If you concentrate on what you don’t have,
you will never, ever have enough.
I sat with Grandma, my tongue between my teeth and a needle in my hand. She was teaching me to embroider pillow cases while she pieced a quilt top. Her admonishment that fancywork should look as tidy on the wrong side as it did on the right side kept running through my mind. I was nine and she was whatever advanced age a lady is when she has white wavy hair done up in a bun.
Grandma reached into a pasteboard box of cotton scraps, held a brown-paper pattern to the scrap, then looked for a similar piece of fabric to add on if the scrap was smaller than the pattern.
Not much went to waste. The cotton scraps started out as old dresses, shirts and aprons. She’d washed and pressed them. Then she cut the larger parts into strips for her rug braiding. The pasteboard box held the odds and ends. A pile of hand-stitched quilt blocks accumulated in the basket at her feet. The only thing that went into the waste bin next to the basket were tidbits that were too small to hold a stitch. Sometimes, she even gathered the debris in the waste bin and used it as stuffing in a pin cushion or little toy.
While we sat together, Grandma told me stories from her childhood in Kansas in the late 1800s. I heard only the happy or funny stories. She mentioned her mother without telling me about how hard it was to lose her when she was only thirteen. She talked about her father without mentioning the trials of taking over housekeeping when she was no more than a child. She thought nothing of knitting doilies from butcher string instead of fine commercial cotton, or reusing wallpaper catalogues to make scrap books and greeting cards. Financial wealth—or the lack there of—wasn’t part of her mindset. Grandma’s environment reflected her attitude. Her quilts were happy, her butcher-string doilies were elegant, her braided rugs were bright and inviting. Nothing looked like it was made of odds and ends.
I knit something for everyone on my Christmas list this year. As I finished each item, I put the leftover yarn in a bag. There is not enough of any one lot to make another item. The bag of odds and ends sits in a room that contains more belongings than Grandma ever owned in her entire lifetime. With this new year, it has been almost half a century since Grandma put away her needles and went to her eternal rest, but she is still with me. One of her braided rugs lies next to my bed that is covered with one of her sunny quilts. Her teapot sits on a doily on her mother’s black walnut table in my sun room. And her memory gives me an idea for an experiment for this year. I’ll buy nothing that isn’t absolutely essential. I’ll cultivate Grandma’s mindset of being thankful for what I have rather than yearning for something else. I’ll turn odds and ends into treasures.