The first recollection I have of this “other” life was the year I turned seven. Several major events date back to that hallmark age. Oddly, it is the seventh year of each decade of my life that major upheaval and change occurs. But that is another story.
Hobbies? It didn’t exactly start with my first hobby. It started with my first “job.”
This other life of mine began because I was a rather hyper-active child. Born on springs they would say. I had Mexican jumping beans in my stomach I was told. The head slaps didn’t work, the sting of the wooden spoon on my shins hardly phased me.
However, she and the big guy did notice that when I was engaged in something thought-provoking, and not getting into mischief, I could sit quietly for hours. Reading, doing puzzles, scrambling her eggs or fetching. I was a master fetcher.
“Hand me the Phillips screwdriver,” he instructed.
Gleefully, I ran to the tool chest and presented him with the needed tool.
He smiled, “How did you know which one?”
I puffed like the happy bird I was. “Dad told me once.”
And thus, I became the family’s premier fetcher, and soon was hired for my first job at exactly ten empty bottles a week, or twenty cents.
Starting the summer before second grade, and two months before my seventh birthday, my mother decided I was old enough to do most of the household errands. Of course, she was not always sure exactly when I would return, or if what I returned with was all in one piece.
There was Benny’s grocery down the street, Tony the butcher, Sal’s fish market around the corner, Tomasino the baker and Steve and Joe’s vegetable store on Fourth Avenue. Between 39th and 40th Streets on Fourth was the Chinese Laundry, the dry cleaners and the TV repair shop, and the biggest thrill … across Fourth Avenue … the big A&P supermarket.
Off I skipped with list in hand. Up to the avenue for a head of lettuce and down the block for a bag of eggs. Of course, I always remembered to tell them to put it in the book. It was odd to shop with money back then. Only when I had to go to the A&P would she pin a five or a ten-dollar bill to the inside of my jacket or pants pocket.
I was never fresh or mean to Benny’s mom who made funny noises as she sat and rocked in the back of the store. Knitting sweaters or blanket squares, she yelled in Italian for Benny to watch that crazy Fois kid doesn’t break the glass on the display again. Which wasn’t my fault, ‘cause Louie pushed me into the display case with a bottle of ketchup. I never called her names like the other kids or tried to steal soda from the big soda box in the front of the store the way the boys did.
Soda “pop” was not in cans with flip tops or plastic bottles with twist off caps. They were not encased in glass refrigerators, or sold in cardboard six-packs.
They were kept in a large “coffin” sized box, with the bottle opener on the side. The box was filled with ice-cold water and multi-colored glass bottles of Orange Crush, Grape Nehigh, Root beer, Cream, small pale green bottles of Coke-a-Cola, long clear bottles of Pepsi and green glass bottles of Seven Up all standing in the cold water.
I loved to look at the bottles glistening below in the water and put my arm down to feel the cold and hear the bottles gently clinking together as you moved the water around.
It felt really good in the summer.
When there were no errands and my boundless energy wore down her last nerve, my mother became creative. That summer the middle one took me to the morning summer program at our local public school, where I learned crafts for the first time.
This must have lit a light bulb above her head. Harried and rushing to fix our supper, she sighed. “Baby, why don’t you do one of those things for your father.” Her nose wrinkled. “You know those things you did with the plastic string?”
“I got some left over in a shoe box.”
“You have some left over,” she corrected. “And you could use them to make a nice Christmas present for your father.”
That was the first. Next she went to the Woolworth and bought those stretchy pieces of cotton you loop over and under for pot holders. “Why don’t you use this and make pot holders for your aunt?”
Her best friend, and my angel, Beatrice, decided to get in on the act. “Honey, come over here and I’ll teach you how to use the embroider hoop and you can make a nice hanky for your mom for Christmas.”
From the age of seven until late last night, each and every one of them comes back to me like streams of hot colors across the sky. You know? When the summer heat becomes so dense, the air threads across the horizon in iridescent streams of colors?
The colors of my presents … the ones I would start each July and rush to finish each December. The colors of the special boxes and handmade cards that had to go with the gift I made. The colors of the baskets I filled with sundry delights and wrapped in bright cellophane and ribbon. The colors of fabric, yarn, ribbon, paint or varnish.
My other life has had other incarnations. It was once called Boxed In … for the special boxes I made for gifts … a gift inside a gift.
In the eighties it was called Basket Case, as all my craft projects and gifts were contained in baskets, willow and grave vine woven in shades of earth tones, filled with handmade treasures.
Later, it became A Stitch in Time … two-fold … an homage to the book … and to the lady who first taught me to embroider, to knit, to crochet and weave yarns into hundreds of things for someone to wear, to warm them.
A Stitch in Time for the thousands of yards of fabric that have run under the needles of over a dozen machines, slipped through my fingers and gathered with my hands.
Now this other life joins her twin sister … fOIS In The City … to become … Finds of The City.
My twin, my alter-ego and the purveyor of this other life comes with her own tales of mischief and mayhem, of learning hundreds of tasks … to keep busy … to make something pretty.
How lucky am I that I was not only hyperactive, but that I learned so early … the gift you make yourself … be it those cookies you give in a pretty jar … or the needle-point you fashion for months … be it simple or complex … those are the most precious gifts you can give.
I mean … pa-leeze … anyone can go to a department store.
Join me here each Friday for the tales of my hobby crafts, my crazed collecting, the haggling in thrift shops, the tales of “working” the streets during the lean years.
Here on Fridays you will learn exactly what Finds of The City, I have unearthed … and like the man said once … “There are eight million stories in The Naked City,” and this has been one of them.
Are there secret passions you hide? Skeletons anyone?
What treasure would you put in that box and who would you give it to?