I don’t often read memoirs of the middle class and unfamous. Actually, I don’t usually read memoirs of the celebrated rich and famous either. I figure most memoirs are self-serving examples of revisionist history. But I downloaded this one maybe because it had to do with sewing. Being a fiber chick myself, I guess I figured I would give it a try.
It is written by the daughter of a Hungarian Jewish woman. The woman and her entire family were herded out of their small town in Hungary, near what is now the Czechoslovakian border, at the beginning of WWII, and ended up in two different extermination camps. Hanna appears to have avoided the worst deprivations because she could sew, and was used for these abilities. She was with her sister for a while, but the sister died of malnutrition, typhoid and exhaustion. The rest of the family had totally disappeared and were never heard from again. After the camps were liberated, she ended up in a displaced person’s camp for a couple of years while awaiting the documents necessary for immigration to the United States. The woman, Sidonia, had a daughter while in the camp, and she and her daughter were eventually placed in Springfield, Mass. where they began their new lives in 1949.
Being not terribly well educated, Sidonia’s only skill was sewing, and she was really a crackerjack at it. She did home sewing for a couple of years while looking for work, and eventually got a job in a factory, where she worked for a couple of decades, moving up to foreman.
It is beautifully and movingly told by the daughter, all about their lives and their sometimes rocky relationship. Sidonia was extremely private, and although loving, not terribly demonstrative. But she was a fabulous seamstress, and her daughter Hanna served as her model as her mother created design after design all her life.
It was not until Hanna was well into adulthood that she finally learned who her father was, because her mother refused to talk about it, so this thread runs through the story.
Through her childhood, Sidonia would tell Hanna stories of her life in Hungary, and the events of their experiences during the Holocaust.
Late in her sewing career, Sidonia was given a big book of sewing, the 1967 edition of the Coats and Clark’s Sew Book, by a grateful customer. She cherished it always, and it was among her possessions when she died. Hanna starts each chapter with a quote from the book that is relevant to the subject matter of the chapter, such as Interfacing, True Bias, Lining, Marking, Back Stitch, etc. The thread in the title is Sidonia’s vision for her daughter’s future.
It was a loving tribute to her mother, and a way to bring together the many threads of her life. I was really glad I read it. I do admit to a sniffle or two throughout. Allergies, probably. Yeah. You know, the dust in the air.