Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.*
*Attributed to Goethe
Back in the 20's and 30's my grandfather was a farm manager and he and my grandmother fed their own four kids and the farmhands three times a day, the numbers grew and waned according to the seasonal work, but there were multiple pies at every breakfast table. And homemade bread and biscuits. I don't think that woman ever left the kitchen except to clean and scrub. Not an easy life, but they never asked anybody for help except to fix a tractor or something like that.
They were completely thrifty, never bought anything that was frivolous or fancy and I know this because of course I would have loved to have something from their era but nothing was left! My mom's 'inheritance' was a little blue vase and some unmatched white China- odd pieces of different brands and patterns. My mom worked her way through college and lived in a rooming house, and married my dad their junior year at the age of 20. She had a giant work ethic and never ever left a project unfinished.
My mon had strict 'rules, one of them being that animals belong OUTside, not Inside. That's what happens growing up on a farm, you don't get attached, animals don't become pets, they have their place in the barn. They are well fed an cared for but not inside. The look on her face was priceless when my dad brought home a hunting dog one day, an adorable pudgy German Pointer. She told him that the dog would live in the garage, it wasn't coming into the house. Well, it's damn cold in Buffalo in the winters, so pretty soon the dog was allowed into the kitchen but not beyond. Within weeks Gretchen had the run of the house and would snooze happily on my mom's feet as she darned socks at night. Gretchen was also free to run the neighborhood as were most dogs of that era and dog care back then didn't involve grooming appointments or bows on their ears. She had fleas. My mom's ankles were always covered with tiny scars from flea bites. Pretty soon thee was a cat and a bird and the salamanders and wood ducks I would bring home from the woods. And my rabbit I flew home with to visit, but ate the back of the couch one night when he was loose. She was right, animals belong outside but she was overridden time and again by the rest of us.
She relaxed at night by doing needle work, reading, making sure bills were up to date, and keeping up correspondence with friends and family, always curious yet sometimes a bit judgmental of anything wasted or left unused. She made all our clothes and used the scraps from that for quilts or edging on pillowcases or placemats. I was taught to sew my own clothes when I was about 10, using more scraps to practice on doll clothes, and was dropped from her sewing work roster.
She was a task maker for sewing too- I ripped out more zippers than a closet would hold, but it wasn't OK until it was right. If she caved in to my wishes for a store-bought plaid skirt she would take the whole thing apart and be sure the plaids were matched perfectly before I was allowed to wear it. A perfectionist, a Type A, a detail gal, and no project ever too big. Everything executed perfectly in her red jeans and white sleeveless cotton blouse with the Hoover standing ready to go at a moment's notice. She would always 'clean up' before my dad was due home and had to 'put on her face'. I was fascinated to watch as she took 5 minutes and powdered her nose and put on lipstick- she was always beautiful but in a completely natural unstudied way.
Mom and Dad, probably about 1940, in Buffalo
No job was too daunting, probably a leftover from her young years where you had to do- and complete- every job yourself. I remember after I was married and she came to visit, we had recently acquired (free!!) a gigantic carved oak table and eight Jacobean chairs all covered in tattered tapestry fabric. I had bought some simple white Haitian cotton to reupholster the chairs 'someday' and she glommed onto that project working day and night to get it done for me. I did one armed chair, she did the other seven in just a bit longer! Her fingers were raw, we ran out of staples and tape several times, and patience more than that. She did stop to eat, but that was about all. My chairs looked wonderful- they were definitely shabby to begin with but she also cleaned the wood and retouched scratches here and there as she went. She simply would not stop until she as done and the room cleaned up.
There were many things my mom taught me but I grew up in the land of plenty and never quite got her strict ethics. I am trying now to pick up on it all as I disassemble my holdings so somebody else doesn't have to deal with it. Hope she is somewhere where perfection and intention is handsomely rewarded. She was a great mom, and I remain after all these years, sorry for all the trouble I caused! I know she is still with me when my kids tell me I have said something that sounds 'so Geneva' as they roll their eyes and walk off.
Me, dad and mom, 1973
Thanks for letting me roll down memory hill on a birthday I had nothing to do with but remember so strongly.
Back to our regular programming next time, promise