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.








I have always contended that your birthday holds the most importance to your mother.  She was the one closest to the event, she was the one most profoundly affected by it, she is the one who holds those memories the closest.  In recent generations birthdays have been celebrated in a variety of ways from a simple cake to a “destination” party.  It wasn’t until I gave birth to my own children that I understood the reason for the celebration.  It’s your mother’s celebration. It’s a day of reminiscing about your birth, the stories are told.

I was always amazed that my mother would remember the minute I was born – 5:31 AM on a Saturday.  She would wake me up often at that time to wish me a happy birthday (although in the back of my mind I’m not sure that wasn’t some evil prank).  There was always a cake and a gift or two, the song was sung.  Our celebrations were always pretty subdued – but the story was told.  It helped shape who I am.

I remember the birth of each one of my children like it was yesterday.  Each one unique, each has their own story.  But, it’s not so much their story as it is mine.  You would think that the older they get the more the memories would fade but it’s in the celebration of each child’s birthday that keeps those memories so alive.  It’s in the telling of the stories that gives the events meaning and importance.

My mother has been gone for almost 25 years but she is the one I silently celebrate this day with, I remember the story.




It’s Complicated

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“That’s the sacred intent of life, of God — to move us continuously toward growth, toward recovering all that was lost and orphaned within us and restoring the divine image imprinted on our soul. And rarely do significant shifts come without a sense of our being lost in dark woods, or in what T.S. Eliot called the “vacant interstellar spaces.” ~ Sue Monk Kidd

The past year has been one of significant change.  I had been going along for a number of years, while the girls were in college, in a tranquil, quiet, albeit boring place.  My creativity had waned, I wasn’t interested in much of anything.  We were spending a large amount of our time on our little restoration project at Fort Pelham Farm, indoors and out.  Nothing so large to overwhelm me, but physical problems are challenges to be figured out and fixed.  The emotional things you can just sit on, keep them in the back of your mind or buried deep.

A little over a year ago my father had a slight stroke.  He was living alone in the house at the time, unable to go up and down the stairs.  The heat was always turned too high and he obsessed over the smallest things.  We had talked about moving him into Assisted Living but there wasn’t ever a time when you could bring it up.  The stroke solved many problems, mostly dealing with his safety.  He worked through what he had lost and is living comfortably in a facility near our shop in Enfield.

I had worked in long term care off and on for many years but it wasn’t until I had to move him into a facility that I struggled with the idea of a sense of place.  I was horrified at the thought that the day may come when someone moves me away from Rowe for my safety.

In working through what can only be seen as a grieving process I began taking classes in crafts that I had never done before.  Sara Burghoff spent a weekend teaching me how to hook rugs.  It was amazing and I was off and running.  Other people see me as being a little obsessive in crafting.  I like things that are quiet, meditative.  Using my hands helps me to think.  I did a lot of thinking, working things out.  I bought a loom from a friend that was moving and discovered weaving to be everything a craft needs to be for me right now.  It requires a mechanical way of thinking to design and set up a project but once you are going it is a quiet meditation.

I began to search for old friends only to find that the ones I most wanted to talk to had died – sad, but you have to know that this was not unexpected in some sense.  The people we don’t see we tend to hold in a sort of stasis, they never change in our minds.  When you are reunited you are shocked at how old they are (not realizing that you’ve aged right along with them).  I continued to weave and started to blog in earnest.

Writing is something I have always done.  It helps me to know myself.  Putting it out in public is different but the main reason I did it was as a record of where I was in time and place.  I did it for my kids, I wanted them to have a little insight into who I am.  At times there are such intensely personal things going on in my life that the thought of writing about it is immobilizing and yet the act of doing it sets me free.

In March of this year I was reunited with a son that I gave up for adoption 41 years ago.  I really haven’t written about it because this has been one of the most difficult things to work out in my head.  I also didn’t want to jinx it in any way – seems funny but it’s true.  S is an amazing, kind man.  It’s good to see genetics at work and at the same time to see what a wonderful person he turned into under the guidance of his adoptive family.

This has put me on quite a different path spiritually than I ever expected.  Things happened for a reason I’m convinced. The timing has been preordained I’m sure. It sounds cliche but I am convinced more than ever that things happen for a reason and these situations have put me in a position to examine my entire life.

 Difficult situations expand my creativity.  I’ve come to understand at least a little bit the tortured, creative mind.  I do my best work, whether it is photography, weaving, writing, anything, when I’m on the edge.  There are positives that can be seen in every difficult situation and these difficult times help a person to grow.

I’ve done genealogy for years and always found people’s personal stories fascinating.  I’ve pieced together lives from notes, receipts, photographs and census records. I always wished someone had written their story down. My girls have asked over the years why I never really talked about my story.  How it was when I was growing up.  I think I always assumed they learned it from other family members.  When S and I were reunited I realized that the biggest story of my life was something I had never talked about.

I am fortunate to have a total sense of place.  Most anything of consequence has happened in Rowe for me.  If it had happened somewhere else, Rowe was always the retreat.  A door has been opened now that will allow a true introspective look at the last 57 years and my hope is that I can commit it to paper.