Working it out

Some weeks ago, there was a nice column by Sean Kirst in the Post-Standard about the lessons learned (and apparently forgotten) from the Great Depression. My grandmother (on my mother’s side) was in her early 20’s then.


Recently, I just happened to notice an old tablecloth that she made that’s been in the family ever since I can remember (it’s now on a table in my living room). I’m told she made it some years before she got married in 1941. It’s done in filet crochet, a style that used to be fashionable in the ’20s and ’30s. Rectangular, three feet by four. I look at it now and cannot believe the time and concentration it must have taken to complete: she used the finest gauge of thread, and you can barely see the individual loops that make up each thread of the netting. All by hand — no machines.

How long did it take? I can’t ask her now, because she passed away almost 15 years ago.

In talking of public works during the Depression, we point to all kinds of WPA projects that put people back to work — such as the fantastic stonework at New York’s state parks. But then there were the private works, that no one remembers now, unless they happen to notice the results. As an embroiderer myself, I know you go into a sort of alpha state when you are working on something. It is a great way to free one’s thoughts. I think about my grandmother and what she and her working-class family must have been going through during uncertain times, perhaps a lack of jobs or lost opportunities and a lot of time with nothing to do but worry… or work privately on something.

I don’t remember many Depression stories from her, but I know that after it and the war were over, she got a job at GE, entered the middle-class workspace, and scrimped and saved to buy a new house in Fairmount Hills — it was really her dream, not my grandfather’s — a house which is still in the family, as is the tablecloth she worked on so patiently.

I know what she was working on, but what was she thinking? I can’t ask her now.