The first was driving up the Gaspe coast. And it wasn’t the coastline. It was the Phentex. Back in the ’70’s, there was a knitting phenomenon in Quebec, due to the creation of a polyster yarn called Phentex. It was a brightly colored, never-fade yarn that was all the rage. Women (mostly) knitted scarves, hats, mittens and the ubiquitous Phentex “slipper”. There were Phentex ponchos, covered hangers, pot holders, baby bibs. If it could be knit, it was. The other beauty of Phentex was that you could get multi-colored yarn, so that you’d have a color pattern in your knit, without having to cut and tie off from different balls of yarn.
And all up and down the coast, as far as the eye could see, in every town, Gaspe women were selling their Phentex crafts. We knew that because the vendors put out signs that read “Phentex”, to ensure that tourists wouldn’t miss their wares. I bought some Phentex yarn and knitting needles and knitted my way across the eastern coast of Canada.
That winter, my aunt, my grandmother, and a family friend all gave me Phentex slippers.
My grandmother gave me two pair. One was blue and white, the other green and white. I had them for 15 years. Finally tossed them when I moved from Montreal to Toronto. They were still in good shape and I’m sure still sitting intact in a landfill somewhere in Quebec, along with tons of other discarded Phentex slippers. In fact, when Quebec is rediscovered in 1,000 years, archeologists will marvel at the sheer quantity of Phentex slippers in Quebec landfills. I’m sure they will determine that some sort of religious ritual required the crafting and wearing of Phentex slippers!
The OTHER bizarre episode was during our visit to Newfoundland. The Eastern coast of Canada boasts a very robust fishing industry, with extremely poor fisherman. From Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, fishermen spend their summers catching fish and trapping lobster (kids at school knew you were poor if you showed up to school with a lobster sandwich for lunch) and winters on unemployment and restringing their lobster traps and fishing nets. In Newfoundland, we saw so many lobster traps, with their ingenious entrance to the hold and we were captivated. Eventually my dad bought a trap for one dollar, along with netting and colored glass floats. We strapped the trap to the roof of the car , reboarded the ferry to the mainland, and drove back to our home in Montreal. The lobster trap lived in our themed basement for many years. Nets and glass floats hung from the ceiling and the lobster trap held a place of honor hung on the wall. When I moved to Toronto in 1982, I took the lobster trap with me and it has lived with me ever since. It probably cost $40 or $50 to pay for the moving of the trap from Eastern Canada to the Western United States, but I couldn’t leave it behind.
Right now it is holding a new place of honor next to my vegetable garden where it proudly holds my gardening tools. Unlike the Phentex slippers, I’m allowing it to gracefully rejoin the earth and nature, but should it still be undisintegrated by 2020, when it will officially be considered and “antique”, I may consider selling it to the highest bidder.