My maternal grandfather, Peter Rausch, was in the rug business. He worked for a large commercial venture in Chicago, the department store Marshall Fields, his position that of selling oriental rugs.
But please note: by definition, oriental rugs are carpets hand knotted only in Asia. The countries of Iran, China, India, Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, Tibet and Nepal are some of the biggest exporters of oriental rugs. Persian rugs are also oriental rugs, but made only in Iran (formerly known as Persia). Currently, the term oriental rug is loosely used to describe a type of rug, one with delicate and intricate designs, one that is often made of deep red and blue yarns.
Grandfather Peter was selling the real thing, heavy, hand-made rugs which he actually carried with him in a large trunk, so as to display to his buyers the weave, the colors and the expert workmanship. He often traveled by train, loading up his trunk to stop in smaller stores across the Midwest, whose buyers and owners were eager for these expensive rugs from Marshall Fields.
THE HARD LIFE OF A SALESMAN
I didn’t really know my grandfather. He died way before my grandmother who lived into her nineties. Arthur Miller published his stage-play, Death of a Salesman around the time my grandfather died.
The play addresses the struggles that men and woman faced as society was rapidly changing, eliminating their jobs or radically altering them. The main character, Willy Loman, (a play on words, a man becoming a low-man) relies on his singular vision of the American dream–traveling the country with his display case, making big sales, hoping to return home a hero. The play is stunning, it being Miller’s comment on societal changes, his focussing on the traveling salesman who is slowly being replaced by an industrial and advancing society. Death of a Salesman premiered in 1949. My grandfather died in 1952. I wish I could have discussed the play with him, garnered what he thought about it. He might have said that Miller over-dramtized Willy’s situation–but that was purposeful. Miller was making a statement with lines like: “The jungle is dark, but full of diamonds”…“A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man.” “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away – a man is not a piece of fruit.”
THE RED AND BLUE RUG
I don’t know if my grandfather ever told a specific story about the red and blue rug that graced the wooden living room floor in my grandmother’s house. Later it graced my aunts smaller home and is now gracing my brother’s living room. (see photo). I don’t know if my grandmother raised her hands to her face (her familiar gesture) in gratitude and surprise when my grandfather brought it through their front door.
But I was there, years later, when my Aunt Lucia had to leave her home for a care center, and thus had to say good bye to her piano and that rug. Lucia sat by me at the piano, gently touching the ivory keys. My brother had found a mover, a guy who refitted an old bus to hold the piano, the rug and boxes of china and silver–all to be shipped to California, where my brother lives. That night we said good- bye to these cherished items as we watched the bus drive away.
Weeks went by, my brother back in LA, my mother calling him constantly, asking about the bus that was filled with the piano, the rug and family heirlooms. Finally, my brother had to hire a detective, suss out where the mover lived and if he had sold our family goods, pocketed the money, cheated us out of more than physical goods, but also previous memories. The detective was a bit ill at ease when he discovered there had been some other questionable transactions this mover guy had been involved with. But he found all our goods in the mover’s barn, my brother instructing him that he didn’t want to prosecute the guy, he just wanted the piano back and all our belongings. My brother then hired a major moving company to pick up the items and drive them safely to Los Angeles. The detective oversaw the recovery of the items to make sure that every thing was there, everything was recovered. No one could make this story up. Not even Willy Loman.
I do wonder what my grandfather would have thought about all of this. Now his traveling rug has been refurbished and provides comfort and memories to my brother, his wife and anyone who visits, anyone who cares to bend down and touch this beauty, remember the history.
Below is a photo of my grandfather’s trunk. He had arthritis as he aged, rather expected for a tall man who lugged this case, who was on his feet most of the working day. But there was the day, when he was tired, his feet not cooperating and he fell, fell in his living room, went down like a large tree, only to have a soft landing–the rug, the red and blue rug in his living room.
Thanks for reading.
PS On a cruise to Italy, Greece, Mediterranean islands, we stopped in Turkey. After seeing religious and historical ruins in Ephesus, we were taken to a store where true oriental rugs were being made and purchased. I found one I loved, brought it back in a suitcase! While watching a young woman who was demonstrating the hard work that goes into making oriental rugs, I asked the store owner if men ever do the weaving. He assured me that NO, THEY WATCH FOOTBALL.