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Back then, you knew where all your stuff came from…and probably who made it.

“Work really did used to burn calories, huh?”

The observation was Simplia’s.

Sagacia’s response was an echo: “Huh?”

Simplia explained, “Working meant you were actually doing something.”

Sagacia said, “Isn’t ‘doing something’ sort of what the word ‘work’ implies?”

“When I see you ‘working’ on balancing the household accounts,” said Simplia, “I don’t see any calories being burned. I don’t see you making anything I can look at or hold or smell or touch or taste.”

“True. In this day and time, ‘work’ is often sitting all day and looking at a computer screen.”

“Or talking on the phone.”

“Or driving. Or selling stuff that was made by machines. But just look at all these old job descriptions our friends sent in for Post-industrial in Potsdam!”

Sagacia waved printouts of new messages that had arrived, not written on paper and delivered through the postal service, but entered on a keyboard and dispatched via fiber optic cable.

Richard Martin reminded them that long ago, before a saddle or a pair or shoes could be made, the leather first had to be prepared by a tanner, “seeping it in urine. Theirs was…an odiferous trade, which is why the tanneries were often separated from the rest of the town.”

Barra the Bard reminded them that women did more than keep the home fires burning. Spinsters were women, often single, who spun the thread — and it was a way for her to support herself and her family. 

“Think about it,” said Simplia. “In Rumplestiltskin, spinning straw into actual thread might have been more valuable than being able to spin it into gold. You might have all the gold in the world, but if no one had any cloth to sell, you’d still freeze your butt.”

Sagacia continued reading from Barra the Bard’s missive,  “We tend to forget that at one time, clothmaking, being such an important craft, was often done by men — most tapestries were woven by men, for example. No one today puts down “starcher” on their tax form, but they were an important (female-dominated) industry in Elizabethan England, with those elaborate ruffs, and pressers, carefully eliminating wrinkes from cloth, were highly paid.

Henwives were women in Scottish tales who raised poultry, and had a reputation for wisdom…. 

Those who mastered crafts that most people could not were often considered to be magicians, such as smiths….

Sagacia read the messages and Simplia jotted down job titles and descriptions. She was pretty sure she had inadvertently omitted some, nevertheless, it was an impressive list that Fran Stallings, Naomi Baltuck, Richard Martin, Mary Grace Ketner,  Thomas Baxter Farley, and Barra the Bard suggested. To wit:

Sexton — maintains the churchyard; digs and fills in graves
Ketner — chain mail maker
Baker (bakester, baxter) — a man who bakes (Which implies that not everybody had ovens. Or flour. Simplia wondered when words for “grocer” entered common speech.)
Carter, wagoner — transportation work; modern equivalent: trucker
Scrivener — wrote things down; modern, but archaic, equivalent: typewriter; post modern equivalent: word processor
Tailor — made garments out of cloth provided by websters and thread spun by spinsters
Farrier — forged/fitted horseshoes
Blacksmith — forged iron and other metals; created tools used by other craftsmen
Whitesmith — worked in “white” metals such as pewter and lead
Cutler — made and repaired knives and weapons
Swordsmith — a cutler who specialized
Shoemaker — made shoes; as did cobblers, but maybe not as refined
Charcoal burner — without whom farriers and smiths could not fuel their forges
Retter — soaked and softened flax so it could be carded and spun into linen thread
Webster — a man who wove
Miller — ground grain into flour
Butcher — made use of everything but the “moo”
Tinkers — mended metal things

“See,” said Siimplia. “They all did something you could see happening. They brought something into existence that wasn’t there before you started working. You knew where your chair, your shirt, your food, the tools of your trade came from.”

“And how does that relate to fairy tales?”

“It was magic for one thing. Vernacular magic, but still… For stuff to exist, people had to create it themselves or know the person who did. I’m thinking pre-industrial people couldn’t have had a whole lot of stuff. And what they did have was probably pretty grimy. In those days before taps and spigots and indoor plumbing were common, I bet people saw more brown and grey than any other colors. Especially among the things they made.”

Sagacia started putting two and two together. “But inside the privacy of one’s imagination, the world of a fairy tale could be bright and clean and opulent; it could smell good; and its characters could be beautiful and well-fed and decked out in jewel-bright colors. Everybody who could listen had access to places, foods, relationships, and beauty that was otherwise off-limits or inaccessible.”

She thought about it for a minute, and then she said, “But getting back to Post-industrial in Potsdam… What do you suppose the craftsmen (and women) who recur in fairy tales are meant to symbolize?”

“I don’t know,” said Simplia. “Sometimes a miller’s just a miller and a cigar is just a cigar.”

Illustration: Crane, Lucy, translator. Household Stories from the Collection of the Brothers Grimm.Walter Crane, illustrator. London: Macmillan & Co., 1882.