Sharon Randall: Memories stitched with love

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 10, 2011

It took a while to find it, the right box with the right stuff. Now that Iíve found it, I donít want to put it away.
Baby clothes. As keepsakes go, theyíre hard to beat. And even harder to part with.
I remember, as a little girl, how my grandmother taught me to crochet. Or rather, how she tried. I was not the sharpest needle in the pincushion.
ěHold the yarn like this,î she said, ěand the hook like that.î
Like this and like that.
OK so far.
ěNow make a loop, catch the yarn with the hook and pull it through until itís tight.î
Make a loop, catch something with something and … do what?
After several failed attempts left me on the verge of tears and her on the edge of losing her religion, she suddenly realized the problem.
ěYouíre right-handed!î she said, as if sheíd just noticed that I had two heads, ěand Iím left-handed! Iíve been teaching you to do it backwards!î
Switching hands helped considerably, but I would never have the talent, let alone the patience, to be anything like my grandmother, the Queen of Crochet ó a spindly legged, potbellied, butter-churning, God-fearing, snuff-dipping woman who could whip out an entire lace tablecloth during a single episode of ěGeneral Hospitalî and never miss her spit can or take her eyes off the TV.
I loved to sit beside her on the horsehair sofa tapping my toe to the ticking of the grandfather clock as she created one masterpiece after another, while I cranked out miles of unconnected chains. I was happy just watching her hands.
I wish you couldíve seen them.
Years later, after I left the South, moved to California of All Places, married a high-school basketball coach and started a family, imagine my surprise to receive in the mail a package addressed by my grandmotherís unmistakable spidery hand.
Pregnant with my second child, I was homesick for my family, so much so that before opening the package, I held it for several moments ó hugged it tight the way my grandmother would hug me ó pressing my face to its brown paper to inhale the faint musty scent of her old Hoosier cabinet.
Then I ripped it apart.
ěI made this for you and your sweet baby,î she wrote in a note. ěItís yellow for either a girl or a boy. I surely hope I get to hold that baby someday.î
She had crocheted the tiny sweater and bonnet from the softest cotton imaginable with countless delicate stitches that looked like the shells from a thousand shores.
As I studied those stitches, I could picture her hands ó skin speckled with age, fingers bent with arthritis, palms open to whatever life held. Somehow I wasnít homesick anymore.
Two months later, my newborn daughter came home from the hospital wearing that sweater and bonnet, all bundled up in a bright yellow blanket.
Her 3-year-old ěbigî brother said she looked like a banana ó the most beautiful banana Iíd ever seen.
She was 18 months old before we went to the South for a visit. But her great-grandmother most surely got to hold her.
This morning, some 30 years hence, with my grandmother long departed, I opened a box, found that sweater and bonnet, and, once again, I saw her hands.
I hope my daughter will see them, as well, when she opens the package I plan to give her.
I hope she will see, not just the handiwork, but the hands.
When she was a little girl, she loved to dress her Cabbage Patch dolls in the sweater and bonnet she had worn as a baby.
I suspect sheíll also love, a few months from now, seeing her first real baby wear them, too.

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