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95 “I Don’t Have Time to Be Bored” Creativity of a Senior Weaver Yvonne R. Lockwood Throughout the history of folklore studies, elderly tradition bearers have been an important resource as the maintainers of cultural knowledge and tradition. However, only recently have researchers begun to examine how folk traditions can play an important part in making one’s senior years a positive experience and helped to change the prevailing negative view of aging. (See, for example, Hufford, Hunt, and Zeitlin 1987; Schuldiner 1994; Kay 2016.) In addressing the theme of aging and creativity, I review the life and creative expressions of Anna Lassila, a master craftsperson whose primary artistic outlet was rag rug weaving. Although she enthusiastically and skillfully engaged in Finnish folk traditions most of her adult life, there was a notable change in selfawareness when she was in her eighties. Of the thousands of immigrants from Europe between 1880 and 1920 with knowledge of rag rug weaving, Finns have maintained it best. Finns have woven rag rugs since before emigration from Finland. The continuity of this tradition can be attributed to Finnish American ethnicity; rag rugs and rug weaving are iconic ethnic folk traditions (Lockwood 2010). Anna was one of the many weavers interviewed in the 1980s and 1990s in a major research project about Finnish American rag rugs and weavers (Lockwood 2010, 32–44).1 An immigrant’s life in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the first decades of the twentieth century was not easy. Men commonly worked in the woods or mines, while the women and children worked the subsistence farm, if they were lucky to own land that had been cleared of huge boulders and thick woods.2 This was the context in which Anna, a first-generation Finnish American, lived. Born in 5 The Expressive Lives of Elders (2018): 95–105, DOI: 10.2979/expressivelivesofelders.0.0.06 96 | The Expressive Lives of Elders 1909, a year after her parents arrived in the United States, and the oldest of eight siblings, Anna had a heavy load of responsibilities. Out of absolute necessity, she learned all the domestic skills—baking, cooking, food preservation, soap making , sewing, knitting, crocheting, feather pillow making, and even woodworking. Working alongside her mother, she was responsible for household duties and caring for her younger siblings. At thirteen, she was sewing clothes for her siblings and learned to weave from a neighbor farm wife. An important fact about Anna is her faith, which explains her worldview, core values, and even her perpetuation of Finnish American tradition. Anna was Apostolic (or Laestadian), a strict form of Lutheranism that does not allow dancing , makeup, short hair for women, short skirts, going to films, having a television , piercing and tattoos, alcohol and drugs, contraception, and so forth—in other words, avoidance of worldliness and sin (Hoglund 1980, 366; Alanen 1981; Foltz and Yliniemi 2005). Idle hands are regarded a disgrace, if not a sin. Believing that “empty hands do evil things,” Anna seldom sat still and never wasted time. She had to leave school during the fifth grade to help at home. As her siblings got older, Anna began to work outside the home doing domestic work and caring for others’ children to bring in money. In her teens, she began to take jobs as a domestic for wealthy and professional families farther from home (Penti 1986; Lindstrom-Best 1988). It wasn’t an easy or happy life. Finnish Americans were regarded locally as equivalent to Native Americans, and like Native Americans, these female Finnish workers were often mistreated. At twenty-one, a wiser Anna went to work in Chicago, as did many young Finnish American women. Memories of this time are usually positive: groups of girls from home would rent a room on their day off (usually a Thursday) and have a slumber party. In Chicago, Finnish Americans gained a reputation, I was told, as good, skilled hard workers. They went from one wealthy family to another until they found one that treated them well. Anna had several unpleasant experiences working for families until 1933, when she landed a position as a live-in housekeeper and cook for two sisters who were ophthalmologists. With her earnings, she managed to save her family’s farm in the Upper Peninsula. This period is when she began to quilt after seeing quilts on the beds of her employers. Anna loved these women, but after nine happy years, she had to return to the Upper Peninsula...


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