Tolkien is on regular rotation in my house. When a kid hits the age of what I believe my husband considers enlightenment, a maturity that coincides with a love of swords and an ability to sit through a story bereft of pictures, Marcel opens “The Hobbit” (public library) and begins: In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
On this fourth reading of the well-worn tale, my son Ivan became enamored enough with the small, retiring hobbit rushing off on an adventure with wizards and ogres, dwarves and dragons to rewrite the story to his liking, call his father Gandalf, and refer to his siblings as dwarves (triggering protest from his teen-age sister as to why she had to be Bombur, the fat one).
There lived a hobbit hole. Not a nasty, dirty hole, but a clean and washed-dishes hobbit hole. There lived a hobbit in this hole named Bilbo Baggins. The hobbit had furry feet. The wizard came up.
“I”m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place,” Bilbo said.
“I have no time for smoke rings,” said the wizard. “I’m Gandalf the Grey. We need to go an adventure this minute.”
Bilbo came. He had no stick and no coat.
Beside the retelling, Ivan hung cryptic posters regarding Bilbo’s encounter with the dangerous creature Gollum whose most precious item is a ring that makes one invisible, a ring that Bilbo unwittingly slips into his pocket. The posters included the outline of my son’s five-year-old hand, encircled within a ring, and the words No Bilbo. It was unclear whether the posters were meant to warn Bilbo of Gollum or Gollum of Bilbo, but for a while there were persistent referrals to me as “my precious” and insistent questions about “What have I got in my pocket?” I tried not to worry.
In my family, the coveted items are the small electronic devices. With never enough to go around, the prized items are slipped into pockets to be secreted away and enjoyed in solitude (or in the case of the youngest, spirited away to irk an older sibling) until the absence is discovered by others. “We wants it, we needs it,” my Gollums wail like the original. “They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!”
Desperation drove me to the sewing machine in search of an answer to the riddle of how to keep track of the iPreciouses. Inspired by the Japanese boro textiles, the functional artwork that involves mending and patching using indigo dyed cotton, and faced with the sashiko sampler I’d stitched, as well as a stack of the family’s worn-out jeans and their many, many pockets — I ended up creating something precious.