Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lost, Not Yet Found

My grandmother, my mother's mother, was lost. I see that now, I wish I had seen that when I was growing up. I feel lost as well. If Oma and I had been able to have conversations about being lost, she might have found herself and I may have a better sense of who I am. Finding myself is proving to be hard to do.

A clue to how lost Oma was? Oma wore her 1960 hair in the same hairdo she did in 1930. It was interesting to watch her comb her long hair in the morning and carefully roll it up around a hair form, a pile of hairpins at the ready to make it look like a horizontal French Twist. I didn’t understand the significance of keeping her hair in a style that was a reflection of her life before everything was lost in 1938… until recently.

I am someone who tries harder than they should at some things. Oma did the same. In helping someone write a lab report, I realized that I wasn’t only proofing and tweaking the data, as I was lead to believe, but I just had raw data and pictures with an outline wrapped up with an expectation that I would do it all by myself. Keeping my commitment, I started from scratch; the hardest part of the report was lining up the pictures. The report was sent off, then sent back to me for revisions, with the carefully arranged photos stripped of their placement and thrown around the report. With the revisions made, I started to painstakingly realign the photos, then remembered a lesson learned from Oma.

Oma made her living in the United States as a seamstress. She once had a household staff to manage before coming to the United States and now she was a seamstress. My mother doesn’t know where the sewing skills came from. Working in the upscale sweatshops of Beverly Hills, I remember one job site that I visited where they were making satin nightgowns. The material was thicker and nicer than I had seen in any department store. I think that Oma recognized that she needed to be content working in sweatshops with bosses that would tell her what to do and how to do it, their choices and decisions, not hers.

Oma didn’t want to work from home. She told me that she tried that once. A gentleman brought in a pair of trousers to be hemmed. She looked at the seams and after he left, she took apart the entire trousers. She worked all weekend stitching the pants because she didn’t like the workmanship. The customer picked up the pants, paying her for the hemming. There was no recognition of the careful reconstruction of the garment, and all my grandmother had to show for a weekend lost was a few dollars for hemming a pair of pants.

I sent the revised, corrected report back as a text file, with the words “photos” indicating where they should be.