The Second-Worst Rug My Father’s Ever Seen

When I told my father that his good Jewish son and the future vice president of his shoe-manufacturing company was signing up for a floor loom weaving class, he said over the phone, “All my life I worked so you could be the best at arts and crafts?” I needed one more elective to graduate from prep school, and I’d found the easiest-sounding class, whose only prerequisites were good eyesight and the instructor’s permission. “Weaving,” my father kept repeating; the word clearly pained him. Then, with unmistakable sarcasm, he said, “This is to prepare you for what magnificent future? Life on a kibbutz?”

Ignoring his reservations, I walked into Janet Something-or-Other’s office at Moody Gym feeling immensely qualified. In addition to weaving one hell of a rug, she taught basic swimming and CPR. Seated in the chair in front of her desk, I breathed in the dense, humid fumes of chlorine wafting off the pool just outside her door. “What is your interest in rug weaving?” she asked. She had silver sideburns, a mop of gray hair, and a single unbroken fuzzy eyebrow. I said it wasn’t simply an interest, it was a passion. My great-grandfather paid twelve pood—it wasn’t until years later that I learned it isn’t even a currency but a Russian unit of weight—to have customized, handwoven rugs made for his first American house. She weighed the plausibility of this for a moment. On top of her desk were a CPR manual, a whistle, a pack of Pall Malls, and a Hawaiian-shirted piggy bank with the words beach fund written across its flank. “Okay,” she said at last. “You’re in. So long as you take it seriously. This class is my surrogate child; every year I fight to keep it in the course catalog. I’m a fourth-generation weaver. The old style.”

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