Dateline: 13 January 2017 a.d.
I have a special fondness for wool socks in the winter. A pair of wool socks over a pair of cotton socks is my preferred footwear around the house. I even sleep with the cotton-wool-sock combination on my feet.
The wool socks in the picture above are kind of special because they came from my mother. As I recall, she picked them up at a yard sale. They were new and from L.L. Bean. They fit me right nice... all the way up to my knees!
I'm pretty sure they are made to go with knickers. I think there was a span of time in the 1970s when these socks, with knickers, were popular with some cross-country skiers.
Whatever the case, though I have a couple other pairs of special wool socks, that pair is my favorite, and I was surprised to see they had a hole in them recently. It wasn't a wear hole, like is common around the heel with wool socks. It was a big, gaping hole on the top, and I don't know what happened.
Before the hole got worse, I needed to darn it back together. You can see my repair in that picture.
I haven't darned a pair of socks in decades, but I was once an avid sock darner. I recall darning grey ragwool socks when I was around 18 to 21. I spent more time outdoors and wore out more socks, and had the time to darn them myself. It's a pleasant task to sit by the woodstove on a cold winter night and darn your wool socks. That's how I remember it. Of course, I didn't have the internet and an iPhone to keep me from such tasks back in those days (I still don't have a cell phone).
But Marlene recently brought to my attention that I've been handy with a needle and thread going back much further than 18 years old. In fact, going back to before I can remember!
She was cleaning and organizing some old papers and gave me a letter from my grandmother, Gertrude Philbrick, that she sent me back in 1983.
My grandmother was born in Perham, Maine in 1902. She was the granddaughter of Josephine Jordan.
My grandmother Philbrick was a potato farmer's wife. She lived to be 97 years old. She was, like so many farm women of her era, good at sewing. In her later years, she sewed and sold (and gave away) Teddy Bears and Raggedy Ann dolls.
People who have worked hard all their life, tend to keep on working, though on a lesser scale, at some productive task for as long into their old age as they possibly can. Work is an ingrained habit. Productivity is important. That was the case with my grandmother Philbrick. It will be the case with me.
So, back to my story... Marlene gave me the letter my grandmother wrote us in 1983, and here is the excerpt that gave me pause...
I don't know how well that scan will show up, so here is what it says:
"I feel I should stop doing the dolls and bears because my heart is giving me a warning with racing and fast pulsing when I feel tired. (I'm 81) I think of you when you were 3-1/2, I think. You'd see me with a needle and thread and you'd want to sew too. You'd do a pretty good job too. Even then, you had the talent for carpenter work. You helped Grampie with the barrels also?"
Yes, I certainly did help my grandfather, Percy Philbrick, when he was past his farming years, and worked at repairing potato barrels for local farmers. I remember it very well. I wrote about in my Deliberate Agrarian Blogazine post for July 2010.
There isn't a doubt in my mind that introducing children to productive handiwork is an important part of proper human development. My grandparents grew grown up in a culture that, as a rule, introduced children to useful manual skills and encouraged the development of those skills starting at a very young age.
My Grandmother Kimball grew up in the same sort of hard-working farm culture in Northern Maine. She was always working with her hands, creating things. And when I visited her, she made a point to get me involved in various craft projects.
I'm thankful that my grandmother gave me a needle and thread when I was 3-1/2 years old. I'm thankful that she told me about it in her letter. And I'm thankful for wool socks. I could go on.
The older I get, the more thankful I get for things like that.
Does anyone besides me remember when you could buy cards of darning yarn in any department store in America? Here's what it looked like...