the expectant mothers were expected to remain quiet and in bed.  You could cut the boredom with a butter-knife.  Immediately after giving birth, women who hadn’t moved a muscle for a week or more, were expected to get up and go home.  If Dad hadn’t held her up, she said she’d have collapsed on the floor.

Ours was an older neighborhood.  I was the only non-teen child for two blocks in any direction.  My ten-year-older half-sister managed to fit in, but I learned how to play by myself.

Our property consisted of three building lots, two on the main road and one across the back, on the side street.  When I got old enough to help, there was a vegetable garden, a flower garden in front of it, and a huge lawn to mow with a manual push mower.  Our property was unique in the town, and possibly in all of Ontario, in that, of home properties with trees, ours was the only one without a single maple tree.

We had two poplar trees.  We had three mountain ash, two elm trees, two lilacs, planted before I was born and grown to almost tree size, and a horse-chestnut.  I don’t know how we got the horse-chestnut.  It’s native to southern Asia.  All those great big nuts, and they were bitter and poisonous.  At least we could throw them at each other and mount them on strings, to play conkers.

Dad sold the lot on the side street.  Years before, it had been a farm orchard with apple and pear trees.  All of those were dug out except two pear trees at the back edge of our lot.  Eventually these too, died.  Dad cut off all the branches, leaving two trunks about six feet tall.  He strung a steel cable between them for an auxiliary clothesline.  No dryers, back then, or Laundromats, you washed clothes at home and hung them outside, to dry.

We had tax records of “barn and sheds” from 1848, and “house and sheds” from 1852.  The house was built somewhere in those four years.  We were only four blocks off the retail district, but this had been a farm.  The foundation of the house was three feet thick, built with the stones taken from the tilled fields.  The basement beams that held the house up, were roughly squared elm trees that had been cut down to clear fields.  The bark was still on some sections of them.

When piping was installed for the kitchen sink, it was put right up against the stone foundation, to reach the sink, mounted on the outside wall.  If we had a particularly cold winter, sometimes the pipe, (cold water only at that point) would freeze, and Dad would have to go down to the basement with a blowtorch or real torch, made of an old shirt on a stick soaked in lighter fluid, and thaw it out.

There was a full? basement under only half the house, and it was only about five feet tall, to the bottom of the beams.  The floor was bricks.  We were up on a hill, thirty feet above a large pond a block away, and fifty feet above Lake Huron, but, apparently the water-table was high.  We lifted a few bricks, and the holes started filling with water.

The ceilings in all the rooms were twelve feet high, almost impossible to heat.  One room at a time my father and a friend put in false ceilings to the top of the windows, only eight foot-six.  We punched a hole in the upper wall of the attic stairway, and my brother and I crawled out on the new ceiling and broke holes between the studs on the outside wall, and poured in loose fibreglass insulation.  The first room we did was during a hot summer, so we wore only shorts and sleeveless shirts….and ITCHED for days.  As we did each successive room, we learned to wear long clothing.

When I was about eight, Dad had installed a propane water heater.  Till then, water for laundry or baths was boiled in a couple of huge copper pails, on a wood-burning stove, even in the summer.  A couple of years later Dad had a propane furnace installed.  We’d had the wood-stove in the kitchen and a coal-fired “furnace” in the living room.  One year we had a thaw and then a refreeze.  When it thawed the second time, water poured in through the stone foundation and burned out the new furnace.  We still had the wood stove, but it was a cold couple of days till we got the water pumped out and the new furnace repaired.

In the winter, it was cold enough in the mornings to see my breath, in my bedroom.  I would often grab my clothes and run into the living-room and stand beside the now red-hot furnace and hold my clothes up to warm them, before I put them on.  One day, I shucked off my pyjama bottom and went to put on my undershorts, and caught my toe and fell sideways.  I left the skin from one ass-cheek on the furnace.

There are portions of my childhood that I wish were still available to me, but there are as many, or more, that I’m just as glad are long gone.  Vive technology.

I Didn’t Come to New York City

Today, I’d like to take you for a trip with my Mom and Dad which I didn’t even go on.  Actually, it’s a couple of trips, but who’s counting?  Dad received a small disability pension from the government.  It wasn’t much, but it made the difference between being stuck in a small town, and affording to take the occasional road trip.

One summer, he and Mom decided that they would drive west to Yellowstone Park.  They drove out through the States, then went north and returned by the Trans-Canada Highway.  I moved a hundred miles away from home for employment.  My brother moved here for a while.  He even tried the big city of Toronto, but he was a small-town boy at heart.  He moved back to Hicksville, (not the one where Billy Joel was born and raised) got a job and a wife.  Dad asked them if they would like to come along.

My brother likes driving.  He currently has a job delivering for an auto-parts/hardware store.  He puts in about a hundred kilometers a day.  His part-time weekend gig is driving limousines.  At the time of this tale, he would volunteer to drive from the base of the Bruce Peninsula, all the way to St. Paul, Minnesota, to pick up parts needed urgently at his firm.  A day out, stay the night in a motel, and the next day back.  He made that run at least three times.  He also would drive 2 hours to Toronto, pick up freight at the airport, and drive 2 hours home.  He has probably driven every mile of I-75, from the top of Michigan, to Miami.  Not all in the same day, although I went with him twice and shared the driving.  We got on at Detroit, and 24 hours later, we were just east of Tampa.  He’s put on a lot of miles, and been a lot of places, but culturally, he’s never left home.

The two couples pulled in to some little roadside diner, somewhere near Yellowstone, for lunch.  My brother, being the culinary daredevil he is, ordered a hamburger.  He knows about fish and chips.  Our town had a “chip wagon”, which served French fries.  With his hamburger, he asked for an order of chips.  He bitched for months about the waitress, who went behind the counter and poured an opened foil bag of chips onto his plate, beside the burger.  That’s not what I f*#^in’ wanted, but I ate the *#@% things.

The next year, by themselves, Mom and Dad drove out to British Columbia.  In B.C., the province licences pulp and paper companies to cut trees.  In return, they must provide and maintain camping sites.  They do this by cutting a swath of trees down and leveling a road, in a loop.  Every hundred yards or so, they hack out a square spot, and level it.  Water and washrooms can be a mile away.  Not exactly cheek by jowl with the nearest neighbor, but, at least the college kids don’t keep you awake with rap music all night.

Dad backed the little camper-trailer into position, parked the car and got the trailer unfolded and set up.  Dad is the grasshopper to Mom’s ant, in this Aesop’s pairing.  He does no more than he absolutely has to and wants to wander and socialize.  Mom was hauling out the cooler, the camp stove, the food and drink, the dishes and the cooking utensils.  She turned around, and he was missing.  Where’s he gone to now, and when will he be back?  He returned about a half an hour later.  Apparently he had walked back to the nearest campsite, to talk to the folks there.  As they drove in, he had noticed that they had Ontario plates.  The color scheme was the same as B.C. plates, but with a different arrangement of letters and numbers.  The conversation went something like this.

Where you from?

Ontario.

Yeah.  I noticed that by the plates.  Where in Ontario?

Southern Ontario.  (This guy wasn’t giving anything away.)

There’s a lot of Southern Ontario, where exactly?

A town called Wiarton, at the bottom of the Bruce Peninsula.

Now Dad’s excited.  I’m from Wiarton.  Well, says the guy, I’m actually from a little village called Red Bay, a few miles west.  Dad says, yeah, I know the place, me too.  Well actually I was born at home, in a cabin, a couple of miles out.  Dad says, yeah, me too!  Back then, it was unusual for women to go all the way to town to have a baby at the hospital.  Everybody had relatives or neighbors or a local midwife.

It turned out that the two men had been born in glorified logging cabins, on the same, still unpaved county road, about a half a mile, and two years apart.  Dad was the older of the two.  They knew each other’s relatives and friends, but had never met.  I find the coincidence of meeting, three thousand miles from home, and almost seventy years later, just awe-inspiring, all because of Dad’s eagle eye.  Then again, we have my son’s story about seeing a flipped coin wind up on edge.  The song says, I didn’t come to New York City, to meet a guy from my home town, but Dad was always pleased to have run into a neighbor that far from home.