scraps in winter
Late Middle English (as a plural noun denoting fragments of uneaten food): from Old Norse skrap scraps; related to skrapa to scrape. The verb dates from the late 19th century. — from Oxford online
Small detached piece of something, fragment, remnant, (pl.) odds and ends, useless remains… — from Concise Oxford 1973-74 (my copy bought for university)
I’m thinking about scraps and fragments and, yes, remnants. I just made a comforter for the crib we’ve recently bought for visiting grandbabies. We have a smaller portable crib which has been fine until now but babies grow and this crib has the added feature of converting to a toddler bed. Grandson Arthur will come for Christmas and I thought I’d use some scraps of quilt batting to make a crib-size comforter. And then I wanted to make a cosy cover for it. I had enough blue striped flannel for one side so I found a remnant of that pink print at the wonderful Dressew on Hastings Street in Vancouver the other day. And sewing, I thought of all the quilts I’d pieced together at the kitchen table, all the remnants and scraps that somehow became something larger than themselves. I don’t like waste. I have baskets and bins of little pieces of fabric and I love to find new functions, new meanings for them.
It’s the same with writing. I’ve been revising the essays that will form a collection called Euclid’s Orchard, to be published next September. One of the essays is called “Tokens” and it is a series of linked meditations about my mother, my attempts to find out about her biological parents (she was given up at birth), and also to find out who she was all the years she was my mother. And in the process of writing about her, she was there in the room — the bottle of My Sin perfume my father brought her as a gift in (I think) 1962, still 3/4 full; her Harris tweed coat nearby, her scent still in the satin lining. Her sayings, always a little off: “Let’s play it by air.” “He was mad as a hatter.” (This, to explain someone’s anger.) “By the same token.” (For anything.)
Winter is a good time for thinking about scraps, fragments. The Ptolemaic scrap of papyrus with three lines from Book 20 of the Odyssey that don’t exist in other versions of the poem. Unfinished music. Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems. The Archimedes palimpsest, which I remembered this morning: years ago I read about the cleaning of a 13th c. prayer book that contained (partly erased but recoverable by delicate conservation practices) two treatises by Archimedes, the Greek mathematician and physicist (and astronomer, inventor…) who lived from around 287 B.C. until around 212. There’s so much still hidden, so much to be discovered, often in fragments, like the lines of the Odyssey, to offer us moments of the world before us.
The other night, John and I had dinner with our son Brendan who was in Vancouver for some math work at UBC — conferring with a research partner and giving a seminar. We asked for news of our grandchildren and I loved hearing how Kelly, who is 2, refers to her Daddy’s work. She calls it “counting by the vending machines.” When she and her mum and brother visit her Dad at his job (mathematics professor at a big Canadian university), they meet up at the vending machines in the lobby. And math? Well, it’s a kind of counting.