Every so often, I find myself at a garage sale or one of those small town, cluttered stores we used to call a Five and Dime. I make a point of searching for vintage knitting and crochet patterns. I paw through them with purpose, hoping I’ll find one of the chosen ones, and when I find That Which I Seek - my buried treasure, my pearl, my gold nugget of knitting patterns – I feel I have won another grand prize at Ultimate Vendetta Bingo.
Back in the early eighties, I got a job managing a tony gift shop. My boss was a relatively benign oil executive, who opened the shop as an investment. I was to have almost complete autonomy while he periodically checked in to review orders or approve a staffing change. He was pleasant and hands-off, and the business did reasonably well, so the arrangement worked for both of us.
However, there was the small problem of his wife.
She appointed herself as Chief Executive Consultant, much to her husband’s chagrin. And whenever she darkened my threshold, she took the bounce right out of my bungee.
Gliding past the counter, eyes missing nothing, she’d pick up a vase, and shift it a half inch into the “correct” place. Using a display case like a barre, she’d perform a graceful arabesque and drag her finger along the baseboard to check for dust. The window displays were never good enough, the paintings usually needed straightening, the vacuum always missed a spot. She used the royal “we” and ask why “we” ordered certain pieces. They’re selling well was not a satisfactory answer. We have an image to keep up, she’d remind me, while smoothing her cashmere sweater set over her tiny hips or twisting her pearls. She’d usually look me up and down at this point, sigh, and say she expected me to do better in future. To say she was a bit of a pain in the ass is like saying Hannibal Lector is sometimes a bit peevish.
One day, my boss let it slip that his wife used to work as a model. Now, this was curious. She only stood about five feet tall. What kind of model was she, exactly? Clothing, he said, you know, a fashion model. Fashion model? When pressed, he was vague and said she’d given it up after she had kids.
One day, I paid a visit to my mother, an avid knitter, and I came across a basket holding some old knitting patterns. I browsed through them, doubling over as I looked at what passed as groovy duds in the 60s and 70s, then I stopped and looked more closely at the face of one of the models. Imagine my delight, nay, my unmitigated exultation, when I realized what I held in my hands.
There she was, the boss’s wife, in full flaming colour, modeling a hat not unlike a polyester helmet pieced together with potholders, fastened under her chin, and embellished with what appeared to be goat testicles. Ah, life can be sweet again when the bane of your existence is thus preserved forever. She never bothered me much after that. To this day, I still stumble across the odd photo of her, and my delight hasn’t faded with time.
And if you want to see what I’m talking about, go check out Stitchy McYarnpants and the Museum of Kitschy Stitches, and Threadbared. Check out the categories in the index. Go directly to the 70s. You won’t be sorry.