Saturday, January 20, 2007

In A Nutshell

In a Nutshell

A place set aside to answer 201 autobiographical questions from a mother for her daughter. This may take awhile...join us if you like.

3. One of my step-father's traits I admired most was?

Daddy was really good at helping a child get the idea. Sometimes it was as simple as the time my mother was in the hospital having just given birth to Colleen, and I was helping Daddy hang the clothes. He asked for a couple of clothspins and I gave him three. He told me that I could always remember how many a couple is by thinking of a married couple.

The time that sticks out in my mind the most was another time my mother was away from home. I don't remember if she was in the hospital or had gone to California to visit her family, but at any rated Daddy and the little kids and I were on our own. I was 13 and had been assigned to make a simple garment in sewing class, which I started on. As I read the instructions, having never used a pattern before, they didn't make sense. I tried to picture how I would cut the fabric and sew this to that and that to the other, and I just could not see the finished garment at all. I told Daddy that I was afraid to do it, since I wasn't sure it would work. Now, Mama sewed all the time, making a good many of Colleen's and my clothes, and if she had been there she would have explained it to me or read the instructions and said that she could see it, just go ahead. But, Daddy had never sewn and when he read the instructions, he was like me -- he couldn't see it. Which he readily admitted. And then, he said, "Let's check this out before you do it."

First he had me call the reference librarian at the public library and ask her how long the Butterick company had been in business and how much profit they had made the year before. Just for your information, they have been in business since Ebenezer and Ellen Augusta Pollard Butterick invented the paper pattern in 1863. I don't remember how much their profit had been in 1955, but it was a big number. Then he asked me how much Mama had paid for the pattern I was using and I told him and he asked me how many patterns they would have to sell to make that profit, and helped me see that not only would it take the thousands of patterns just for that sum, but that they first had all of this overhead and employees and trucks and plant and new machines and upkeep on the old machines and paper and ink and designers for new patterns -- all of which meant that they had sold hundreds, if not thousands, of times more patterns than the profit number alone would imply.

And when we had looked at all of that, he asked two questions. "If their patterns didn't work, would they be able to stay in business for 92 years?" and "If their patterns didn't work, could they sell enough of them to pay those expenses and make that profit?" So, since the patterns must work, I could trust them and just do one thing at a time without worrying about whether I could see how that would work.

That was a lesson that has lasted me all of my life. If I can't see how something will work, to first check out and see if I can trust the instructions, and then to trust them and simply do one thing at a time.

The other thing that has lasted is the respect he showed for me -- he didn't laugh it off, he tried to picture it himself so he could explain, and when that didn't work, he taught me how to verify the trustworthiness of experts before I followed their instructions blindly.


kenju said...

You were lucky to have such a smart and sensitive step-father!

Rain said...

That was a great life lesson on both the one step at a time but also how to establish who to trust to tell you the first step is the right one. Terrific teaching for any age.

gawilli said...

This is a wonderful story. As a stitcher myself I understand exactly what you are talking about. Sometimes it is hard to see how it will ever come out, but it does!

Anonymous said...

Excellent! A wonderful story, nimbly and clearly recorded!

ron southern

J said...

Good thing you didn't live in might have thought a couple was 5! (OK, low blow, sorry to any Utah folks out there...)

I like that you had to determine whether you could trust them before following instructions. One problem these days, in cookbooks and so on, with following instructions? Typos. They can really mess things up.