One of my fall rituals is picking up my fur coat, inherited from my Grandma Mae, from storage. I wouldn’t have bought my own fur coat but happily wear hers. There’s nothing like it on a freezing day and I love how her name is embroidered in the lining.
I bring the coat every May to a fur salon nearby where the owners, mother Wanda and daughter Helen Wijatyk store it in a near freezing, temperature –controlled vault to preserve the fur during the hot weather. When the temperatures begin to drop in the fall, I retrieve the coat. When I wear it, I carry a bit of my grandmother around with me and listen to what she used to tell me.
This time, I brought a white-dyed mink that had been my Great-Aunt Sylvia’s, my grandmother’s sister, who died in July at 100. I thought perhaps I’d have it turned into a cape or shawl. Not that I particularly needed anything, but liked the idea of recycling her old coat into something I too could pass on to my daughter or a niece.
Wanda took one look at the fur and knew it wasn’t worth tinkering with. Dried out, splitting upon touch, it hadn’t been cared for properly. She didn’t think there was anything she could salvage. Even if she could, she lamented how she wouldn’t be able to give it any attention until the spring at the earliest.
I asked her why she couldn’t hire some help. She came to the US in 1970 from Brezg, Poland. She’d trained as a tailor and worked in a fashion design house with a fur department and gradually learned how to repair fur and create her own patterns. Within a year of being in the US, she started her own business, still speaking very little English.
“Aren’t there students from vocational schools looking for work?”
Wanda shared some stories. They had tried several students over the years and weren’t happy with the work ethic or the skills. One girl brought coffee and was drinking it while working. Another smoked and the smell pervaded the shop and the furs. Another talked on the phone the entire time. And their lack of skills couldn’t meet the demands of the shop- they took too long to complete a task.
“What about people from Poland who had been trained?”
Wanda sighed. They had tried to hire these girls, who are skilled but don’t want to fix furs because they can earn more money cleaning houses than working in the shop.
So Wanda continues.
In cleaning out Aunt Sylvia’s apartment, my cousin offered some of her jewelry. He had sold most of it but had kept a few pieces, including a box with several strands of pearls. He (and I) had no idea if they were real or not.
I brought them to my local jeweler. One strand he knew was costume jewelry. The two others he examined first with a one-eyed magnifying glass called a loupe. Then he gently rubbed the pearls along the biting edge of his top front teeth.
He explained that if the pearls feel rough like sand or grit, then they’re real. Nacre, the organic substance secreted by mollusks that creates pearls, produces this surface. Imitation pearls would be smooth. These two proved to be real and in perfect condition to give to my daughter and my niece.
Leaving the each store, I couldn’t help think about jobs. Are young people becoming jewelers? Knowledgeable about what makes a pearl real, how to fix watches and broken necklace chains? What about furriers? Shouldn’t the inherited furs from grandmothers and aunts be able to be preserved?
Here seems two professions at least that need skilled workers.
Do you have anything passed on to you from an older relative?