My grandmother was an admirable woman. Born in 1891, Juliane Atzl grew up on a farm high up in the mountains as the oldest daughter in a family of 10 children. When her husband drowned in an accident, my grandmother was left with enormous debts during the worst of the 1930s depression.
As was the custom, by way of welfare, the village council was going to place her five children with five different farming families. It was expected that a widow would never manage to raise five children at such a time under these circumstances.
She proved them wrong. She worked all hours, put all her intelligence and enterprise into running a small shop, sowed vegetable seeds and sold the seedlings, arranged for complete households to be assembled for newly-weds, anything from an iron, to the cutlery, to an axe. She sold groceries, fabric, underwear, socks, providing a tiny department store in a village of some eight hundred people who hardly ever left the place.
When it came to the only valuable thing her husband had left her, stacks of sawn planks, my grandmother held her nerve and refused to sell for a pittance. She waited until the price of planks had stabilised and sold at a profit.
She washed the finest of silk garments that nobody else dared to touch. She made detachable collars for shirts, she embroidered the initials on owners’ bed linen and towels. She crocheted fine lace and made christening gowns, one of which was present in every household that could afford such things and was used for every child that was born.
She laboured, looked after her customers, brought up her five children and made sure they all learnt a trade. One of them even went to university.
My grandmother made this embroidery, a proverb used as a wall hanging that reminded everyone of their duty in life.
But it is the back of the embroidery that illustrates just what a meticulous, skilled craftswoman she was. As in other things in life, it is so often the less visible side that shows what we are made of.