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.
Your Grandmother was a beautiful lady, both inside and out. I regret that I never had the opportunity to meet her.
Lovely post, Katherine, and a really good challenge for all of us to consider. I was musing yesterday that I spend more of my weekend hours putting my “stuff” away and in order than I do relaxing, so I think I have become a slave to my belongings in a sense. It’s all such a big distraction.
Your grandma is beautiful. Reminds me of my own great grandma who was born in Kansas, with her kind face, white hair pulled back, and sweet spectacles. With serene faces that don’t give a hint to the years of hardship they lived through.
Katherine Misegades said:
Bless your bones. That is such a good idea — the mitered square throw. I can do it at random and it will be interesting. It can also grow over time.
Those sock scraps would make a wonderful mitered square throw to put over your lap in your recliner on a cold winter morning or evening. I’ve also always thought you looked so very much like your mother and your Grandma Black. I think you also have their common sense and sharing nature. I am so very thankful for all you and they have shared with me over the years.
(I also keep all my yarn scraps and bag the pieces that are only just inches long, which if I don’t have something to stuff with them, I put out for the birds and squirrels :^)
Your Grandma, what a beautiful woman! and what wonderful memories. I love the frugality, her sensibilities if you may :^)
Other than …ahem…yarn and fibre… well, and going to market for food… we don’t spend much around here, we wear our clothes to a fare thee well, (I’m very partial to thrift stores if I think I need something, which is rare)(Bobby spends his life in jeans and t-shirts and sweats) and seriously, if everyone were like us our economy would plunge but I rather like not being a big consumer… and really, isn’t most of it just a buncha crap? :^)
Lovely lovely post, thank you!
Moma, It is amazing how much she looks like you and Grandma all rolled into one. It has been some time since I have seen this picture.