Friday, May 01, 2009

My maternal grandfather was a tailor. It was a craft with a long history-- in some ways, as old as civilization. My grandfather worked in a tailor shop in Pittsburgh and then in Greensburg, near the train station and the town's major hotels. But for most of his life after his children were born, he had his own tailor shop on Depot Street in Youngwood, an even smaller railroad town. I visited him there many times as a child (though I usually wound up going to the barber shop next door to read comic books,) but I'm not sure of all that he did. I know he made men's suits to order, and he did alterations. He had a sewing machine and a big steam presser I remember.
Being a tailor was an honorable craft in the Italian village he came from, and in America. He had to read and write well, keep account books and do billing, and he had to interact with customers who weren't all Italian immigrants and their children. Though there was talk about closing the shop as he got older, it was still a going concern when he died in 1966, at age 73.

But independent tailor shops were getting to be few and far between by 1966. A close friend of his who came with him to America, a little younger and also a tailor, spent his last working years altering men's ready-made suits in a department store at the mall. By now, tailoring as my grandfather knew it is a phantom occupation. Nobody where I grew up becomes a tailor now. [This sequence continues below...]

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