Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Gram's Rag Rugs

From all accounts, my gram Mary (Bourdeau) Shea was a prolific person. She gave birth to four babies, took in and more or less raised two younger sisters after their own mother died up in Quebec and, as my Aunt Gertrude often told me, "your gram ruled the roost!"
She met my grandfather Con Shea when she was working in a Turners Falls bakery. He had a sweet tooth, in the great Shea tradition and young Mary Bourdeau perhaps won his heart with chocolate eclairs. She certainly never abandoned the pastry production. Throughout their man years of marriage, she would rise before dawn and bake two apple pies for her tribe.
She had four children, as I mentioned, Gertrude, Robert, Bernard (my dad) and David, who died before his first birthday from milk that had gone off. Gert remembers the little white coffin that held her brother David sitting in their K Street apartment living room, a terrible sight that almost sunk my gram into the pits of depression.
Raised in French Canada, my gram grew up speaking Quebecois. Because her family was poor, she abandoned her schooling at 14 but never gave up education. She was a ferocious reader and taught herself English in America by reading texts aloud to herself or anyone in sight. In a family of staunch Democrats, much of what she read was political commentary, a custom that my father carried on throughout his life. In fact, I never associated my family with fiction as a child, although we had a lot of novels (all of Dickens' works in a brown leather hardback volumes) my dad's prized books were biographies of Adlai Stevenson and folks of that ilk.
Anyway, apart from being a very loving gram and great cook, my gram used to make rag rugs, great circular works of colorful artistry that dominated our living room floor for as long as I can remember. The process of fashioning a rag rug was of course a mystery to me and my siblings. As the final product seemed so professional and impeccably well made, for all we knew, it could have come off an industrial loom.
But no, it was a painstakingly precise process of hook and material that Gram would put together with whatever scraps she could get ahold of. Ever practical, there was a dark overall color so as not to bear too much testimony to the muddy tromping of five growing kids living across from a very inviting and forested gully.
The new movie Moonrise Kingdom, set in 1960s  New England, features a massive home whose polished wooden floors are adorned with a massive rag rug, nearly as colorful as my gram's creations but green in hue. Upon spotting the rag rug in that darkened cinema, I was transported home to 9 Oakman Street, in Western New England. It was a most agreeable journey in my mind. Sometimes these trips are the best.

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