Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Summer job

I happened to pick up the July-August issue of Orion magazine, and as I was browsing through it, I saw this article, "Peas, Man", by Matt Rasmussen. [The online version is abridged.] I had to buy the magazine then because I spent a full summer and part of another one pea vining in the Skagit Valley, not too many years before the author of the article.

It was during the first summer that I lived with my grandparents. Like Rasmussen, I worked the night shift. The viners I drove, though, were the older, tractor-pulled models. It was good money for a high school summer job. Because I was under 18, I had to take a safety course at the local community college, which I later attended as a regular student. The first entry on my college transcript is something like "Pea Viner Operator."

Here are a few pictures. Again, please pardon the quality of the scanning.

Tractor and pea viner. Much of the time you faced backwards monitoring the viner behind you. I got really strong climbing on and off the tractor and spreading pea vines around with the pitch fork.

Cleaning the pea viner. This is early in the shift when it was still warm and light out. As it got darker and cooler, more layers of clothes were added. Like Rasmussen, there were times I had to climb inside the viner with rain gear on, almost swim through the half-digested pea vines and, with a linoleum knife, hack through the vines and caked mud that would stop up part of the machine.

Dumping the peas. When your pea bin was full, you'd signal the pea truck to come over so you could dump your load. The peas were then driven to the processing plant where they were packaged into the bags of frozen peas sold in grocery stores. The rows of vines were cut and heaped into rows in advance by the swathers. Rasmussen's machines cut the vines themselves.

All done. The field is harvested. The viners are lined up ready to move to the next field. As Rasmussen described, it could be rather scary at times driving on the roads. With so much weight behind you, it was easy to oversteer. Going over hills was also nerve-wracking. All the viners would stop at the bottom of the hill, and the mechanics would come around to make sure we were in the lowest gear. Once you started up the hill, you could not touch the clutch to shift down, or all that weight behind you would overpower the brakes and you'd roll backwards into the tractor behind you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Journal Entry

Sometimes (not often for me) an insight into why I might be attracted to an idea or "way of being in the world" occurs to me with clear logic and not a little emotion. Last night was one of those occasions.

I think it started when I popped into the Salvation Army store on my way home from work. I was looking for something I'd seen there some time ago but hadn't purchased at that time. Of course, the item was no longer there. So, I scanned the shelves anyway and noticed some older Pyrex mixing bowls that were like my grandma's and which my mother now uses. (Here's a link, for the moment, to a picture of similiar bowls, although I recall the yellow one most strongly.) I didn't buy them—it wasn't a full set—but the bowls brought my grandmother to mind.

Later, at home, I read ahead to the Isaiah lectionary reading assigned for next Sunday, Isaiah 51:1-6. The second part of verse 1 grabbed me: "Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were digged." [RSV] I know the context of the chapter is very far removed from the personal life of JBB, but I set aside academic hesitations and let my memory run with the verse.

I think I'm like my grandmother in many ways and recognized that some of my present yearnings and dreams come from being hewn out of the same rock as she. Because I lived overseas for much of my growing up years, I did not spend a lot of time with her as a child.

However, I remember Grade Three, when my family came back to the States for one year and lived in my grandparents' house, while they moved next door to the one-bedroom cottage. One of the activities the children did with my grandmother was gather various leaves from the yard and woods, press them under piles of phone boxes until they dried, then tape them into a handmade book, and carefully label them. My grandmother told stories of when she was a school teacher in the mid- to late-1930s and would take her pupils on nature walks. My grandmother believed strongly that children should take piano lessons. That year was also my first year of piano lessons.

In Grade Six, we were again in the States, although we lived in another house. My grandmother started some sewing projects with me, embroidering flour sack dish towels (from flour sacks she had saved) and stamping quilt blocks to be embroidered and made into a quilt.

I remember my grandmother gardening, cooking, baking rolls and desserts, canning fruit and green beans, freezing berries, making her shopping list from the grocery store ads to get the best prices, looking after her day care children, sitting at the rickety card table in the middle of the kitchen writing letters to missionaries with her feet soaking in a pan of warm water and epsom salts, reading a devotional at the breakfast table and my grandfather restlessly clearing his throat if her prayer went on too long, washing laundry in the Maytag wringer washer machine and hanging most of it to dry on the clotheslines under the apple trees, going to church on Wednesdays and twice on Sundays.

The tears came as I remembered the difficulty of one year, in particular, that I lived with her during college. I lived with my grandparents my senior year of high school and then again my first year of college, after a year in England in between. That second year, my grandfather was ill with leukemia and died in the spring. My grandmother cared for him at home, except when he had to go into the hospital.

I don't remember many specific exchanges now, but I would get very upset at my grandmother's dogmatism about certain issues and would often argue with her, even when I agreed with her position, just to oppose her. Part of my opposition was to what I perceived as her judgment of other people who looked at things differently than she. Part of the situation was a sense of being caught between her and her sometimes-expressed disapproval of her daughters-in-law. Much of tension, I'm sure, came out of the sadness and strain of caring for my grandfather that my grandmother must have felt and the guilt I felt for not helping her more. But I wasn't grown up enough to be able to deal very gracefully with all that then.

Even much later when my grandmother was in a nursing home, I regret not spending more time talking with her about her life. Fortunantely, there's still much I can learn about her from my mother and her brothers. But right now I really miss my grandma.

It struck me last night that it was around the twentieth anniversary of my grandfather's death when I was in Washington this past spring taking pictures of my grandparents' farm.

So maybe these thoughts of moving back to the farm are not merely the urgings of a restless spirit ready to try the next new adventure but the longings of a life "looking to the rock from which it was hewn."

My grandmother, summer of 1982

(The picture is small and blurry, but I had to post one. So I searched for a snapshot, hooked up an old scanner, downloaded drivers, used my digital camera software to display and crop the scanned picture, and posted it.)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Stopping in

Overtime at work right now for a while, so when I get home it's knitting to relax, to bed, and back to work again. Not much else getting accomplished or read or thought about.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Knitting again

[Edit 5/10/06: Click here for pictures.]

After not having worked on a knitting project for a couple months, this weeekend I picked up the needles again, or rather, had the needles sawn in two and then started knitting.

I had bought a lace knitting book, Kunststrik II by Sonja Esbensen at Velona's sometime back. But trying to cast on and knit eight stitches with size 30 thread distributed on four size 000 (1.5 mm) slippery steel 8" double-pointed needles was impossible for me.

So, unable to located 000 needles in a shorter length, I ordered another set of 8" needles and brought them to Berg Hardware, a wonderful old-time hardware store where they still price everything with handwritten tags. They cut the needles into 3.5 and 4.5 inch lengths. The ends are a little rough but worked OK for getting the circular pattern started until I could manipulate the full-sized needles.

Lesson learned, however—the needles should be the same brand. The Inox needles I had cut are slightly thicker than the 8" Addi needles, enough to see a difference in the tension.

(This project won't be finished because the thread I used is too heavy for these needles. But it was enough to show me 1) the shorter needles help to get circular lace patterns started and 2) I can figure out Danish patterns!)

Emboldened by my adventure, when I read about Annie's project for Kerstin's family, I thought I'd like to try making a square knitted from the center outwards on four needles. I found a pattern, Beeton's Flower, in Knitting Counterpanes by Mary Walker Phillips (which is available for a very reasonable price at this moment via the Amazon link—the book is out of print). The square knitted up very quickly on size 4 (3.5 mm) needles with sport-weight yarn compared to the earlier lace knitting experiment.