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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Independent Great-Aunt Syndrome

So who were these women? And how did they construct their ilves?

Signatures and the back to a concentric square quited blanket.

Maybe it's because they were young girls during World War I. Maybe it's because they were working women in the 20's and 30's. I know they had offers. I know they were happy. I know one even had a long-term affair. [Oh -- so THAT's who that man in the picture in her room was!]

Workbasket and tools

But my family history is filled with single great-aunts, independent, quirky, "accomplished" in a modern sense and in ways more common to generations of women before them.

I have their paintings -- one a beautiful watercolor of a boat on the water at sunset in a fine sublime style reminiscent of Claude Lorraine. I have their jewelry -- a collection much enhanced by the competition between two sister-school-teachers. I have quilts and quilt-tops, woven baskets with fine metal crochet hooks and squares of half-worked Irish linen.

Tools and Workings

I have knitted and crocheted toys, and cards with copper-plate handwriting that came with money for me to spend on my own.
When I turned sixteen, I inherited the '69 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with the 350 Rocket engine that was the last car one of these women bought -- at the age of 78.

I'm not a great-aunt. I've just become an aunt for the second time -- and been granted my first niece. But as dating gets stranger, and more difficult, and as I become more independent and happier with myself and my life, I begin to wonder . . . what did these women choose? Might I like it?

Most were kind, engaging, a couple were down-right crazy. One was a mean old bitty when I knew her, convinced that every nursing home was engaged in a conspiracy to kill her.

But I have other memories of her -- when she was younger and in reasonable health, directing the family Thanksgiving dinner at the house she shared with her two single sisters. She taught me to play the card game "Crazy 8" and gave me packets from Scholastic with coloring books and Highlights magazines. She was self-possess and well dressed. Almost scary in her power and in the strangeness of her -- at least to a 5 or 6-year old.

But these women seemed to have something that I might like to have myself -- that I have seen my mother gain as she's built a life she didn't plan for after my father's unexpected death.

Is it/ Was it self-determination? Only that? Was it just the awareness that they'd made their own choices and would continue to do so, without the entanglements of a nuclear family?

Signature quilt top

Having gone from keeping her father's house to keeping MY father's house while working and raising her children, my mother now eats spaghetti sauce that comes from a jar, loves her George Foreman grill, and pleases herself by planting mums in cauldrons this month outside her single story apartment porch.

While she has admitted that it would be nice now and again to have someone to go to dinner with, she has no interest in maintaining a relationship with anyone new at this point. She's not interested in coordinating her life to maintain a steady date or in having to let someone know if she's going to work late or suddenly decides to go shopping instead of heading home.

It's not the life she planned or envisioned. Nor is mine what I'd envisioned. But it's a good life.

I really like not having to justify my yarn purchases to anyone but myself or the dogs (the cats are always encouraging me to get more!).

I married the wrong man for the wrong reasons while severely depressed. I left him and got a divorce. I'm not against the idea of marriage -- I think I just applied it wrong. But this other life is what I have -- and I have many role models for it that I've rarely considered.

Much of my single life as a young woman was filled with the need to "fit in" by having a boyfriend or lover. Filled with the need to be needed, and the need to be wanted. These are lousy forces for directing life. They led me to compromises I would not make again. They tinge life with a desperation and a dependence on others for happiness. Shared joy is stifled by such desperation.

So now I'm contemplating this life that I have -- and wondering if perhaps I've been overlooking a life that could grant me what I want. Peace, happiness, fulfillment, joy and connection with my family. These things are here. Choosing to enjoy this existence instead of always hunting for another doesn't mean I can't change my mind if someone special comes along. And I'm far too fond of men to ignore them altogether!

quilt tops

But if I plan for what I want from what I have in and of myself -- perhaps the sweater will fit. Perhaps it is more like knitting from the top, down. Easier to tailor, easier to be happy with. And no seeming!

Perhaps I'm stretching the knitting metaphor, but these accomplished great-aunts intrigue me. Their knitting and crocheting baskets intrigue me. The joy and self-possession evident in several have me longing to know what they learned about living by living independently, while enjoying their extended family. And I wonder . . . .

Workbasket and tools


Anonymous said...

My favorite great aunt was a "spinster". But I still see some of her in myself. Be who you are.

KnitNana said...

Inspirational and moving - thank you, please write more?