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.


On Grandparents

560801 Jo & Mim

My Mimi (Lena Babineau Alix) with me – 1956

Last Friday a long time customer of ours came in to have the oil changed in her car.  She and her husband have been bringing their cars into us for over 25 years.  Her husband passed away a little over a year ago after doing battle with dementia for a number of years.  She was with him 6 days a week for over 3 years at the veterans hospital.

Before his illness they spent a good deal of their time outdoors.  He was an avid fisherman, they had a place in Maine, I believe on a lake.  Family was everything to them and all would spend many, many days fishing with their father/grandfather.

As she reminisced about the days shortly after the death of her husband she told me the first words out of her 12-year-old granddaughter’s mouth were “Who will take me fishing?’.  Father and uncles all said that they would but her response was “But it won’t be the same”.

I felt her granddaughter’s pain.  My grandparents have been gone for many, many years now.  I miss them dearly.  They all had their strengths, the things that they played to.  Grampa was the Red Sox, beer and spanish peanuts, always.  Nan taught me how to embroider, we learned to quilt together, handcrafts were the game.  Pampi always tinkered with things (he was actually quite brilliant in his mechanical ability) and was always ready to laugh.  Mimi was the one I played with, laughed with, hugged, adored. She was the one who I trusted and loved more than the others.  She was always on our level through every age.  When visiting Mimi and Pampi I always felt unconditionally loved, I could do no wrong.

It’s the little things that we remember.  I drank my first cup of tea at their table (really warm milk).  Tea was always ritual with them – a pot was brewed after supper, every night.  We would sit around the table and talk.  We would laugh at Pampi’s antics to get a rise out of the wife he clearly adored.  The great aunts and uncles would visit, tales of the past and gossip of the present would rule, an uncle would slip into French when he was excited. Laughter, always lots of laughter.

One of my nieces was lamenting the fact that her children will never know her Mabel the way she does.  It’s true we said but you never knew our Mimi and that is sad for us.  Each child in each generation has their own experience.  I hope that I am the kind of grandmother that my grandchildren can lament their children not knowing.  I do know that they will probably grow up drinking some sort of hot beverage, sitting around a table and talking about the old days. They will probably also spend a good deal of time outdoors looking at bugs, birds and plants.  I can teach them to use their hands and hopefully their minds and I hope that’s what they’ll remember.