I had a completely different post planned but life intervened.
My grandmother, Sárika died yesterday.
She was an amazing person, the reason I sew but that is the tiniest part of it. Here she is with my grandfather and three children:
She loved her family beyond anything. My mother is the little girl in the middle. The photo is from 1951. The height of Stalinism in Hungary.
My mother recalls to this day how much she hated those big bows my grandma always made her wear in her hair. My mother is, incidentally, a mathematician, one of the least girly things you could possibly be.
When people die, there is, first, shock. And silence. Days when everything around you has to get through a thick blanket of fog to reach your consciousness. Then tears. And regrets over the mean things one said at 15 years old, all the lost opportunities to spend time together. Except it wasn’t the whole story, more of it is the meals shared, the things learned together, the things we made. I remember how my grandma made bread: the way she slapped it, laughing, and made my sister and I slap the dough just as hard. There wasn’t always yeast, or time for the starter to grow. Sometimes the bread was decidedly flat. We were maybe three or four years old, and she spent so much time teaching us things. I miss that. But life does not stop and eventually loved ones pass into the realm where one remembers loving moments, kind touches, shared laughs, turns of phrase, things that made one proud, the songs they used to sing.
Songs. The song about ‘my dearest Zsuzsi’, a show-tune from her youth she often sang to my daughter Zsuzsi.
There was the way she played the piano for my sister and me when we were small, so we could dance around the living room. (She taught herself to play the piano, she never had lessons herself – her family was too poor to pay for school – but she made sure her children did. That piano is at my sister’s house now.)
There was the way she let all her grandchildren, boys and girls, pull out her scarves and play fashion-show, putting on finishing touches with her best lipsticks. She always cheered us on, never minding that her lipsticks ran out. There was her big mirror with the shoes underneath, and the box of her few pieces of costume jewellery nearby.
I’ll always remember the outfits she made for us, and the way people stopped us in the street and asked her where we got them. She reused everything: she unwound worn-out sweaters for the yarn, and made quilts (well – winter blankets) out of the US Army sleeping bags from the refugee camp she and her family were in after World War Two. My grandmother’s older sister went to tailoring school and was tasked with teaching everything she learned to her siblings. It saved money. My grandma became a formidable seamstress, knitter, designer. She could re-cut almost anything into a new garment, and she was always learning, and learning to make things, and reusing rather than discarding, throughout her life.
I know this is within the natural order of things, unlike my nephew’s illness. And I hope to be as lucky as my grandmother: to live to 90 and see my family thrive, after being through so much – poverty, war, hunger, fear. But I will miss her for the rest of my life.
So – to honor her memory, let’s make something new! Whether you recycle an old dress into a blouse, or make a new one out of your grandmother’s long-treasured, unused Pendleton wool, or sew a fanciful jewel-toned dress to feel 1970s-glamourous in, just make something. For Frocktober, out of the Perfect Pattern Parcel, anything else. Please, will you? In memory of my grandmother, Lados Sarolta.