Chapter 6. Venus (Textiles)


And Nature forced the men,
Before the women kind, to work the wool:
For all the male kind far excels in skill,
And cleverer is by much—until at last
The rugged farmer folk jeered at such tasks,
And so were eager soon to give them o'er
To women's hands, and in more hardy toil
To harden arms and hands.

 — Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, ca. 60 BC [1]


My momma named me Venus, on account of she said I was as pretty as a morning star. When I got to marrying age, my folks fixed me up with a husband, Og, but I can't recall why his folks named him that, what with it being so long ago and all. One cold, wet day early on in our cave-keeping Og didn't feel like going out hunting. Lazy as a cave bear, God rest him. I had to go out and gather because, well, we were hunter-gatherers and Og wasn't hunting. "You're not moping around all day, Og. You get your butt off of that rug and straighten up this cave!" He didn't like that too much, but I wasn't going to work my fingers to the bone so he could stay home and stare at the fire all day. Anyway, so I went out and gathered. I gathered all day. Boy, was I tired when I got back, and you know what? That cave was exactly the same as when I left it. I won't tell you what I said to him, but the poor old thing looked like a fly who's just stepped into the spider's parlor. Oh yeah, it's funny now, but I wasn't laughing then.

You know what he'd been doing all day? Playing with a dog! Now, he said that he started cleaning up the cave and this wild dog wandered in, but I knew better. He got to playing with that dog and by the time they were done, they had hair all over the place. He said he got to picking up that hair and sat down to rest. He was sitting there, twiddling with the hair, you know, and it twisted up on itself like a piece of string. Well, we never had seen string before, in fact nobody had, on account of Og had just invented it. He just kept pulling on that string and it got longer and longer. It really was a wonder. But I was not happy. "If you think you're getting some of these turnips, you've got another think coming!" He was really in the doghouse then.

Well, we made up after awhile, and I figured he would lose interest in that string, but he just kept making string every chance he got. "Put down that string and go fetch some water." "Put down that string and go get some firewood." "God help me, Og, if I catch you playing with that string!" You know, I don't like being a nag, but we like to starved to death on account of that string. When we had my little girl, I laid down the law and Og turned out a pretty good father, even if he did make string every chance he got. I made the best of it and it turned out that string was good for tying stuff up so after a while I got used to having it around.

Well, our little girl grew up and starting filling out, and before too long every man for miles around was pestering us. "Can I walk Thelma to the lake?" "No, she's too young." "Can I take Thelma to the dance?" "No, she's still too young." "Can I show Thelma my rock collection?" "No, she's still too young." Like to drove us crazy! Finally I got an inspiration; I said, "Look, we're making her a belt, and when you see her wearing that belt, you'll know she's old enough for courting." Which was strange, on account of we didn't wear clothes in those days. Now, you may wonder what made me connect "string" with "clothing," but I had had a house full of string for years and I wasn't going to let it go to waste. It worked pretty good and we had some peace for awhile. And when that belt was done Thelma got herself a nice young fellow, on account of she was the only girl with a belt like that.

Well, that started the ball rolling, of course. Everybody wanted a belt for their daughter, both to get some peace while she was young, and to make her a good match when the time came. And Og went into the belt-making business and started beltifying the place. Pretty soon he couldn't keep up with the demand and I started helping him out. See, there are two parts to making string, the twisting and the drafting, and Og was trying to do both at the same time. We figured out that Og could do the twisting and I could do the drafting, and that way we could make string way faster than either one of us by ourselves. Not only that, Og was only able to make one arms-length of string by himself. But spinning together, we could make a string as long as our cave, or even longer. Before too long we ran out of dog hair, but we found out we could spin grass fibers, bark fibers or just about any kind of fiber we happened to come across. So that was good.

In the beginning a girl was lucky to have any kind of belt at all, but as time went on, the belts had to be fancier and fancier if she was going to stand out from the rest. We added strings and tassels and whatnot and pretty soon that belt had turned into a kind of skirt, a string skirt. Og even carved a little statue of our granddaughter which you can see in the Museée de l'Homme in Paris, or in Figure 6-1(L). You can see that she wore her skirt low on the hips in those days. Nowadays, gals wear their bikinis somewhat higher up, but bikini or string skirt, neither one of them hide very much. They do get your attention, though, which is what they're for, when you think about it. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

When spinning was new the men really liked it, but the fancier these skirts got, the more string we had to make. Now, men like hunting and fishing and herding, things where you're real busy for a while and then you're not busy for a while. So they didn't like spinning any more, on account of you were only a little busy, but it was the same busy all the time. Eventually, our son in law, Dug, got so bored with his half of the spinning (the twisting part) that he said "You know, I bet a stick could do this job as good as me!" And, it turned out, a stick with a notch at one end and a stone at the other was every bit as good at twisting as Dug was. So that was the first time a man was replaced by a machine, when Dug lost his job to a stick.

It wasn't so bad that the men gave up on spinning; it turned out to be a pretty good job when you're raising babies. You can pick it up while you're cooking and when the stew boils over or the baby gets too close to the fire you can put it right down again. You can invite the neighborhood gals over for a nice chat and get the spinning done at the same time. And teaching a girl to spin makes you feel like you're connected to the future. My little girl passed the beltifying inspiration on to her little girl and so on down the line for twenty-five thousand years, so the inspirational part of me never really died, when you think about it.



Reference [19], Book V, ll. 1350-1357.