28 February 2018

The days are getting longer, there is a small streak of apricot light low on the horizon around sunset and I feel the connection again, to the natural world around me. But oh, that cold frosty air.

All my life, winter was a hard time, physically, a struggle to keep warm outside and always overdressed indoors.
My childhood winters seemed endless and were cluttered with toboggans, ill fitting ice skates, skies stacked at the back door in a messy tangle of poles and bits of bindings sticking out. In winter, there was always too much to watch out for, too many things to put on hands and feet and head and trying not to lose any of it before the day was over. The exciting races on the frozen canals and carp ponds more than once ended in the discovery that some boys had filled our boots with water and so we were forced to walk home on skates and face my mother, furious because we were late and what did you do to the boots!
In my late teenage winters I wore one of my grandmother's moth eaten fur coats, cut off at waist length and button-less. Waiting for the bus in the mornings, I tried to keep warm wrapping the long hand-knitted scarf - a must have - around myself and smoking too many cigarettes. One day, a brand new dufflecoat, navy and with the correct type of toggles, was waiting for me at home. My mother never said a word. And neither did I.

My mother had a strict regimen of hand-me-downs for clothing and shoes, for mending and darning, stopping ladders in nylon tights with clear nail polish and forever letting down hems. She would sit in the kitchen, furiously unravelling sweaters and cardigans we had outgrown and later, my sister and I fought over the balls of wool to knit yet more scarves.

Once a year, the kitchen table was covered with piles of worn nylon stockings which my mother would cut into long strips (on the bias, mind you) and roll up into fat bundles. These were sent off to the Bethel Institution - a place my mother would never set foot in. Some time later, strangely shaped plaited rugs arrived in the mail, their sickly pale brown nylon hues static to the touch. One or two of them would eventually find a place  in the garage to mop up grease. But as for the rest of them?

Once an item of clothing had finally, at last, outgrown its use, my mother carefully cut off all buttons, eyelet hooks, toggles, buckles, unpicked stitches that held zippers. The buttons were stored in old biscuit tins, in fact they still are. I have three of them here in this room. I played with these buttons, my daughter played with them as did (and still do) visiting children.
The zippers, however, we threw out, seven large bin bags, upstairs in the spare bedroom, when we moved her to the apartment she hated so much.

My mother was not a collector, she had no interest in old buttons. I don't think she ever reused a single zipper.
But, the war, you see. The war. That's what you did in the war.


  1. I've heard of thriftiness, but that definitely takes it to a new extreme. All the same, I was thinking the other day as I put on a well-worn pair of pants, that it was a shame to throw out the buttons when I discard the pants -- even though I don't sew and have absolutely no use for a salvaged button!

  2. My mother had many of the same traits and reading this post makes me so very sad. Ugh. What despair is represented in these images of her cutting stockings, picking out zippers, of you in a ratty fur coat, cut off for your size.
    Oh, Sabine!

  3. it wouldn't hurt us in this day and time to be more frugal and reuse. everything is disposable now, why re-use or re-do when there is so much new stuff out there waiting to be bought. we are drowning in stuff and drowning in the cast off stuff.

  4. That is quite an evocative memory, Sabine. What a time it was there, post-war with habits born of need and necessity.

  5. Thank you for sharing your heart connection to your beautiful river and sky through your photo. And all that you remember and wrote about winter in Germany and growing up in the wake of war.

    It is grey and cold here today, but there is more light on all the dormant plant life, and more and more birds are singing each morning.

  6. This is such a poignant remembrance. Our mothers were products of their time. My mother washed and reused zip lock bags and sheets of aluminum foil, and would never throw out a plastic food contained that could be reused for storage. Surreptitiously, I'd thin down her collection. It was an act of love that she pretended not to notice. She was lucky to be slender and neat, able to wear garments for decades and still have them look classic, stylish and new.

  7. I thought you might like this, Sabine. I remembered Lori's photo when I saw your photo.


  8. My mother was the same - everything was kept as it might be useful one day. And when my godmother died I found her button box - I think some of them must have come off blouses I’m the 1930s!

  9. Mothers. It seems for many of us it's a love / hate kind of thing. Not really the hate thing, but you know what I mean.
    You write so well, Sabine, that my fingers and toes are cold right now. Going to stand in front of the little heater and warm them up.

  10. My mother saved buttons,too. I loved going through her button box. I have a much smaller version, only because I felt like I must. My grandson uses the buttons to glue to cardboard to make art.

  11. My mother saved everything too. She was fourteen when war broke out and remembers it quite well. I grew up hearing that during the war they only got one egg a week. My mum loved eggs and they were never wasted in our house. To this day I can't waste eggs.

    We had a button box too, sadly I have no idea what became of it. I loved playing with the buttons when I was a child.

    Winter is still hanging on here as well. I blizzard is moving through the province slowly, promising to dump loads of snow this weekend. It will end. Right?

  12. I recognize the scenes you paint - I lived much the same as a child. Always the hand-me-downs, the reused clothing, the saving of zippers and buttons. And like you I find winter requires too many clothes. Oddly, though I love the ease of summer when one can throw on a sundress and walk out the door, I love the advent of late fall and sweaters, scarves, hats, mittens!