Jumping ahead to my real topic: For all the years my family visited on the holidays, he and my grandmother had an odd piece of embroidery on the wall of the living room. It was in an odd frame, with glass on the back and on the front. There was an old photograph stuck in the back side. Here are the photos I took. I hope they embed correctly:
Most kids, I assume, accept things in their grandparents’ houses as just weird old stuff. I sure did. My grandmother’s hobby was embroidery, and she gave my first project when I was 10. I worked on it diligently both at home and even at school (and started a minor fad – the only time in my life I was a leader of cool), and when I finished it she had it framed for me. This is basically an aside, to emphasize that this odd piece of embroidery in the double-glassed frame was one of many pictures and pillows that my grandmother had in the house that some long-ago ancestor, or she, or my mother, had sewn at one point.
This piece, as it turned out was different, and not just because it was two-sided and had a photo stuck inside the frame. This piece was not sewn by an ancestor at all.
My grandfather, as I said, fought in the Great War, ultimately known as World War I. He traveled throughout Europe, (not as a tourist, although the aforementioned letters could have given that impression), and ended up in France. There he was befriended by a French woman, who I came to understand was closer to his mother’s age. I have always wondered whether she had a son lost to the war who resembled my grandfather.
This French woman struck up a correspondence with my grandfather’s mother Libbie, and they were pen pals for many years. During the rough times after the war, when the American sent relief supplies, Libbie’s pen pal (yes, the French woman who befriended my grandfather) was fortunate enough to acquire a sack of flour. She thought the burlap sack was beautifully printed, and when she and her family finished using the flour, she embroidered every marking in the correct color on both sides of the sack, eventually sending it to my Grandmother Libbie. Libbie had it specially framed,, so both sides can be admired. She continued the correspondence, and at one point the French pen pal actually came to the US to visit Libbie. That was when photograph was taken and printed. The pen pal wrote a note on the back of the photo, and the photo was stuck in the frame with the embroidered flour sack.
My mother inherited the family treasure from her father, and passed it along to me many years later, because I am the only one of her children who embroiders for a hobby.
So here it is: a tribute to my grandfather, to my great grandmother, to the pen pal, and to the art of embroidery. One day I will try to decipher the note on the back of the photo in order to track her down, her name, her background. Maybe I can contact her great grandchildren, and reconnect this century-old relationship. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?