Character: Build It Here
My daughter, Zara, sewing her sister's wedding gown using the tailor's talent that she inherited from her great-grandmother, Ethel Venn.
The Tailor of North Bloomfield
Ethel Venn’s parents left England in 1850. The newly married couple arrived in America with hearts set on building a life befitting of this grand country that offered endless horizons of possibilities. They settled in Northeast Ohio, in the small village of North Bloomfield. John and Martha Venn had big plans and wasted no time in building a house to match the scope of their vision. They bought 140 acres that bordered one side of the village green, and erected a palatial Victorian home, large enough to house the big family that they had in mind. A year later when the house had reached completion, Elva was born. Ethel, my grandmother, came along the next year. Eight more children followed.
Martha taught her two oldest daughters all the skills necessary to create a life filled with grace and elegance as she had known in England. Sewing was one such skill that Ethel took up with all diligence. By the time she was a young teenager, Ehtel worked as the town tailor, earning an income that helped ease the financial strain that her parents faced while providing for their growing family.
My grandmother fell in love at the age of twenty and married a promising young photographer named Ralph Crooks. One year later he tragically died. The family sent her to Oakland, California where an uncle had settled some years before. Ethel spent a year recuperating among the great oaks of the Oakland hills. After her year of rest, she returned to Ohio to help her parents provide for the family by resuming her profession as the town tailor.
Ten years later, she met and eventually married Bird Bacon. They bought a small one acre farm just west of North Bloomfield. Bird grew vegetables and Ethel cultivated a large flower garden. On Saturdays they loaded up the pickup truck with their weekly harvest and headed to the Farmer’s Market. On weekdays, Ethel set up a roadside stand in front of their farmhouse. She put out baskets of flowers, English peas, and string beans as her usual fare. At the top of the table was a small box that people could drop their money for whatever they chose to buy. I spent many a summer at my grandparents’ farm and never thought once how that money box could have been stolen. Even I felt, as a child, that sense of trust that people had in those days.
In our modern times, a new economy has arisen: the Sharing Economy. Every week there’s a story in the news about the problems and issues that have come along with the concept. The thought occurred to me the other day, when I was telling the story of my grandmother’s farm stand to my Uber driver, who, by the way, was totally amazed to hear it, that what if we instituted a Trusting Economy?
Her husband watched as she got up from bed. It was 2:00 AM.
“Are you alright, Ethel?”
“I’m fine, Bird. Just going to the kitchen to fix a cup of tea.”
She returned with cup and saucer in hand and set it carefully upon the end table. She eased into the softly-cushioned rocking chair and sipped her tea in peaceful repose as her husband of fifty-four years gazed upon his wife’s long silver locks lit by the moonlight streaming through the bedroom window.
When she had finished her tea, she placed the cup and saucer on the end table, and leaned back in the rocking chair.
After a few minutes, Bird got up and gently tapped her shoulder. No response. He shook her shoulder a bit harder. No response. He put his hand beneath her nose. No breath.
I was thirteen years old the night my grandmother died. My grandparents were at our house for one of their usual two week visits where my grandmother spent every day sewing several new dresses, skirts, and coats to update my mother’s wardrobe.
The ensuing commotion in the middle of the night woke my sister and me. We opened our bedroom door to peek out in the hallway. Our mother darted over and told us to get back to bed. We had no idea what was going on. In the morning, we were told that Grandma had died. I heard my grandfather weeping from the other room. Sorrow crashed over me like a falling tree. My only place of refuge was the bathroom. I locked the door and stepped up to the small narrow window. Looking outside has always brought comfort and relief no matter what is going on inside. On this day of unexplainable grief, nature had provided a spectacular scene of startling beauty.
An ice storm had come in the night as quietly as my grandmother had passed away. Every tree, every shrub, everything with a surface to cover, shimmered in sheaths of ice. I remember thinking, “Of course, the night my grandmother dies, she leaves her mark of elegance on the world as she lived her life, full of grace and beauty.”