Yesterday, when I should have been working on the quilt Falling Leaves, I felt compelled to make a new blankie for my little granddaughter. I’d bought pink Dora the Explorer fabric months ago and had been debating how best to use it.
When I spread out the fabric, I was surprised to find I’d bought two yards. Inspiration hit. I folded it in half, trued it up, and started stitching. I decided it would be a simple, light blankie.
As I sewed she hung around, enthralled with a new creation for her collection. I smiled, thinking of the memories I was making for her. Little-girl memories I’d not been given.
I never knew my father’s mother; she died before I was born. And before I was old enough for school, I was given one fading memory of my mother’s mother, shortly before she died.
But when I turned ten, fate would step in and give me a surrogate grandmother. It happened when my older sister married. Rosa was nineteen, her husband not much older. But his mother, his adoptive mother, was old enough to be his grandmother.
She and her husband had long been childless when an acquaintance of theirs became pregnant with an unwanted baby. Both jumped at the chance to raise the child and lovingly brought him up in a tiny little house. When he chose to marry, they did not hesitate to move to an even tinier house in back.
They lived down the street from us and I took to visiting my sister frequently, but it was really her mother-in-law Antonia I wanted to see. Afternoons, Antonia would sit outside under a large mesquite tree and crochet filigree edgings onto white cotton pillow cases. She’d edge dish towels and place mats that she’d first embroidered with colorful flower bouquets. All destined to be gifts, she’d patiently pedaled them into being on her treadle sewing machine.
Her crocheting intrigued me. My eyes strained to follow the slim silver hook as it flew in and out of the cloth with a speed that practically made it invisible. Varicolored purple and pink edgings materialized where before there’d been none. Her head bent over her work, she’d tell me stories about growing up in old Mexico, but I barely listened.
“You want to learn how?” she finally asked one day.
“Yes,” I said, drawing closer.
“Here, hold it like this.”
And with that, the work was in my lap, my fingers fumbling with the steel crochet hook. Its needle-sharp point hurt when I stabbed my finger instead of the cloth. But with her infinite patience and soft voice, she coached me along until single crochet and double crochet made perfect sense.
The day came when she would adopt a second child, a girl on the cusp of teenage-hood. Mothering once more took up her time and the quiet afternoons were few, but by then I was well on my way to crafting my own simple creations.
When I turned eighteen I married and moved far away, but I took Antonia’s teachings with me and built on them. I learned about treble crochet, and countless other stitches. I bought my own sewing machine and took a sewing class, then delighted in making clothes for myself and my child.
Those days are long gone, nothing but memories now. Time has moved away from that human-powered sewing machine of Antonia’s and even from my first plain Singer. The machine I now own is not even a sewing machine; it’s a sewing computer.
I’ve lost count of how many afghans I’ve made, and half-forgotten many of the intricate stitches I used to make them. Most of those blankets are scattered hither and yon across the country, gifts sent from my heart.
My crafting time now spent primarily on quilting, I only crochet during the moments I sit down to watch TV. A blue and white canvas tote, given to me at a writer’s conference, sits on the end table next to my spot on the leather loveseat. Within it snuggles my current project, as it is never emptied of yarn.
Though my work area differs greatly from Antonia’s, I still feel the calm I knew then every time I pick up my aluminum crochet hook. Sometimes, I imagine I can see Antonia, her white hair parted in the center and pulled back tight, as she bends intently over her work in the south Texas heat.
It was she who instilled in me the love of crafting, and the joy of giving, under the peaceful shade of that mesquite tree. Thank you, Antonia. May you rest with the angels.