Monday, April 21, 2008
A week or so ago, I published a post about my grandmother Mamee who was a strong part of my sewing roots. I spent every summer with her until she passed away. One of the things we did was visit her sister. These visits as well as phone calls I remember, were filled with arguments between the two sisters. I always got the sense that Tante was a very miserable person and my grandmother a really kind one. Now Tante never married. She entered the convent to become a nun at the age of 15, an action not unheard of in those days. When she was 18 she was asked to leave the convent. No one in the family ever knew why. She spent the rest of her life being what was called a "spinster" in those days. She never married and certainly never had children. But she went to church every day and had a small job taking care of the church linens. Other than that, which many family members think was just voluntary, she never worked in her life. My father and his brothers were all professionals and all chipped in cash here and there to help the spinster aunt. She lived every day of her life in the same apartment other than a brief 2 yr period in Florida. She passed away in her 90's in 1975 or so. My cousin, an antique dealer and the family historian, was given the charge of cleaning out her apartment. Turns out Tante had a lifelong affair with a local priest. This started when she was in the convent. The one time she moved away from New Orleans it was to a parish he was transferred to in Florida. Her entire life, until the good father died, he deposited money weekly into her bank account, one that had both their names on it. My cousin found every bank book of her entire life as she was quite the pack rat. They all were joint accounts with her and the priest. So that explains what she lived on.
When she passed, being the pack rat that she was, she left behind an amazing stash of altar linens and laces and priestly garments. My cousin, knowing that I loved to sew and really would appreciate these things, showed up on my yankee doorstep with two leaf bags full of what my mom would call "brigalia." There were amazing silk nighties and bed jackets, very Jean Harlow. But the laces, oh my, the laces. So I have decided that every few days I will close with a picture of one of the laces. I have most of them photographed but still have more to do. Tonites laces are cuffs of really fine pintucked, by hand, batiste, and Irish crocheted lace. The pintucks are no more than 1/16th of an inch deep. The top edge is beading and some sort of ribbon or rope went thru those holes. They are very large, about 5 inches deep, and clearly were the bottom edge of the sleeve of a priest's surplice. They would be way to big for any woman's garment. There was quite a bit of Irish lace in this bounty. It seems to wear like iron.
I did carry this bounty around for years and only in the past 2-3 years have gotten to cleaning it the right way and cataloging it. It is a wonderful legacy with quite a history. I have gotten so much pleasure out of handling these beautiful things but I always think of her handling them and wondering what "could have been." Kind of Thornbirds...I hope you enjoy these laces as much as I do.