What I Thought I Knew

160423 Building Chain

Last week my task in learning the power loom was to build the chain that controls the design or pattern in the weave.  It’s what makes the harnesses move.  It’s a dirty job, greasy, one where a pair of gloves seems to be a necessity.

Peggy informed me that every weaver had to learn to build chain before they learned to run the loom.

It took me a minute after that comment to totally comprehend what she had just said.  Every weaver . . .

Wait, that means that my Mimi, my grandmother in her house dresses and aprons with her clean hands and nails was at one time sitting at a bench putting chain together for the looms she hoped to one day run?  Without gloves?!?

All of my Canadian relatives had immigrated to the United States in the late 1890’s to early 1900’s to work in the woolen mills.  My grandmother, born in 1898 grew up with her mother’s family around her all working in the mill in Charlton, MA.  Most of them were weavers.  She probably started working in the mill at the age of 15 and continued to work there until she turned 31 and married my grandfather.

190101 Lena (2)Lena Babineau around age 20

I have looked at the census records for these people many, many times but all it takes is one little comment to change the whole perspective on things.

When doing genealogical research we make up stories in our heads about who these people were and how they lived.  After awhile we trust them as fact even though we have no reason to.  We never really know anything about them.  It’s like my daughters thinking they know me, and they do, they know the me from age 29 on.  The rest of my history is mine to tell and they don’t know a good lot of it, not that’s it’s particularly bad or good it’s just in the past.

When I originally wanted to learn about the power looms and the mills it was more to do with my father and grandfather.  I wasn’t anticipating that this would begin a different understanding of the lives my ancestors lead as young adults.  I only remember my grandmother talking about working in the mill with her aunts – they were very close in age.  It shows how little we ever really know about anyone really.

We all spin our tales and share bits here and there with those that we love. All the good with some bad sprinkled in but unless you lived in the time when these stories were made you only have a shallow perspective on the events.  Delving into the social history helps a little but history is made up of the big things not the mundane minutia of everyday life.  Maybe that’s really where the interest I have in learning how to do things that were done a long, long time ago comes from.  It helps give me a little more insight into how my ancestors lived.  What I have learned is their lives were similar to ours in many ways.  Life moves on through the same stages no matter what generation you’re looking at and I will never know the ins and outs of their lives as children or young adults.  They did hand down a love of family and a strong work ethic that continues through our children and sometimes knowing that is enough.

 

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