Monday, December 14, 2009

How To Sew A Button

I had the usual two grandmothers as a child. One was a lovely, but distant, woman – given to proper hats and an occasional foray into gardening. I can’t remember any domestic feats of hers, beyond making mashed potatoes in an electric mixer, which I knew was wrong even as a child. Her husband ruled her and the household, and it’s him that I remember roasting the Thanksgiving turkey, and making the waffles, and winding the clocks, and giving instruction. She was good at other things - she'd gone to college and recited poetry - but the running of the household wasn't her strength.

The other grandmother, my mother’s mother, lived about a half mile away from where I grew up. It was an easy, no busy streets, bicycle ride - and there were usually root beer floats at the end. She baked cookies, and made roast pork, and sewed pillowcases, and practiced frugality. She hung her laundry out to dry in the backyard, reupholstered furniture, darned socks, and wasn’t afraid to wear sneakers when sneakers were the right thing to wear. Her husband didn't cook a thing, though he could build a stone wall and developed his own film.

Those grandparents of mine taught me things - and their things surround me. We still use my (maternal) grandmother's canning kettle, and the canning tongs that still have a price tag from the hardware store in the town I grew up in. After my (paternal) grandparents died, I rescued several bottles of prohibition booze - hand labeled, god only knows what's in there.

How To Sew A ButtonA couple of weeks ago, I got an advance copy of "How to Sew a Button" - a book by Erin Bried subtitled "And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew". It's a charming, if slight, book. Divided into ten sections, it runs breezily through "how to make a pie", "how to introduce people", "how to unclog a drain", and "how to raise a good citizen". Lots of the content is genuinely useful, if you simply don't know how, or don't have that grandmother to ask. Some of it is dubious - I'm skeptical that anyone could actually learn to knit from two and a half pages of text with no photos or line drawings.

And some of it is downright wonderful. I totally want to make dandelion wine, just because. It's probably awful, but I love knowing that I could if my husband hadn't eradicated all of the cheerful yellow dandelions from my backyard, and the idea of it reminds me of that prohibition booze that my grandfather's brother-in-law made way back when.

Happily for you, the publisher sent me an extra copy - so you can learn to make an apron, or dry apples, or play crazy eights. If you'd like it, leave a comment, and tell me what your grandmother taught you. I'll do a random drawing in the morning on Friday, 12/18 - and one lucky winner will get a copy, just in time for Christmas Life In Eden will get a copy of the book.





Disclosure: The publisher sent me two copies of this book - one for me, and one to give away. No one paid me for this review.

24 comments:

FreshHell said...

My grandmother introduced me to Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie. She also taught me the "proper" way to ice/frost a cake.

Harriet said...

My grandmother taught me to make a pie crust without a recipe, how to make the best macaroni and cheese in the world and how cooking together makes a family. When I do Christmas baking from her old recipes, I always think of her Michigan kitchen with its wallpaper covered in old-fashioned coffee pots and horse-drawn carriages.

kathy a. said...

my grandmother was not a domestic godess. my mother wasn't, either. in high school, my best friends embarked on a project to teach me cooking, baking, sewing, housepainting, etc.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

My grandmother was certifiable, but she could sew and cook like nobody's business! I love books like this.

YourFireAnt said...

My paternal grandmother taught me how to put nail polish on. My maternal grandmother taught me that even when you had lost the use of your right hand, you could still learn to write with the left.

T.

de said...

My maternal grandmother taught me how to save things for later use, from foil pans for reheating leftovers to every kind of craft item, although I didn't inherit or learn her talent for making the junk into gems. My paternal grandmother taught me how to milk a goat.

erin said...

My grandmother taught me to never leave the house looking like a bum.

She taught me that there are two types of people in this world, pet people and baby people. The two are not the same and should not mix.

She taught me how to get scuffs out of patent leather dress shoes and how to put rag 'rollers' in my hair.

She taught me to never trust a man who didn't treat you like he wanted to kiss you. Weird, but true.

Corvi said...

My grandma taught me hand sewing - I still use her backstitch to repair a seam.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

My paternal grandmother taught me to play poker. My maternal grandmother taught me that everything can be saved and reused. (After my wedding she saved the twist-ties that held the flowers to the tent poles. Yes, she did.)

TC said...

My grandmother taught me all the words to all the songs in The Sound of Music. I was 8.

Kyddryn said...

Among other things, my Mum's stepmum taught me courtesy, manners, and how to use every dad-blasted fork, knife, spoon, or other implement know to man. I could have tea with the queen and not embarrass myself or my country.

My father's mother taught me (by example) to be myself, and that there are no strangers, only friends we haven't made yet, and also that eccentricity isn't a bad thing.

My father's stepmother taught me to be gracious and accepting of other's faults.

My stepmother's mother taught me how to be feisty, crusty, have an opinion and voice it, and tenacity.

I don't always use everything I learned from them, but I value it.

I already know how to sew a button, but I'd like to learn how to make dandelion wine, then teach my (future)grandkids how.

Shade and Sweetwater,
K

Mental P Mama said...

Being a Southern Girl, I was fortunate to have grandmothers who could cook up a storm, and then don their pearls and host a party like nobody's business! I learned a lot at their knees! That book looks sweet;) By the way, how much were those canning supplies back in the day?

mayberry said...

My grandmother taught me how to play at least 5 different games of solitaire. And to love crossword puzzles.

Mary G said...

My grandmother taught me to cook without recipes - in a coal fired stove with no temperature monitor. You put a piece of parchment in and judged the temp by how yellow it got.

Bon said...

you have prohibition booze?!? dude. you should set up a restaurant and charge ridiculous prices just to taste that swill. :)

my grandmother taught me that love is meeting somebody halfway, and that to enter a child's place of fancy is a joyful and magical thing. she also taught me how to ice a cake and make old-fashioned baked puddings. and that maybe Christmas cards serve a purpose.

Bron said...

I also had one domestically-oriented grandmother and one who didn't do much around the house at all. The latter lived close by, on the Lower East Side, and the former lived far away in the UK. Because of this, I didn't learn any domestic lessons from my grandmas. However, my NYC grandma still taught me other useful things: how to spot a shifty character from a block away, e.g. (lots of them on the LES in the 70s, always cross the street). She also taught me to stand up straight and where the best Chinese restaurants were in Chinatown. She is missed.

Anonymous said...

My mother's mother lived with us after her husband died "while cleaning his gun." She got married at 16, had 3 kids, and was generally unassuming. She was devastated. But after a few years, she bought a motorhome, made new friends, traveled around, got a "boyfriend" and generally began again. She taught me that you can keep going even if your life falls apart (a lesson I hope never to apply). She also taught me to sass my mother, but that's another story.

Harriet said...

I have to chime back in just to say what a fantastic list this is. What amazing women our grandmothers were!

coldspaghetti said...

You know you're making me cry, right? I mean, I just went on about this Grandma stuff. I had three Gmas and was oldest and first grandchild for all... but my Mom's mother and I were very close. She and I shared a home in high school (she was my field trip chaperone, did hair for school plays, etc.) and she made candy on the side and sold it to friends and co-workers at holiday times. I helped. This year, I pull out her molds and made them again for the first time. That is the lesson I'm thinking of this holiday -- that my Grandma Betty taught me how to make chocolates.

I Am Very Mary said...

I will totally make the dandelion wine and share it with you. Prohibition Style. (I think that means I'll store it in a mason jar and send it to you wrapped in a paper bag.)

Life in Eden said...

My paternal grandmother taught me resilience by example. She was a product of the depression, became a nurse and was generally the head of the household. She was cheap, a bad cook, but lived to 93. I admired her. My maternal grandmother seemingly didn't share much of her domestic skills. She raised 8 children, half of them mostly on her own, as my grandfather died relatively young. She was too busy caring for the home to teach my mother domestic tasks, so my mom learned on her own. She then taught me. But it seems I inherited my maternal grandmothers knack for using paint to make just about anything new.

When are you pouring the shots of moonshine?

repliderium.com said...

Awwww. That book makes me wish I still had grandparents. My maternal set died when I was young and my paternal set... well.... grandma taught me that you will in fact get your face slapped at the dinner table if you lick your knife. I didn't think she liked me much and she lived quite far away but when she died she left me a part of her library that I never knew existed. I didn't know that she was aware of my love of books, but she was.

nonlineargirl said...

Randomly, I read "developed his own film" and I swear for a moment I could smell the photoprocessing fluids.

Woman in a Window said...

My grandmother taught me how to scratch my ass and not care who was watching, how to make butter in a jar, how to make pie and jam and how good the spoons were to lick when you make these things, and how to cheat at Rummy. She always won!

xo
erin