A Gift

Mom’s Christmas afghan and my recipe story book.

Mom switched on the table lamp next to her upholstered rocking chair and sat down. She said, “Days start getting longer after December 21st, but for the first month each day’s change is only small chicken steps.” Turning to me, she ordered, “Turn on the lamp next to the davenport.” I chuckled. Her description of how slowly days became longer for the first month after the winter solstice always made me laugh.

Outside our warm, well-lit farmhouse, cold winter winds howled as they built snow drifts. I snuggled contentedly against the living room heat register. Mom opened a bag and pulled out a skein of yarn and a crochet hook. I watched with surprise. At fourteen years of age, I’d often seen Mom sew clothing for the family, but this was something new. Curious, I asked, “What are you making?”

Pulling a small, colorful crocheted block from the bag, Mom proudly explained, “This pattern is called a granny square.” I scooted to her side and took the square from her. It was made with four different colors. Mom happily stated, “I’m going to make a lot more like the one you’re holding and then stitch them together to make an afghan.”

Frowning, I repeated the foreign word, “Afghan?” I didn’t know it at the time, but for the rest of Mom’s life, “afghan” was a part of our family’s normal, everyday vocabulary. She made several afghans for each person in the family, as well as baby blankets, lace collars, slippers and more.

Mom reminisced, “As a young girl, I never enjoyed knitting. Ma knit all the time. She kept yarn in her apron pocket. When she was old, she was restless and walked around the house knitting socks. She didn’t need to look down to see what she was doing. We always knew where she was by the click-clack of her needles.”  

Watching Mom be creative inspired me. During my high school years, I tried crocheting, embroidering, sewing and finally knitting. I learned to do all these things, but eventually felt restless and bored. One day, while trying to make the knitting needles behave, I threw them down and never picked them up again.

Mom had confided, “I started to crochet when I was 64 years old because I wanted to leave my children and grandchildren something special so they would remember me. Mom loved to give gifts. When I visited her, she always gave me something to take home, be it a plate of cookies, or a magazine.  

I liked the pretty doilies, afghans, shawls, table cloths, bedspreads and crocheted lace curtains my Mom made, but the creative outlet I wanted to engage in is writing. Unfortunately, I did not recognize writing as a form of art, and every attempt I made was poorly done. When teachers and family members pointed out what was wrong with the stories I wrote, my hurt feelings and embarrassment got in the way of learning how to improve. Months and years passed between my attempts at writing.

The summer I was 38 years old I finally felt so strongly compelled to write that I swallowed my pride and listened to constructive criticism. Instead of tossing my writing aside, I’d try the suggestions I’d been given. The turning point was when I learned to focus my writing to one period of time, one incident and one thought.

My mother was content crocheting for hours. If she ever accidentally dropped a stitch and didn’t notice right away, she’d patiently rip out all the work and start over again from that point. I marveled at her patience. Working and reworking one afghan square for hours would have driven me stir-crazy! Yet, I noticed I was able to contentedly spend hours working and reworking one paragraph in an article without feeling bored or impatient.

Mom saw the things she crocheted as a gift to her descendants. Like Mom, I see my writing as a gift for my grandchildren and great grandchildren. We hand on pieces of ourselves for them to get to know even when we are no longer here.

A pretty poinsettia afghan Mom made for me many years ago is draped over my living room rocking chair, reminding me of the cozy winter evenings spent with her. Her comment how each day at the end of December lengthens by only small chicken steps echoes through time, still making me laugh.

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