I came home Saturday evening to what is now a familiar sound: Dolores shouting back at "The McLaughlin Group" on Channel 11, and occasionally throwing popcorn at Pat Buchanan.
There's no speaking to her while the show is on, so I headed into the kitchen to fix myself a long, tall chocolate milk (tip: use a martini shaker–it's fab) and let my teeth unclench. We had "other duties as assigned this weekend," and I was wound up like a violin string braced for Mahler.
"So," came a voice from the living room, "Don't say hello or anything."
"You always hiss at me when I do," I said.
"Today is different. I got you something. And I'm not dragging it in there."
The last time Dolores said she "got me something," she meant she'd stuffed all my rather conservative wool suits into a sack for the charity shop and filled up my closet with sherbet-colored Italian silks with funny shoulders. I headed for the living room.
"What is it?" I said, trying to sound calm.
"Let's see if you can guess," she said, chucking a few unpopped kernels at Pat's wide-open mouth.
I was about to comment on the state of the rug when I spotted this next to the chair I usually sit in to knit.
"Who does that belong to?" I said, when I could find my voice.
"To you, if you want it," she said. "And you'd better, it was no picnic getting it here."
"You got me a spinning wheel!" I screamed.
"As ever," she said, "Your grasp of the obvious is astonishing."
"You got me a spinning wheel!"
"You're blocking the television," said Dolores.
I sat down and gave the treadle a tentative push with my foot. The drive wheel obligingly spun around, and the flyer gave off a pleasant little whirr. I felt my eyes filling up.
"Dolores...I just...how did you..."
"Spare me," she said. "I'm just sick of you disappearing into the bathroom with the Ashford catalogue for hours. That door is pretty thin."
"It's used," she said. "And it's an older model. But it should work. Somebody in New Zealand owed me a favor. I'd tell you more, but then I'd have to kill you."
I pointed a large, fluffy pile of white in the corner.
"From my sister in Vermont," she said. "Rolag. Two pounds. She owed me a favor, too. Just watch out for the split ends. The way Olive abuses that goddamn blow dryer you'd think it was 1978."
At that point, Eleanor Clift came on and every time I tried to speak Dolores just raised a hoof in my direction. So I sat down, and pulled out the corriedale/montadale from Susan that I'd been using on the spindle, and I spun.
All the practice on the spindle seems to have been a good idea. I wouldn't expose my spindle-made yarn to public view (one has one's little vanities), but the making of it did give me a visceral experience of the spinning process. I'm glad it's how I began, much as I'm glad I began making photographs with a relatively simple camera. A limited mechanism forces you to learn by making nothing easy for you. Your hands and eyes and mind must engage, because otherwise nothing happens. For me, in any case, this is and always has been the way to go.
The first thing I had to test for myself is whether Margeurite's spinning song from Faust, "Il était un roi de Thulé," really works to keep you treadling evenly. It does. I'll have to test the spinning song from Der Fliegende Höllander later, as my German is far from what it ought to be.
There were jerks and epithets at first, but things are now spinning smoothly and I made this:
According to all my written authorities, it's not bad. Reasonable consistency, doesn't snarl up in the orifice, doesn't pull apart. Upon close examination, even Dolores conceded that it "doesn't completely suck nine kinds of ass."
Perhaps I'm imagining it, but I think she's warming up a little.