Turning the Heel: A Rite of Passage

My grandmother, when she was much younger.
My grandmother, when she was much younger.

My Oma, Egbertine, was the eldest of seven children. She was born during The Great War, in 1917. By 1924, her mother Jantje (I’m named after her) relied heavily on Tine to take care of her siblings. She was seven years old when she had to assume the role of secondary mother. They lived in the bottom floor of their house, which was very small, with no running water and an outhouse. They had a small backyard and tiny garden. Eventually they moved upstairs, where they had much more room — still, it was nine people in the equivalent of a two-bedroom. Maybe 900 square feet, tops.

My mom’s Pake (grandfather in Friesan), Rintje, had his own business. He made barrels. Day in and out he wore wooden shoes of the type we Dutchies are famous for, with woolen socks made by Tine, my Oma.

Tine was a tailor. She made all the clothing for the family, and she did all the cooking from scratch – over and over again. There was no processed food, maybe some in tins, and no fridge or freezer either. Market every day. They may have had a root cellar, but I’m not sure.

Oma with her two daughters, Christina (my mom) and Yvonne (Ariel).

Tine worked harder than her younger siblings, who were favoured and got more education than she did, which led to much bitterness on Oma’s part. Especially as she was, no doubt, the most brilliant member of the family, and yet her younger sister Jeannette was considered the family genius. (Much later on in her life she got a chance to compare their childhood report cards, and found out that her grades were better than Jeannette’s every time. This story she then proceeded to tell my mom, Opa, and Tante Ariel about four hundred times.)

Oma made a lot of socks. She sewed and knit extensively, and she knit woolen socks for everyone in the family. Nine people. 18 feet. Working hard 365 days a year. That’s a lot of fucking socks.

When I was a kid, Oma taught me the basics of knitting. However, it never stuck (crochet did) and I ended up forgetting it for a good number of years. A few years ago I took it up again, but never asked her for any lessons.

I regret that now.

A not so good picture of my first heel, on a sock that will never be worn by anyone. (I made it just to see if I could do the heel.)

I’ve been teaching myself how to do socks. Oma was the sock mistress and could have whipped my sock knitting into marvelous shape, but hindsight is always 20/20. Mom’s been helping me — namely, she’s been helping me decipher the instructions in the pattern, which is another godsdamned language to me.

The night before last I turned my first heel.

It’s a rite of passage. I’ve stepped through the doors of…I don’t know. Something. I feel like I’ve gone from beginning knitter to intermediate knitter. I’m following in Oma’s footsteps, definitely. I know she was happy with my enjoyment and skill in fiber arts. Knitting, then, has become ancestor veneration as well as something I do for Brighid.

Last night I worked on another pair — one out of chunky yarn, that I can actually wear. I worked most of the night on them for my shift. And soon, I will have a pair of my own hand-knit socks, and they will be bloody amazing.

8 Comments


  1. Congrats, Morag. I know she’s proud of you.

    Reply

  2. It’s special to have such a detailed family history, like you have. Mine is severely lacking so I always enjoy reading about others. And being able to use something you made yourself is awesome too. :)

    Reply

    1. I feel you on lacking family history, because while I have my maternal side well-detailed and documented, I’m sorely lacking on the paternal side, especially the bits about my Native heritage. This is unsurprising, as American Indians have not been treated very well by the PTB and if you could pass as white (as my Cherokee grandmother could), well, you did.

      So I treasure what I do have, search for what’s missing, and invent new traditions as I can. :)

      Reply

    1. I kinda had a feeling you would…. :)

      Reply

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