My soon-to-be-five years old grandson , Remy, is a chivalrous little guy, but when you\’re trying to save the world from evil, it helps if you have the right outfit. His mother told me that the other day he came downstairs with a sheet of newspaper wrapped around his shoulders, fastened at the neck with a taped-on penny. So I\’ve decided to make him a cape for his birthday.
The cape is long and wide, made of black felt with a blood-red lining. It has a raised collar, a fancy gold clasp, and, I hope, the right sweep and swish. It is not a magician\’s cape, or a Dracula cape. It is an all-purpose cape, for saving princesses or fighting trolls or doing card tricks.
It\’s difficult to find a gift for a child—or anybody–these days. The avalanche of cheaply available goods that swept over America after World War II has made it impossible for adults as well as children to truly hanker for things. Of course some people hanker for helicopters, McMansions, and yachts. But I\’m talking about ordinary stuff, like sweaters, or dolls, or toy cars. The ordinary house today is bursting at the seams with these, leaving little room for wishing and dreaming.
Wanting to please, but hating to add to the clutter, we as grandparents have faced this dilemma every birthday and Christmas since Remy\’s older sister Violette was born six years ago. The solution we have arrived at is to offer hand-made gifts whenever possible. (It\’s not clutter if it\’s hand-made.) Out of Ed\’s workshop have come a gorgeous pull-cart full of blocks, an art-supplies box and, most recently, a toy chest made in collaboration with the recipients. I\’ve produced a clay statuette of a princess, a be-jewelled, heart-shaped pendant with Ed\’s picture on one side and mine on the other, a dress for Violette, and now this cape.
The last time I sewed anything, my daughters were toddlers. Now I\’m trying to recapture long-lost skills—how to read a pattern, how to line a collar.
Today, having cut the cape and the satin lining and the collar and the interfacing, I put on a Schubert CD and started sewing. It was chamber music at first, and as I pinned and basted I thought about my father, and how chamber music had been his love. I listened to a Schubert piano trio and it sounded not exactly familiar, but absolutely right. I must have heard him practice the violin part. I must have been taken to the performance. I wish I could talk to him about this music. I would like to think that he\’s listening too, as I sit here making a cape for his great-grandson.
A great-grandson, in a family of girls. What a surprise he was, when we met him at the Maternite in Paris, not only male, but blond and blue-eyed. Where, we wondered, had this little Visigoth come from? I took care of him for several days when he was six months old, and it struck me how uncannily like my husband he was—calm and amiable, interested in his meals, but happy to keep busy putting stuff together and taking it apart.
That resemblance, physical but especially psychological, has continued to amuse and amaze us. How did Ed\’s influence skip over our two girls only to emerge full-blown a generation later?
I trimmed seams and listened to Schubert and thought of my long-dead father, of my little grandson. No obvious resemblance there. Before fusing the interfacing to the collar I switched from chamber music to Schubert\’s “Travels In Winter,” sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. We will be traveling in winter down to Philadelphia, to celebrate a birthday. Poor Schubert, dead at 37, left no descendants other than his music.
But oh, “Travels In Winter,” with D F-D! Fie on those fashionable tenors. Give me a baritone like Dietrich of the three names. I turn the cape collar and iron it flat as he pours out his manly sorrows: “mein Herz, mein Herz!” He truly is my favorite singer…him and Elvis. I never asked my father what he thought of Elvis. I wish I had.
And now the cape is almost finished. Tomorrow I will attach the collar, and sew on the gold(ish) clasp. The day after we will travel in winter to Philadelphia and deliver it to Remy. When he takes it out of the box, it will be impregnated with hours of thought, reflections, memories. Sewed into it will be the music of Schubert, the voice of Dietrich, the memory of his great-grandfather, and my own desire to make him a real gift, something he can wrap himself in, and be anything he wants to be.