It seems that when we reach our later years and are obliged to finally confess, that we are well into that stage of life, commonly termed, “growing old,” that we are, at times, confronted with the return of long-term memories, concerning singularly meaningful experiences in our past life; perhaps, a spontaneous projection of the stage- setting of a period of residence, in our very early life, the sound of a forgotten voice, or perhaps, a remembered scent (like ocean air, or a cooked food) suddenly recalled, after a veritable lifetime of subsequent experiences.
Such a sudden, recent memory visitation, was apparently triggered in us, by the mere encountering of the mundane verb, “crochet,” which appeared on the page of a novel we were reading. The word was not, in truth, used in any complex, metaphoric, meaningful or especially artistic sense; just the normal, unexciting and mundane word. At first, our lowering of the book and looking away felt unusual; then, a sudden eclat, “Mom!”
Our mother knew how to crochet and managed to be rather accomplished at her often practiced skill, despite the lack of a right index finger (amputated in the “dark ages” of medical ignorance of the White Russia of her childhood, in primitive manner, to prevent the spread of infection.) Crocheting was a common pastime when she was not cleaning house, cooking meals, tending to sick children or food shopping.
Historically, she may, perhaps, be entitled to be numbered among the world’s original recyclers; but truthfully, only did so, as a matter of necessity. In the impoverished life, endured, together with her hard working, immigrant husband, and children, seldom was anything actually discarded, if it could be seen to have some other function, or some future possible utility.
Among our earliest memories, was of mother, actively tearing long, thin strips of cloth, from clothing and other fabrics, the latter, finally consigned to the dire functional diagnosis as no longer repairable, and, consequently, and at long last, falling into the rarified scientific category of “schmattas.” There was no limit to the wide provenance of these residual schmattas, old washclothes, towels, pants, undergarments, very torn sweaters, ancient shirts, blouses, dresses and whatever deserving fabric which, at long last, had fairly earned the right to meet its maker.
We would see her, in any break from housecleaning, cooking meals, nursing sick children, and the like, crocheting these substantial, multi- colored, multi-textured, accumulations of ancient family utility. Her recognized artisinal canon was area rugs, which multi-splendored, objets d’art, kept our bare (or stockinged) feet warm, despite a cold flat and cold floor.
Then, a second lightening bolt (“eclat”) struck; this time, a truly inventive, exciting and more scholarly eclat; as distinguished from the emotional jolt, set forth, above.
These cloth strips, torn from fabrics, used during the time of her family history, starting with her emigration to America, represent a witness, going back to the time of her escape from pogrom country and the Russian dark ages, though an American period, from Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt to John Kennedy, and encompassing events which occurred during such era, including, World War II, the Korean and Vietnamese Wars, the exponential changes in technology and medicine, social upheavals and developments, indeed, all of the intervening domestic and World history of the era.
May not these historic strips, albeit arranged and conglomerated into somewhat different form, be of significant academic use to historians, economists and sociologists, studying the life and events of the approximately, one Century of American existence represented, find a veritable treasure trove of desired information therein? Devoted and capable scientists obtain needed enlightenment from radioactive carbon, from fossils and geological strata, from the study and computation of tree rings, why not schmattas? Mom would be very pleased to know that they have yet another use.