Prather’s Pick: Cherished pieces of lace, II
October 21, 2014
In September, I reviewed "Mr. Wayne's Masterpiece" — a children's book by Patricia Polacco. Then recently, while at the Moffat County Library, I found another new book by Polacco. This book, like many of the author's other books, is taken from her heritage. So I couldn't help but review it, too.
Polacco's family came from many parts of the world, including Russia and Ireland. "Fiona's Lace" is based on a true story about Polacco's great-great-grandmother Fiona, who lived with her family in Glen Kerry, a small village not far from Limerick, Ireland.
The picture book, illustrated by Polacco, begins when Fiona is just a girl. She, Mother Annie, Father Mick and sister Ailish live in a cottage, and each day Father goes to work at the textile mill at Limerick. Many days after work the girls meet him at the front gate, and afterwards they enjoy a hearty meal of soup and bread while Father tells them stories. The girls' favorite is how Father got their mother to marry him. (The girls know the story by heart.)
This story is important to the book because it introduces the lace. Mitch and Annie worked at the textile mill, but Annie worked at the lace parlor where she sewed lace. Mitch had noticed Annie, but nobody would tell him where she lived. Then one day when he left work, Mitch found a bit of lace tied to a bush. Not only that, but pieces of lace were tied to bushes and lampposts all along a lane. Finally there were no more pieces of lace when he arrived at Annie's house. He courted Annie and married her.
Annie's hands are too swollen with arthritis to sew lace these days but she is teaching Fiona how to sew it. One day, when Fiona is older, she will be able to get a job sewing lace.
One day the textile mill closes down. What to do? Annie's neighbor, Mrs. O'Flarity tells Annie that they have signed a contract to serve a wealthy couple in America. The couple will pay the passage, and Mr. and Mrs. O'Flarity will work as domestic help for them until the passage is paid.
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Mick and Annie talk it over and decide to sign a contract, too. They will be going to Chicago. The girls are sad to leave their home, but they think about the roads in America that are paved with gold and the wealthy home they will live in.
When their long journey is over, Fiona's family is surprised to find that their new home is shabby and run-down. They find Mrs. O'Flarity there. She tells Annie that all of their pay goes to their passage to America. To have spending money, they will have to get second jobs. That's what they do, but things look up when Mrs. O'Flarity tells them about a "posh dressmaker" in the city looking to find lace.
The store's buyers are impressed with Fiona's lace. They offer her a "pretty penny" for the lace and will buy as much as she can make. With the extra money, Fiona's family can save to buy a house of their own. The family celebrates, but it isn't long before a fire destroys Chicago. The lace figures into the story in a way that the reader couldn't have expected.
There is a powerful message in this book about families — about love and warmth and sticking together. The reader will learn about immigration, too. It's Polacco at her best.
In a special section at the back of the book, Patricia Polacco writes about Fiona's lace. Bits of it were found in bridal bouquets and in bridal veils, and the author has framed some of the lace that has a special place in her home.
"Fiona's Lace" is published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014. The hardcover book costs $17.99 or you can find the book at the Moffat County Library.