How Aunt Lydia kept things together

When my wife was but two days a bride, she arrived on Prince Edward Island, at my expense, ready to tackle the first social engagement of her extensive wedded career. Vera, my senior cousin, had arranged an introductory tea party. She had married Wib, who was Aunt Emily's boy, and she had just the house for such a gathering. Vera's vista overlooked the Northumberland Strait, which separates Prince Edward Island from mainland Canada, giving her a panorama from there to here, with Nova Scotia beyond.

Prince Edward Island has been called the prettiest place in the world, which it is, and Vera had the best place to sit and admire it. The island sits low, and its peak is less than 500 feet above sea level, attested by a geodetic bench mark just outside Vera's back door. There is no better place, and here my bride first met her bevy of in-law cousins.

After the sumptuous collation was met and subdued, the bone-china heirlooms removed to the kitchen, and the linen fondly folded, the ladies arranged chairs in a circle so each lady could look off to advantage. My wife had the place of honor. (I, you understand, had gone to Finnegan's brook so I wouldn't be underfoot. I did well, too.)

And now each lady took up her sewing kit, or "fancy-work basket," to put her idle hands to things of beauty, such as embroidery, lace, tatting, and all such as that. My wife, you can presume, had no fancy work at hand. After a few minutes, Vera looked up and said, "Didn't you bring some work?"

Now, so many good years later, my wife frequently and fondly remembers those things, and loves to tell anybody who will listen that she was inveigled by deceit into marrying into a family that expects a bride to carry work on her honeymoon. Just the other day she merrily brought up the subject again.

Well, I had mentioned Aunt Lydia here, and supposed all readers would know about her without an explanation. I was wrong. There came letters asking who Aunt Lydia might be, and what about her? I showed one to Marm, and she said, "That day has gone, chum, gone, gone, gone! There's a spool in my sewing basket, and I haven't laid a hand to it since Victoria was a backfish!"

Aunt Lydia was a registered trademark of the American Thread Co. for a cotton twist meant for heavy duty. It was a utility thread, never meant for fancy purposes, even though the spool would be ready in milady's basket until wanted. Aunt Liddy might be used more in the shop than in the sewing room, but when the craftsman needed some, he'd go into the house for it.

An old-time hooked rug required much toil. Uncle Gus would retire a blue serge suit after it popped at the knees and busted a gusset, and Mother would say, "Why'n't I make a rug o' that? P'aps the Battle o' Lake Erie! Wouldn't that blue make good water?" Then she'd begin cutting the suit into hooking strips and she'd find other woolens to get other colors.

Then the rug-hooking frame would be brought from the attic, and a snatch of burlap the right size stretched onto the frame. The design might be chalked onto the burlap. Then hours, days, weeks, all winter with the rug hook as the strips of wool were tediously applied, up and down, artfully making a painting as good as anything in the Tate.

When the artwork was done, the final stroke of elegance came from Aunt Lydia and the American Thread people. When the hooked rug was taken from the hooking frame, the selvage had to be turned, and the binding was always done with Aunt Lydia thread. Show me a beautiful antique hooked rug for which you plunked down a handsome sum. Turn it over, and I'll show you some Aunt Liddy.

Another job that called for Aunt Lydia was parceling a rope. Hemp cordage needed the ends tied off so it wouldn't "cow tail." To do this was to parcel: to wind with a thread or cord in a manner that concealed the twine's ends and would allow the line to pass through a pulley. Coastal and farm boys learned to do this in early years, and Aunt Lydia thread was favored. When I began playing Robin Hood and made my bows and arrows, I found Aunt Lydia would make a bowstring. Coarse and dependable, it was the only thing of its kind.

When we built our new farmhouse in the l940s, my wife hooked individual stair treads for our front hall, each with an axiom or catchword. One said CAVE CANEM, another ROSES ARE RED, a third FEED MY LAMBS, and so on for 14 treads. This made a considerable gallery, and many went up and down just to read the steps. It was suggested that our front stairway should be taken to the state fair. All of which shows the importance of Aunt Lydia.

Emerson Bullard, a college mate and best man at our wedding, is retired from a career as an executive with J. & P. Coats, the big spool-cotton firm and long a competitor of American Thread. I asked him about Aunt Lydia, and he says she was long stiff competition. But when Coats and Clark merged with American Thread some years ago, all the American Thread trademarks were retired except for one crochet cotton.

After stock was disposed of, Aunt Liddy presumably went her way. Also, when my wife recently told me she still had some Aunt Lydia thread in her sewing basket, she added, "Wherever that may be."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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