Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mom's Art

When my mother was about 12 years old, she became fascinated with knitting. She'd seen the mother of her friend, Judy, knitting beautiful sweaters and she wanted to do it too. Never being one to be very bold, she didn't ask to be taught. However, being what she terms 'very stubborn', she was carried on the winds of determination, and she taught herself. She went to the library and borrowed books to instruct her how to do the stitches and patterns. There was one obstacle, she had no knitting needles. It was depression times, and money was scarce. With "Where there's a will, there's a way" as her life-long motto, she did not give up. Somehow, somewhere, she does not remember either, she came upon some long nails. Two of them became her first knitting needles.

That was more than 70 years ago. Since that time, she has used her skills to knit useful and lovely things. During World War II, as a teenager, she knitted socks and sweaters for soldiers. After she and Dad were married, and babies started coming, she knitted tiny sweaters and hats and booties for her own children and her nephews and a niece. While I was in my school years, I always had at least one pretty sweater of her making in my wardrobe each year. I can remember one of my favorite grade school teachers, Miss Muriel Porter, always remarking to me about my beautiful sweaters and how lucky I was to have such a talented mother. She was one of many who complimented my mother's skills.

My father always had a pair of knitted socks to keep his feet warm. I, too, had knitted socks that worked so well in my ice skates and snow boots. Along with hats and matching mittens, I was shielded against the East coast cold. I think, at various times, we all had slipper socks which she'd made, too.

Mom didn't work outside the home, but she worked at her craft. Often I'd arrive home from school to find her sitting on 'her' end of the couch with knitting needles clicking quickly against each other. This wasn't 'work' to her. She was doing what she loved to do, creating. For a number of years, she made knitted layettes which were donated to Birthright, for new babies she would never meet. She knitted lap robes for Veteran's homes or for RSVP (Retired Seniors Volunteer Program). She sold baby items she'd made at a consignment shop called Whimsey's, and gathered individual customers who came to her time after time for custom-knitted suits, sweaters and other items. I often have wondered how many babies, how many people were clothed in my mother's creativity. How many elderly veterans had their knees covered by Mom's projects?

In time, new family members came along and a new generation was begun. They, too, were blessed to wear small-size creations with lovely patterns. The boys wore cables and ribs, the girls had lace and shell stitches. There were miniature Fisherman knits sweaters and cardigans, pull-overs and jackets. Tiny hands bore mittens, wee feet wore booties, little new bald heads were dressed in Grandma's hats. Each of us was a walking gallery of Mom's art.

Babies quickly grew to school aged grandchildren, and still, they were presented with Grandma's creations. On to college, into marriage, the sweaters continued. Grandma became GrGrandma to eleven, and the knitting needles continued to click.

These days Mom's sight is sorely affected by Macular Degeneration. She was declared 'legally blind' by the eye doctor, but Mom will not be deterred. Her sight presents her with challenges which make it more difficult to complete her work as swiftly. When she adds a stitch, or drops one, it's hard for her to know, until she's well beyond the error. When she finds it, she must unravel rows and rows sometimes, in order to repair the mistake. I saw her frustration at the end of last year, as she strove to work on sweaters for my four daughters for Christmas (2008) Time and again she would measure. Over and over again she would check the pattern of her pieces. They had to be 'just so' or they wouldn't be right.

On Christmas morning in New York state, two of Mom's thirty-something granddaughters tore open their gifts. When they reached Gram's, tears were shed as they touched the softness and the multi-patterned Fisherman knit pull overs. Here, at our house, where the others had gathered on Christmas day, the scene was similar. When I opened my gift from Mom, there was a surprise! I, too, had an ornately-patterned cardigan Fisherman knit! Watching the struggle she had as she worked on my daughters' four sweaters, I had no thought that I'd have one, too. In fact, I feared that the girls would be the recipients of the last of Mom's handwork. But, she will not be defeated! She is currently in the process of making her own new Fisherman knit garment.

What a blessing it is to have these gifts, her quilts (a story for another time) and all the knitted and crocheted items including the four sweaters that I wear. I've saved many of the tiny baby sweaters. I also have several pairs of mittens, hats, a cozy, fringed afghan with cables, diamonds, lacey patterns knitted into it. There are crocheted, lacey, white placemats, table doilies, handmade table cloths with her croched lace trim, crocheted and tatted lace on sheets and pillow cases, hand-quilted placemats, tatted lace snowflakes and Christmas tree ornaments. There are tatted crosses in my Bible, to mark the places I am reading. These are treasures which I show off. I am so proud of the things my mother has done, and every one of these gifts made by her diligent hands and determined spirit is precious to me. I wish I still had so many of the other items she'd made, but as life moves on, things wear out.

All four of my daughters and two of my granddaughters will be here next week to surprise Mom and to celebrate 83rd birthday. I have requested that all of them bring their latest sweater from Mom. She will undoubtedly be wearing one of her own, as well. I'll request that Mike wear his rainbow striped Mom-knitted socks too! We'll gather for a photo, nine of us, and after processing, we'll present that photo to Mom and each keep a copy for ourselves, as a reminder of her birthday and of her love for us.

It is my hope, that no matter how long God grants life to Mom, that she is able to continue to create as she does. Her busy hands have blessed so many in so many ways, and she has enjoyed every moment of it...almost as much as we appreciate her efforts!