Sunday, June 13, 2010

Family Ties

I love old stuff. Particularly old stuff with its stories in tow, and preferably stories that involve a beloved family member or an ancestor who I've been told is awesome and/or risk-taking.

My parents held a yard sale yesterday, and in preparation, the past few weeks have found me sorting through boxes from the attic, choosing what to sell, what to donate, and what to keep.

I tried to maintain a restrained approach, reminding myself that it's an object that I'm selling, not the memory itself. But, I attach meaning to things, and so it is a tedious, sometimes painful process of letting go. I've kept only clothes that fit, books that I'll read again, and knick-knacks that tell an unforgettable story. I've been brutally ascetic, and oh, it is freeing to remove the clutter from my surroundings.

The decluttering turned out to be a fortuitous move; a few days later, we helped my grandmother empty out her attic, and suddenly it was Christmas in June.

A pale, sun-bleached coverlet sewn by my great-great grandmother? Yes, please.

My grandfather's letterman's sweater for track from Marlboro High, Class of '48? (I couldn't get "Be True to Your School" out of my head for days.)

A handful of children's books from the '50s and '60s, including the gem Questions Children Ask.

And then I found this.

My grandmother told me that my great-great grandmother (she of the yellow coverlet) embroidered the apron and would wear it while entertaining. Apparently, she wore a more ordinary apron while cooking and baking in the kitchen, and reserved the fancy one to wear in front of guests.

Now, I don't have luck with vintage clothes. Vintage clothes do not fit me. My hips alone -- though I'm awfully fond of them -- relegate chic flouncy skirts and tailored jackets to the realm of wishful thinking. So when I pulled out my great-great grandmother's apron, I readied myself for the inevitable.

And then I remembered that my great-great grandmother was a sizable woman. Born in Poland, Pelagia Morawski Niemela made her way across the Atlantic to Worcester, Massachusetts at the turn of the last century. My grandmother called her "Babci," and tells me that she was the sweetest, kindest of grandmothers. (It takes one to know one.) She was beautiful, curvy, and strong; and just my size.

I tried on the apron, and it fit. It fit! For once in life, vintage clothing that fits. And yet it is even more special: a tactile memory of Pelagia, who embroidered it, washed it, cherished it, and tied it snugly around her waist. And now I tie it around mine.


  1. i love this. and i may or may not be coveting that letter sweater. what a neat post!

  2. I also love this post, and how you're so well-versed on your family history and have such a great tactile collection to the past. I am coveting the apron--the embroidery is gorgeous and reminds me of my grandma's and mom's. I hope you feel GREAT wearing it!

  3. Thanks, friends. The apron has inspired a new venture in my life. More on that soon!


  4. Oh I love your new treasures! They are just lovely and so meaningful. And I can't wait to hear about your new venture!