Christine here. Somehow, even as a child, I knew my parents were not cool. How is it that children suss out these things, before any real experience of the world? My Aunt Mary was cool, and she was even a mother, but my own mother was not. As a mother myself, my own children have clearly figured out that I am not cool: I think they knew it from birth.
When I was a child, coolness had something to do with wearing a lot of mascara, having long straight hair, and smoking. It had something to do with doing daring things that were against the rules.
The best example of coolness in my neighborhood was my babysitter, Ruthie. She was 13 when I was 8. She had long, long, chestnut brown hair that she would lay her head down on the ironing board to have her sister straighten by ironing it between layers of paper, or else wear in very large curlers bobby-pinned onto her head. She wore baby blue eye shadow. She had 45’s that she would bring over by Bobbie Sherman (Julie, Julie, Julie Do You Love Me) and his ilk to play on my parents’ record player when she was babysitting. She had started wearing a bra and showed me the little lace edging and the “front-loader” hook mechanism (makes it easier for boys to unhook).
We would watch “Here Come the Brides” together and sing every word of the theme song. Every time Bobbie Sherman came onto the TV, we would sigh about how gorgeous he was. (I went along with it but always thought David Soul was a little cuter).
I was in love with Ruthie. She was gorgeous, she was a princess, she was cool. She was everything I wanted to be. Unfortunately, her own coolness only served to highlight how painfully uncool I was. Ruthie was in the 4th section (out of ten) for her grade at school, and I was in the first. She made it clear that only unattractive eggheads were in section one. She had boyfriends by the dozen, and was always attracted to the next one as soon as she had secured the first. (I was off at college before I would even have my first kiss.) She would “sneak out” at night to hang out and gaze at boys and smoke at the post office/gas station/soda and hoagie ship, which was what passed for a downtown where we lived in rural Pennsylvania. She wore bell-bottoms, and I wore cousin Eileen’s hand-me-downs from 10 years ago, or clothing that Mom sewed me: pretty dresses, but not… cool.
In the midst of this great yawning disparity, we had one thing in common: we crocheted. Remember those granny-square vests that everyone wore back then? They were the height of teenage fashion and I longed for one. We would sit on the floor together in front of the TV, yelling at the dog to keep away from the travelling balls of yarn, and crochet the vests that would one day soon make us beautiful and fashionable. This plan worked for Ruthie, the tight little vest outlining her figure. As a 9 or 10 year old at that time, it outlined… nothing. (Still waiting).
Ruthie was not the one who taught me how to crochet; my mother did that. But, Ruthie was the one who made it cool and fun. In some respects, I credit her with the spark of passionate interest in all of the creative crafts that I have enjoyed through my life: crochet, knitting, quilting, braiding, embroidery, and sewing. Mom taught me the mechanics, but Ruthie gave me the dream of being fashionable with those crafts. Remember when multiply-patched jeans were the rage? Ruthie had me help her with fancy embroidery stitches at the edges of the patches. I was able to help her, when she was the one who had inspired me! As a kid, I don’t think I was ever so proud of myself as I was at that moment.
I still will never be as cool as Ruthie was, and I’m sure she’s completely forgotten me, as we often forget the people around us who are younger and less important. Boyfriends and TV stars filled Ruthie’s head, not neighborhood children with whom she spent the occasional evening babysitting. But I nod my head to Ruthie anyway, and I hope she still gets some satisfaction with crocheting an afghan or knitting a baby sweater for a grandchild, while I obsess about rug braiding.