The iconic crocheted pineapple has played a recurring role in my designs. I was not always so enchanted with them.
Native to the Caribbean, the pineapple was offered by inhabitants as a gesture of welcome to early explorers of the 15th century. If the natives had foreseen how screwed they would be by letting those guys into the neighborhood, they would have taken back their luscious gifts, I’m sure. But it was too late. On his second voyage, Columbus brought the pineapple back to Europe, where it was prized as a culinary delight.
Reverence of the pineapple later reached all the way back across the ocean to colonial America, where the fruit became the ultimate symbol of hospitality, an important part of colonial life. So costly and rare was this fruit that to merely display one as a crowning touch on one’s table was proof of the household’s taste, wealth, power and resourcefulness.
The pineapple worked its way into fine and decorative arts, in paintings, carved into wood, cast into metal, glazed onto china. Needleworkers also took to the pineapple and stitched, wove, embroidered and needlepointed it into treasured heirlooms and decorative items of all sorts. During the classic era of the 30’s and 40’s, the crocheted pineapple was ubiquitous, and it’s shape, wide at the base, dwindling to nothing at the tip, became a familiar and much beloved motif.
The next explosion of pineapple popularity came in the 50’s after WWII. Although not native to Hawaii, pineapples were successfully commercially cultivated in the Hawaiian Islands, and quickly became widely available and inseparable from Hawaiian lore. I suspect that the attack on Pearl Harbor and the ensuing war in the Pacific theater served to focus the nation’s attention on those peoples, cultures and foods. Today we’ve forgotten how exotic the islands must have seemed, and how much interest there was when, the way the pineapple was a crowning touch to colonial tables, Hawaii became the crowning glory as our 50th state.
Whatever the reason, through the 50’s and 60’s there was a fascination with everything Hawaiian. Loud Hawaiian shirts became associated with rude American tourists, don’t ask me how. Shot on the island of Kauai, the 1958 film version of one of the greatest musicals of all time, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”, had us all humming the tunes. (My most treasured music box as a girl had a ballerina who danced across a little mirror to “Some Enchanted Evening”). In 1961 we flocked to see Elvis Presley in “Blue Hawaii” (Mom’s favorite Elvis movie). Native son Don Ho became a minor pop star and TV personality after his 1966 hit recording “Tiny Bubbles” (I know all the words).
Suburban backyards were routinely transformed into Polynesian wonderlands, bristling with tiki torches, the setting for luau themed parties complete with grass skirts, flower leis and drinks with pineapple spears stuck in them. I am not sure when, how or why those tiny paper parasols came to join the fruit. Protection against UVA and UVB? “Aloha” and “Waikiki” became real words. Hula girl icons danced on the dashboards of our cars. Hula-hoops. Need I say more? Pineapple crochet covered everything in the house, including ours.
Neither my mother nor I had any idea of the historical significance of the pineapple motif. Columbus who? We liked eating pineapple, but mostly it was out of a can; little tidbits mixed in with the fruit cocktail, chunks in my dad’s sweet and sour pork, or rings on top of a holiday ham. Even so, it didn’t make sense that she would have labored hundreds of hours with miniscule thread and hooks to celebrate dumb old pineapples. To me they looked like fish doilies. Now, fish I could understand.
You see, my dad went fishing. Considering how little leisure time he had, fishing must have been very important to him, as important as the baseball and football games on TV. Dad would have gone fishing more often, but he never took vacations or did anything that meant closing the laundry. He said if you give customers a reason to go somewhere else, they might not come back. So the fishing was limited to occasional Sunday mornings in summer.
We kids were welcome to tag along on Dad’s fishing expeditions, but Mom never went and I didn’t know why, since she put crocheted fish all over the house. Dad always seemed so proud of the fish he and my brothers brought home. I wanted approval as well, so one morning I decided to find out for myself what this fishing was all about.
I was woken up well before the sun came up. Dad cooked us a big breakfast, but I couldn’t eat, it was way too early. In the dark we were hustled into the car. Normally on long trips I would read to pass the time, but it was still so dim I couldn’t even do that. In reality it took maybe half an hour, but putting up with my brothers crammed into the back of the station wagon made the trip to the reservoir seem an eternity.
By then it was dawn, so I could clearly see what a mistake I’d made. I had to stand at the edge of the water, tall reeds and scratchy grasses all around my legs, yucky, marshy ground under my feet. I could sit if I wanted… on a slimy rock. I had to stick nightcrawlers on my hook. Well, I HAD to do this myself because in front of my dad and brothers I could show no fear or loathing. I was cold and hungry, squirmy and chewed to bits by mosquitoes, terrified of getting ticks. And worst of all, my butt was damp from the rock and there was wormy gack all over my favorite shirt. If there is a Zen of fishing, I missed the point and the fish knew it because I caught nothing.
It occurs to me now that Dad didn’t enjoy the process of fishing as much as he loved fooling with free fresh fish in the kitchen. I could have saved myself one hell of a miserable morning had I known that and just showed up later for the marinated charcoal-grilled catfish and eel dinner.
From that day on I was more inclined to see pineapples in my mom’s doilies instead of fish.