In the Flick of a Wrist

Fur hats are cleaned with semolina.

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, and fur hats are cleaned with semolina. I remembered it yesterday. Beaver, mink, arctic fox, rabbit, every pedigree of a fur hat. You have one winter hat, and it is made of fur. It is not a luxury but a necessity in your climate. Hats are sourced with care, effort, deliberation and determination. The fur hat is expected to last you many years, and so it takes upkeep. You must store it in mothballs off-season, and clean the coal powerplant grime off it at least annually, with a toothbrush and gritty semolina, or with potato starch, brush-brush-brushety-brush. That’s a lot of fine motor movement. Takes a while. Glad you have opposable thumbs.

If you happened to be both in Siberia and in the 1990s, you had to sew an elastic band to your hat, so as to harness the defenseless furcake to your head, lest you fell victim to hat-snatching, which was a new kind of petty crime sweeping the nation. When I was 17, my parents had a mink hat made for me, at considerable expense. It got stolen off my head the very first day I wore it, right by the trolley stop. Never saw the hat again. It’s in hat heaven now, and also in my Top 100 Heartbreaks, bottom of list. It was the dead of January, too. The minks were so dark and shiny. I’d neglected to sew the elastic band on. Oh, the hubris of the young!

So much sewing to do. Sewing is not a specialist skill; it’s a generalist skill. Women sew all the time. Men sew, too. Your dad was in the Army with the majority of Dads; heck yeah, he can darn a sock. You must sew a clean handkerchief on your snotbaby’s dress every day you send her to daycare. You must sew elastic bands to everyone’s mittens, then thread the banded mittens through the coat sleeves, so as to make the mittens stay with their person. The detachable white collar and cuffs on a girl’s school uniform must be sewn on and taken off, sewn on and taken off, by your mom, by your older sister, by own self, week in, week out, year in, year out, thread, thread, needle and thread.

Before the white collar or the handkerchief gets sewn on, it must be handwashed and ironed. Handwashing, ironing, handwashing, ironing, looping, threading, grating, plucking feathers out of dead chicken butts, separating the wheat from the chaff, picking little rocks and fluffy dirt from rice, buckwheat, millet, sifting flour for bugs, whisking eggs with forks, polishing shoes with wax, wringing laundry dry, hanging it up on the line, beating rugs outside, scrubbing rugs by hand, fine motor, gross motor, fine motor, gross motor, fine.

Middle-school girls come to class with wrists sore from hand-wringing bedsheets dry, from hand-beating egg whites stiff. There are no electric mixers, there are no electric dryers, only human ones. I know how to sew, both by machine and by hand; I know many varieties of stitching and what purposes they are for; I can take and calculate clothing measurements and cut a pattern; I can make a dress, skirt, shirt (pants are hard but I know the theory to attempt them); I know a few embroidery techniques, I can crochet, knit, mend, darn, fix, repair, make braids, put on buttons several ways, make loops for buttons or hanging loops for curtains by plaiting thread, and all of that stuff is in no way my job, or hobby, or art. These are not outlier skills; I didn’t choose to learn them; these were general life skills taught to me, and everyone else, and her friend, and the goat she rode in on, when I was a child. A house without a sewing tape was like a house without forks. Everyone had forks, and opposable thumbs, and only so many hours in a day, and many-many teeny grains of semolina, to make food from scratch, to scratch it into the fur and then brush it out, rinse, repeat, scratch-scratch-scratchety-scratch.

Fine motor, gross motor, fine motor, gross, fine motor, gross motor, fine motor, fine, fine motor, gross motor, fine motor and — in the flick of a wrist — where did your life go.

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