The First Time

It's strange how your life can change with a seemingly simple decision. It was October of 2011, a Saturday, and one of the last warm days of that fall. The following weekend it would snow in Brooklyn, the earliest snow since the Civil War. I had come to Ithaca to visit friends but I had an assignment to visit an archive. I did some basic research (very basic I would learn) and discovered that Cornell is home to several amazing Home Economics collections. 

I arrived never having actually used a finding aid (I was only in my second semester of library school) and I was strangely nervous. Everyone was lovely and helpful from the moment I walked through the doors. I was there to research an idea for an art piece that had been floating around my mind for awhile. A new dress using old sewing textbooks for children as points of reference.  Since most of the books themselves had been digitized, they explained that I could access them at home, but if I was interested, I should really request "the samples." 

And this is where coming in person trumps anything the Internet can offer, they brought out 5 boxes (1 at a time of course) of the samples sewn by children in home economics classes at the turn of the 20th Century.  Seeing the stitches sewn by an 8-year-old was like seeing myself as a link on some incredibly long chain (my mother and grandmothers were there with me too.)  I was connected to those girls and now they were connected to me, our stories entwined in some still yet to be completed project. 

I know that I smiled a lot in the reading room that day.  And I have seen that same smile as I sit at the desk.  Smiles from the researcher who has found just the document for which they had traveled thousands of miles, smiles on the grad student reading the first edition Virginia Wolfe, smiles from the great, great grandson that has found that he too, is part of a link on a chain.  Sometimes they come out to tell you what they have found and you know what it feels like, that smile, that joy.