Friday, April 12, 2013

The Twin Arts of Crocheting and Reserve

It was the last blanket she would ever make, or so she wrote in the note accompanying it.  Some months before she'd asked me my favorite colors, and I'd answered, "Pinks and purples."  One day in late fall, a time when I was alternately more exhilarated and lonelier than I'd ever been, a yellow slip showed up in my university mail slot.  Oh, for a freshman to receive mail!  That tiny rectangular mail slot was the last link to my childhood, and I was lucky indeed that my much older brother and sister wrote to me quite often, sensing (or remembering) how unmoored the beginning college student can feel.

Eagerly I brought the mail slip to the university's post office clerk.  The package was assembled from brown grocery bags taped together, evidence, if I'd needed it, of my grandmother's essentially thrifty nature.  She'd handwritten my address.  The handwriting was both familiar and not.  It was shakier than I was used to.  I had to do the math in my head before coming up with her current age: seventy-eight years old.  I pulled off the brown paper and found a crocheted blanket, white with purples, pinks, blues, and yellows.  I grinned and tore back to my dorm room to place the blanket at the foot of my bed.


I still own that blanket.  As infants my boys first lay on it, then rolled over and sat up on it.

The blanket is the most direct link between me and my grandmother, a gruff, brisk, hardworking woman who was never keen on public displays of affection.  Still, we grandchildren knew how much she loved us.  Her love was in the blankets she made for us, in the food she cooked for us, in the feel of her gnarled, weathered hands as she worked rubbing alcohol into our skin to bring down our childhood fevers.  It was in her gift to us of the bowl with little strips and blobs of dough that hadn't made it onto cookie sheets (salmonella a threat not yet in the lexicon).

We knew that my grandmother cared about us based on these things, things that sufficiently conveyed to us the strength of her feeling.  It was only in the last five years of her life that she chose to end phone conversations with a faintly embarrassed, soft-spoken "Love you."  By that point, I suspect, she wasn't sure that she'd ever get another chance to say those words, so she offered them up as a kind of insurance.

Her generation was not nearly as expressive as ours, or the generation that has followed it.  So a warm gesture, or a word or two of praise, when it came, meant so much.  Words are cheaper these days.  We use them more often and less thoughtfully.  We take far less on faith than we used to.  We insist on proof of this or that, and if we don't get it, we object - strenuously.  Computers have expanded our social circles, so that there are not only more words being bandied about but more people receiving them, people who might take offense, or misconstrue intent.  And with everyone talking, who is left to listen?

I miss my grandmother and her generation.  I want my words to matter, to be taken as if they are things of some value, instead of yet more junk polluting the atmosphere.  I sit in silence as I finger the edges of my grandmother's blanket, and I wish -- that more of us could take love, friendship, and good intentions on faith, that more of us would as a matter of course accept responsibility for our own actions and work hard for work's sake, that more of us might make beautiful blankets out of skeins of yarn.

What I really wish is that more of us were like my grandmother.


Mary Gilmour said...

There's a good bit of your grandmother in you, woman of words. The words you send out into the world all are powered by love and caring. And it shows.
You make beautiful blankets of words that I treasure.
I try to be the kind of person your grandmother was for you. Not very successfully, but the trying is good.

V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios said...

I wonder if I lived in a less expressive age if I would dare to write.

And I wonder if the lack of communication and expectation of communication made family relationships simpler or more complicated. My husband grew up in a very reserved family and had long periods of time when he felt unwanted (even if he WAS wanted).

Lots to think about here, but...I love handmade food gifts, blankets, cards, etc. I love giving and receiving such gifts. There's something very special about that.

kayak woman said...

I don't know if your grandmother ever wrote her thoughts down anywhere but I have to wonder if she had her own doubts about whether her words and values (not to mention her beautiful hand-crocheted blankets!) would matter to anyone.

I think most of us have those doubts. I certainly do! I also think that you are a *lot* like your grandmother. But you are also you, a person with a unique mix of talents and personality traits, facing the challenges of living in the 21st century, which are different than those that your grandma faced.

Christine said...

I have a blanket made by my grandma for me when I was in college. It is such a treasure.

Magpie said...

my grandmother used to send me cookies when i was in college. she'd pack them into the waxed paper or plastic bag that she'd harvested from a cereal box, and tuck popcorn around for padding. they broke anyway, but they were the taste of home.