I was the Great Despair at 2920 B Street. My grandmother, “Mama Marge” who was too Young to be called Grandma, made weird little clucking sounds made even weirder by the cigarette dangling from the corner of mouth. She’d peer at me over her glasses and shake her head in dismay at whatever feat I’d most recently pulled.
I wasn’t stupid, but I wasn’t the cleverest child when it came to churning out beautiful embroidery samplers and was incredibly non-motivated to achieve any recognition in my ability (or willingness) to clean my room. One of her biggest disappointments sprang from her quest to inculcate me with the gift of knitting. I spent hours of my childhood helping her re-roll skeins of yarn to meet her specifications. I rearranged her yarn collection by color, weight, and content. I also arranged her massive heap of needles and hooks, placing them reverently into pouches and bags, ready for her next creation.
She sat me down with a pair of needles and a skein of bright yellow yarn. My heart pounded in anticipation and fear. I have no idea which was stronger. I dreaded being “in trouble” any more than usual, but I was also excited about learning how to make the needles click and clack like hers. I loved the rhythm of her needles snicking and ticking deep into the night. I was often mesmerized by the sound of those needles and knew exactly where she was sitting at any time of the night when she was watching over us.
So I sat there on her sofa, clumsily gripping my shiny blue needles with a lap full of the yellow yarn. It’s all a blur after that golden moment of anticipation. I bombed. I held the needles too tightly, she said. I couldn’t manage to keep the yarn untangled. My shoulders were hunched. I didn’t listen well enough. I was distracted. Couldn’t (or wouldn’t) sit still, for Pete’s sake.
I have no idea how long our session lasted or if there were more after this first one. I only know that the end result was Marge thoroughly washing her hands of me. At least in the knitting department. After that era, she never revisited the possibility of my ever acquiring the skills to knit. Apparently the knitting gene skipped me.
So I was startled on my twenty-first birthday to have her sort of shove me back onto the couch in her new home, giving me a hook this time, and blue yarn. She had just given me a buttercup yellow dress she’d designed and created. The floor length dress had crocheted insets at the waist and yoke. The handwork was exquisite; tiny stitches of knotted thread crocheted into delicate perfection.
She flounced out of the room and returned with another hook and roll of yarn. I asked, in confusion, what was happening as I’d understood that she was never going to teach me how to knit, since I was unteachable. Without missing a beat, Marge shook her head and explained that we certainly were Not going to be knitting, but rather crocheting. Any idiot could see that. Hmm. Perhaps if they knew that crocheting existed. At that time, I could macrame and embroider but beyond that, had no thread, twine or yarn skills.
We hunkered down with determination as she told me I wasn’t going to leave the house until I could crochet, and since it was my birthday, I sure had other things in mind to celebrate the twenty-first one! In less than an hour I could chain, single crochet and double crochet. I could even read patterns! I sat wearing my new dress, grimly determined not to disappoint my grandmother one more time, and tried to enjoy the task at hand.
This year I hauled out the buttercup yellow dress. It fits. I’d been looking at the massive amounts of yarn which have been donated to imaginarium through the years. I’d heard of a Worthy Cause: Kids undergoing chemo therapy at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera needed more hats. I’d heard someone say that there were never enough. And a plot was hatched.
Being relegated to my own couch these days, as I have worked toward wholeness through several health issues, I have fought off depression, feeling useless and separated from the Real World. But THIS was a cause. It was something I could do. I had not actually crocheted any (wearable) hats in my life but I figured, I can do this. After all, how difficult can this be? I could crochet. I could read. I could count. Bring it on.
Twenty hats later, I can breathe a sigh of relief and declare that yes, I CAN crochet hats. I can even make not ugly ones. I can even sort of read a pattern. Somehow, though, something always goes awry. Don’t get me wrong. The hats are cute. They are various colors and sizes. They are mostly non-weird. But I am far from confident.
I made four or so berets before I managed to get a beanie made. I am still not totally sure exactly what I did wrong, but it’s obvious that something wasn’t quite right. In the meantime, my berets totally rock. I had no idea I could be so inventive in my stitches. I learned a new one: butterfly stitch. Except that MY butterfly stitch does not look that much like the pictures. I’m not sure where I went wrong, or how. All I know is that it’s a very different look. My hats have all sorts of cool textures and colors. They are chunky or soft or long or short or clunky or sleek. They are all unique, and I try to imagine who will wear each one.
I dream about the kids and hope that they will find smiles and hope and wholeness. I pray for them and their families. And their friends. Especially the friends who face the fear of losing a buddy, of not knowing how to give their hearts words, of watching their sick friend fight a battle no one else can share. I am thankful neither of my kids were ever in that situation and grateful for the robust health of my grandchildren. I catch my breath for a moment in the memory of one grandson who warned me never to be too happy, because everything can change in a heartbeat. How well I know this.
The hats are lined up on the counter at imaginarium. They perch there as a perky charm against this disease: cancer. They wait for more to join their ranks. I have the goal (at the moment) of having fifty hats. I am over half way. I am not the only one making the caps. There are others who wind their yarn and clack their needles.
A terrible thing happened, and I need to confess. The whole point of this project, or at least the INITIAL point and goal of this project was to use the scraps of yarn we have piled up at imaginarium. Then I read about a sale. I thought, I’ll just get a couple of different colors and textures. Just for accents. Over a hundred dollars later, I recognize and accept that I am a yarn hoarder. I STILL have mountains of yarn at imaginarium, and now I also have mountains of yarn at home as well. I love all of it. I love the way the yarn feels. I love the way the yarns contrast, and folds as I crochet.
My hook is silent in its work but I keep an eye on the flick of my wrist and the growing work in my hands. Again, I wonder about the children. It’s easy to worry, but I resist the temptation. Instead, I hold these unknown children in my heart and pray for each one. My own stack of hooks lies beneath my mini desk in front of my sofa. I sit here most of the time when I am not at work. I watch TV and crochet. My plan is coming to be. The collection looks good. I still can’t knit. But I can hook. And I can read. And I can count. And before Thanksgiving, I will have these hats, these offerings of love, bits of yarn along with the new pieces, I will have it all taken to Valley Children’s, and I will offer the love and hope in my heart to the children who would much rather not have a hat, but have their hair. And their classrooms and classmates.
Thank you to all of you who have shared yarn or patterns or encouragement. I believe that each person has something they can share with others; just some little thing that can lift someone else up from their humdrum day or their really rotten day. I try to watch for little moments where I can do or say something to bring a laugh, a smile, a lilt in a footstep… some moment of sunshine in an overcast day. Join me! You can find your own way to share love. It’s all good.