The Red String

Last weekend, I was suddenly inspired to start a garden, despite the fact that I have a million impending deadlines to deal with, a stack of receipts to calculate for my taxes, and an illogical fear of worms. I think part of the reason I was compelled to rip apart the weed-filled flowerbed is because for the first time in history, Nagymama is getting too old to upkeep her garden, and some sappy part of me wants to follow in her footsteps. I also convinced myself that I will save a ton of money on produce, which is probably a lie given the time and energy that gardening takes, but I figured I’d give it a shot.

I knew that if I was to start a garden, I would need tools, which were in the old shed filled with junk from the 85-year-old lady that formerly owned the property. So, on Saturday morning, I put on an old sweatshirt and my spelunking gear and entered the evil, dark, dank shed. I didn’t have to clean very long before I came upon a large cardboard box that was completely filled with little bits of string (and spiders. Oh, man, sooo many spiders…) All of a sudden, flashbacks of Nagymama popped into my head. What the hell is it with old ladies and string?

Nagymama always kept every piece of string that entered our home. She horded the string that came with boxes of baked goods. She collected the ties from old bath robes. She ripped elastic bands out of old clothing. Of course, Nagymama’s most famous use of string was to save shoelaces in order to tie the corners of the blanket to the mattress so my skin wouldn’t get exposed while sleeping. We all know how that turned out.

Even with this extraordinary string collection, once a month, Nagymama ordered my mother to go to the dollar store and buy her balls of red string. Nagymama never knit, and we certainly didn’t own a giant kitten, so I suppose she wanted all these balls of string because really liked bundling things. For instance, since I didn’t have a proper dresser, she bundled all my clothes with the string and set them top of an old cardboard TV box covered with a Hungarian embroidered tablecloth. This was always an issue in the morning when I wanted to grab something to wear and I could not untie her double knots. Of course, if I ever tried to cut the precious red string, she would immediately grab the fa kanál and start screaming like crazy!

What confused me the most about the red string was that Nagymama HATES the color red. I was never allowed to eat red Italian ice, I would get in trouble for wearing a red clothing, and to this day, she yells at me when I paint my fingernails a deep shade of ruby. “Red is dah color of streetvalkers!” she told me as a child as she scrubbed my head with a bar of Dove soap, trying to “get the red out” of my hair. Perhaps she should have tried Visine; apparently that “gets the red out”. Sorry, I had to make that pun; if I didn’t, someone else would.

I mentioned this red string story to a co-worker, and she admitted that her great-grandmother also toted around red string because it was supposed to protect against the evil eye. Apparently, her great-granny frequently tied bits of red string around their wrists and and stuffed wads of it into their coat pockets. Holy cow! It all makes sense now! Nagymama was protecting my hideous 80’s clothing from “Szemmel Verés”, the Evil Eye!

After all this reminiscing, I sorted through the box of string from the shed, and didn’t see a single strand of red string. I figured that the former owner wasn’t superstitious, she was just crazy. As I placed the box on the heap miscellaneous trash, I started to realize how useful some of the shreds of string would be to tie some of my freshly-planted tomatoes to their stakes. And then I started to think about all the rusty tools and bits of wood that needed to be tied together before they were put out for trash pickup. And then I thought I should keep some bits of the stronger string in my trunk in case some part of my crappy Honda falls off and I need to tie up my muffler.

*GASP!* I’ve caught Old-Timer’s Disease! I’m beginning to like string! I might as well just start wearing papucs everywhere and force feeding everyone Little Debby(tm) Snacks, because I am basically Nagymama, Jr.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have things to bundle.

Photo by Nico van Diem