Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Virtues of String

A package arrived in the post, all the way from America.
I had purchased an assortment of vintage laces and trims and was excited to find it had been deposited on my front porch during the wee hours of the morning.
As I unpacked the various bundles contained within the package, I noticed that one of the bundles of lace was held together with a bit of imperfect string.
Dirty and damaged, it was wound around, and around, a handful of lace.

As I looked at it, I began to think about string and its uses and purposes and wondered, "When was the last time I used string for anything?"
If it had been me who had packed away these various bits and bobs, I would have used a rubber band or perhaps a bit of ribbon to secure the bundles. Or more likely, I would have stored away my precious trims in tiny ziplock bags to keep them organized and dirt and moisture free.

As I examined it, I began thinking about that little piece of string and the person who may have put it there.
String, and the importance and relevance it must have had to our mothers and grandmothers, seems to have been all but forgotten.
Previous generations didn't have plastic bags or ziplock anything. They didn't have the advantage of twist ties and velcro. They knew nothing of plastic ties and the gadgets that fastened them.
They tied things with string.

Packages in the post came bound with cording; parcels bought at the local shops were tied together in bundles with twine or string; and the loveliest of yummy treats from the bakery were bundled-up in fresh-looking white, cardboard boxes, and tied securely with red and white striped string.

When I was a young child, I can remember standing at eye level with the top of the counter, waiting to be served, at our local bakery. Huge white sugar cookies dotted with raisins and topped with granular sugar and trimmed with scalloped edges awaited me if I were just patient enough. I could buy one or a dozen for the family, or just about any amount, could be ordered-up.
If I purchased just one cookie, it would come in a slick, clean, white bakery bag.
But, purchasing a dozen (which would mean the clerk would carefully pack 13 - a bakers dozen - a common tradition in bakeries of my youth) would mean they would be packed in a white box tied perkily with red and white string. Oh and to see how the clerk accessed the string - that was the best!
A huge cone of the smart looking, festive, red and white striped string was not visible to you in the shop, oh no! All you saw was the string, looking rather plain against the counter looped through an eyelet screw, fastened to the wooden surface. But follow it with your eyes and find that it traveled up the wall and across the ceiling and back to the bakery room, out of sight, where somewhere in the depths of the shop, it finally wound its way to a huge cone of string, permanently affixed to a spindle, waiting for the next tug, for decorating and securing the next pristine bakery box.

And at home, every junk drawer, garage, and broom closet held string. String was a common staple in every household.
It might have been thick and heavy, in the form of jute rope. Or, thin, yet strong, in the form of kite string. And every weight and material in between, necessary for a life where string was an everyday necessity.

Our grandmothers even had special containers for keeping string at hand; safe and ready for use in an instant. These string holders came in many shapes and sizes, in many different materials. I decided to purchase one for myself and begin a new tradition of using string in my home.
I now have the holder, which also holds a pair of scissors, but I do not yet have any string! I am looking for a source of red and white striped string, like the kind the bakeries use, but in a much smaller quantity. Once I find some I will mount my holder on the wall, complete with its own pair of scissors, and use it in place of other, less earth-friendly closures for packages.

Kitty String Holder with Bow at Neck for Scissors

Looking back, upon the virtues of string, and its uses in the lives of women that came before me, made me reflect on its merits over our plastic world of today. And all because a bit of it came to me in a 3000 mile journey from the American past.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Roger that for Halloween in Buffalo! The houses that gave us treats wrapped up in napkins, tied with ribbon, those houses were the best! It was like getting a present because you didn't know what was inside until you got home. You forgot to tell about the 'trading' of candy once it was tossed from the pillowcase to the floor! We traded the things we didn't like for the things we did. Lucky for me that I was the only one that liked Good and Plenty! Those were the days!!!