Where is Auntie when I need her? My great aunt was a crafter before the shorthand existed. A home economics teacher in rural Tennessee, she taught me how to crochet as a child (I seemed constitutionally unable to learn to knit) and going to her tiny house out on the highway meant diving into closets full of fabric. She had a big field of green beans in front, a kitchen counter where we would eat buttery corn on the cob, a litter of kittens under the porch. Now that I’ve finally learned to love knitting, but lack the know-how to do much with it, I could really use her patient hands, deftly lifting the yarn and looping it back on the needle to help me out of whatever spot I’ve gotten myself in now.
After I gave a talk today at Ossining Library I began thinking about what has always made me want to write about strong women. Blandine van Couvering, Margaret Hardenbroeck, and the rest of the ladies I’ve treated in my nonfiction. Growing up with Auntie is one reason. Another is my father’s mother, also a force of nature, but in a different style. She did things her way, always. With a Polish-Jewish family only recently come to America, she ate lobster. When Joyce’s Ulysses was still banned in the U.S., she got her hands on a rare copy. She was a certifiable intellectual, a Manhattanite, with New York windows that overlooked the craggy grey outcroppings of Central Park.
They were two of my earliest heroines. What they would make of me as an adult I can’t say for sure, but I hope I’d do them proud.