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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

January, 2007

 

Letter of Thankfulness.

Olema with its three way blinking stop light serves as an unofficial gateway to West Marin. The warmth of another hearth and food prepared by someone else's loving hands have drawn twenty four grateful working women together for a knitting retreat and Beth Brown-Reinsel has come from Maryland to show us how to knit old style Fair Isle cardigans - with Steeks - an intimidating procedure of actually cutting through knitted stitches before rebinding them.
Fair Isle is one of the Shetland isles which lie north of mainland Scotland. In 700 A.D. the Vikings arrived and for the next six hundred plus years- one way or another - ruled and raided the Islands and mainland Scotland. Those Viking warriors brought their women, sheep, ponies and their knitting. The Island people still have an affinity to their Nordic ancestry, now interwoven with that of Scotland.

During our first evening together Beth gave a lecture and slide show on the rural knitting women of Estonia. These women knit gloves and socks which are far beyond even what the most skilled of us would attempt. For two days we clustered together to learn this ancient craft as it had been adapted and handed down from North and Eastern Europe to America. But today's American women are different from the crofter wives of Shetland or Estonian farmers who have knitted since childhood and whose work is part of their livelihood. Some of us have only returned to knitting in our Granny years though there were also a group of young women physicians for whom knitting has become for them as therapeutic as the medicines they prescribe for their patients.

To knit together, in the company of like minded women with whom you may have no other daily contact is soothing. For those few hours the cares of the world, community and family disappear. It is a restorative moment for women of all ages, known through ages of womankind who have always gathered together to do such work.

Two days later my husband returned from Bucharest bearing a treasured gift from Andrei Dascalescu his young Rumanian assistant. Gently he unpacked his gift, a small beautifully hand woven brown rug with brightly colored flowers. It was accompanied by a DVD, a small film that Andrei had made honoring his grandparents. My husband held these two generations separated by sixty years in each hand. An e-mail of thanks and gratitude flew through cyber space. This excerpt from Andrei's reply, explaining more of his grandparents way of life, maybe reflects some of the goals and dreams of West Marin's farmers and artists and made the knitting, cutting and rebinding back of steeks more understandable:


Dear Sir,
I am very happy you and Mrs. Murch enjoyed my present.

My grandparents life is in the village near Piatra Neamt. I am one of their 8 grandchildren who more or less grew up in their home, each summer and winter holiday. What I think I must mention is that although they are not rich they do just fine. And this is the interesting aspect I want to talk about. They grow animals, they have land with vegetables, fruit and grass for the animals. You could definitely call it a farm. BUT, they never sell anything. Because, even more interestingly, they rarely buy anything. All of the products of their work and property are for themselves and the family. When I lived in Piatra Neamt, I would go on a weekly basis, into the countryside and would come back with everything I and my family needed.

They have a pension which is around 150 dollars and, as weird as it may seem, that is enough for them, and even for making some savings. Just to give you a quick example: They have around two dozen sheep. In the winter the sheep are at home, but for the rest of the year they are sheltered and taken care of on a nearby mountain by some shepherds. The shepherds milk the sheep and make cheese and related things. Each month they come down into the village and distribute part of the products to each of the sheep's owners. The rest they sell in markets making money for themselves. So the sheep owners don't have to pay any money for their services. In late spring, some of our family members go up the mountain to cut the wool off the sheep. The wool is kept in a dry place for a long time. Then, my grandmother makes a woolen wire through a very old process called spinning. The wool has a gray, interesting color. Part of that thread gets painted and then she makes carpets and rugs. She's been doing this ever since she was 13 years old. Her age has affected her hands, and it gets harder and harder to continue, so each rug or carpet is made with more and more pain and is, for me, more and more valuable.

For them, it is a different story! They have a bunch of big carpets and small rugs, which is our dowry. When my cousin got married two months ago, she got her share. So did my sister, 7 years ago. And so will I, when I get married. So, when I go and say "Please, Grandma, can I have another rug?" she says "And what will I give you when you get married?" Or, in some cases, especially for some smaller rugs, she says "But I'm making those for my funeral!" As cynical as it may sound, it's actually a very interesting way of seeing my grandparents death. I think it's an old custom that when you go to a funeral, you receive a bucket and a towel. Grandma has adapted that tradition. She has been keeping a dozen buckets in the attic, and she made little rugs to be offered as a gift to those attending their funeral.

I tried to get rugs for you, Anahid, Francis, Pete and Masa. And I did that in something like a year's time, one in each visit, with lots of "please", explaining I will make presents to people I care about, or my bosses, or "the Americans, grandma!" And though it's the same design they are all different (how could they not be?) and they mean so much to me.

Grandma could make good money out of these rugs. But she doesn't need more money. This is the way things go. The natural way. I don't think my grandparents ever wished for something more. They are happy to have eight grandchildren and one great granddaughter, my niece. I am the second on the list of successful grandsons, after a cousin who works in the US; I am the 'TV-radio-something grandson in far away Bucharest,' - who came visit them with a crazy American that climbed the hill with my grandfather and then recorded silence for 10 minutes (They were impressed to see me talking to Pete in an unknown language). They have everything they need. This is an interesting specific way of thinking for Romanians, who make a living out of 150$ per month, but never miss anything.

This has been a Letter from A. Broad
Written by Muriel Murch and Andrei Dascalescu

Produced and aired at kwmr.org by Muriel Murch






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