Ghosts in the Attic

February 15, 2011

I come from a long line of strong and crafty women. Women who sewed clothes for themselves and others. Women who knit sweaters, mittens, socks (argyle socks in the movie theater), and scarves. Sometimes their creations were practical, especially before globalization when it was cheaper to sew back-to-school clothes than to buy them. But more often they were gifts, labors of love for cherished friends and family.

My three brothers and I have personalized Christmas stockings, knit by our mother more than 40 or even 50 years ago. My cousin’s couch is adorned with small pillows, needlepointed by her mother. A childhood “flashbulb” memory of mine is being sick one Christmas morning and lying on the couch to open a gift my from the same woman, my beloved aunt and godmother, Lulla.  A handmade and embroidered felt (or maybe boiled wool) hat — red with a whimsical design.  Just beautiful.

Earlier this week, these memories and more came flooding back when I pulled a cardboard box out of the attic crawlspace as I sought the uninsulated source of the ice dams that had formed on the roof. Inside were skeins of yarn, bags of needlepoint projects, knitting needles, and patterns.

cardboard box of yarn stash

I know these treasures are more than 22 years old because most had belonged to dear Lulla, who died in 1988. Seeing these unfinished projects brought her back in a tangible, visceral way. I could imagine her carrying the “Kabuki-inspired” needlepoint handbag that’s 80% completed.  The colors — oranges, pinks — were her colors.

partially finished needlepoint handbag

Notes on the Aran sweater pattern (in her distinctive handwriting that I haven’t seen in so long)  indicated that her friend Janice would have been the lucky recipient.

fromt section of Aran sweater & pattern

Stuffed into a plastic bag along with a small box of needlepoint yarn was a project that gave me a shiver. Lulla had started a sign, destined to be framed and hung in my mother Nancy’s kitchen, I’m sure.  These two remarkable women — insightful, gutsy, politically active, funny, loving, strong, and intelligent — also shared a disdain for housework.  “Dull women have immaculate homes” proclaims a sign in my mother’s apartment.  As the attic stash proves,  Lulla had been planning to reinforce the message.


2 Responses to “Ghosts in the Attic”

  1. Luke Says:

    Great stuff!

    Remember Thanksgiving 1986 on Nesmith Street—a pot bubbling on every kitchen burner, newspapers (the Sun, the Globe, the Herald, the Times) strewn on every available surface, the evening news blaring news of the Iran-contra scandal, and the “Gilbride Girls” simultaneously cooking up a storm and chortling over each new revelation? Good times.


  2. Susanne Says:

    What a treasure chest you’ve discovered! I’m sure your aunt would be thrilled to see you carrying on the knitting tradition. Personally, I’m carrying on the tradition of disdain for housework!


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