Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Traditions or Destiny...

Tradition, la-la-la-la-la---la--- as Topol would say. Destiny, destiny, no escaping destiny, as Dr. Frankenstein would scream.

In the Woody Allen fashion, if this were a movie, I would insert the inevitable flashback. I would appear as a child, surrounded by my father and my mother's family. The ones discussing the making of the sweaters, the others the selling of the sweaters, while my mother would pat me on the head, telling me I would not knit sweaters or sell them, because I was going to go to school. So there I was, dressed in an orange and yellow knit sweater, thinking that I could escape the power of the ancestors. Mind you, my mother's point of view, and rejection of all items knit, or made of wool could be understandable.

You see, my family miraculously survived the war in France, and like many other Jews, it took time for them to rebuild their lives. When my mother was about 6 years old, they decided they could go with the children on vacation. So they went to the northern beaches. Being Mediterranean Jews, North meant cold. So my grandmother got some nice old-fashioned wool, and knit the children some warm bathing suits. Imagine, my mother and her younger cousins, scratching constantly, because the wool was shall we say of the vintage sort, with the women of the family, blindly blaming the sand for the itchiness. They sent the kids swimming to get rid of the "dirt", and I think this is when my mother swore never to knit, and that she would break the traditions. The wool drank the water, half emptying the sea, and got so heavy that when the children got out of the water, the bathing suits had streched all the way to their knees. I can hear the voice of my grandmother "What did you do to the bathing suits, such good bathing suits, no more playing roughly in the water! Have respect for what you own..."

I did learn to knit. Whenever my mother would leave me with the ancestors, the knitting needles would magically appear, as well as the balls of yellow and orange. " Do you want Mamie to teach you how to knit?" So I learned. I developped sort of a double life, bookworm at home, knitter at my grandmother's. Even though my fate remained uncertain for a while,
like Dr. Frankenstein, traditions pulled me back in, but this time completely. I may not stand next to my knitted sock, yelling "it's alive, it's alive!", but I do run around the house, parading it, and showing it to every person I can, saying it's a...mazing, no?!

1 comment:

drmimi said...

Lovely story! My German "Tante Marianne" Kempnich taught me to knit as well as us a fork and knife the continental way when I was in the third grade. She also talked me into studying German instead of French (my school started at the third grade). She was multilingual and a intrepreter. She knew I had a math and science aptitude and wanted me to pick a language that would help in my studies. Now that I speak Spanish as well, I am aching to finally learn French.

Tante Marianne emigrated from Germany after WWII. She was a teen during the war. She was a Unitarian Universalist (peace and social justice type) by the time my parents met her in Chicago.

I have fond memories of her. She taught me early about the love of knitting and how to love someone who didn't look like me (I'm African American).