When I was growing up, I was blessed to spend a lot of time with my paternal grandmother. Twice she and my grandpa moved to the city my parents moved to, thereby always giving me grandparents nearby. She was the mother of four sons so when she was eventually given four granddaughters she was happy to use her considerable skills to sew frilly dresses and crochet Barbie clothes instead of mostly patching the knees of blue jeans.
She was an amazing seamstress, quilter, and all-around super crafter. Considering that this was before the age of Pinterest boards and the ever-present influence of Martha Stewart, it’s even more extraordinary. When my sisters and I visited her, she found all kinds of projects for us to do. Before I got married, she even taught me how to make her famous chocolate chip cookies—the ones she had always had frozen batches of, ready for any grandkids who might drop by. (To this day, I still prefer my chocolate chip cookies frozen.)
She’s the one who taught me how to make things from plastic canvas. For those of you unfamiliar with this oft-dismissed craft medium, it consists of sheets of plastic grids that can be cut and sewn together with yarn to construct a variety of objects. Full nerd disclosure: I may or may not have subscribed to Plastic Canvas magazine at one time.
I made door hangers and drink coasters and doll beds out of plastic canvas, but the thing I made most was tissue cozies. In case you’re wondering, that’s a decorative box to cover your tissue box. We plastic canvasers believe that a naked Kleenex box is a travesty and the spread of such debauchery is probably responsible for most of what’s wrong in the world, including the recent election. I made Christmas themed ones and ones with stripes and polka dots and argyle designs and even one that looked like a two-story, Cape Cod-style house complete with movable shutters (the tissues came out the chimney).
Along with plastic canvas, my grandmother also taught me how to crochet. She kept a Malibu Barbie at her house to use as a model for all of the outfits she would make from yarn. Watching her hands fly through the complicated finger acrobatics required to make a miniature sweater dress was like watching an Olympic gymnast. She made it look easy and impossible at the same time. I practiced the craft but never really achieved much mastery. I went back to the tissue cozy instead.
When I was married and a mother to young babies, I found myself yearning to crochet again. My grandmother lived 200 miles away so I went to a yarn store and let some ladies try to reteach me the basics. I made a hat for my sister’s new baby, but it didn’t go much farther.
A few years later, after my grandmother passed away, the pull toward crocheting was even stronger. Her passing left a hole in many ways and maybe I wanted to fill it in a tiny bit with links of yarn. Silly but true. I found books and patterns and started to teach myself the craft…again. This time I made scarfs and baby blankets and afghans. I wanted to make something tangible and comforting for the people I loved most.
For me, carrying on the tradition of crocheting is like picking up a stone. When the Israelites passed through the Jordan River, the Lord told Joshua to instruct twelve men to pick up a stone from the middle of the once-flowing but now miraculously stopped river and stack them up where they would camp that night. He wanted the stones to stand as a memorial for all that had happened. He wanted them to see this very tangible representation of their rescue and tell their children about it and their children’s children.
The holidays are the perfect time to find those stones. Families gather and the regular routines are paused just like that rolling Jordan River. It’s a time to look at where you’ve been and be grateful. Some years, this is easier than others. The older I get the more I realize that every family has at least a touch of dysfunction and heartache.
I’m not saying you should disregard or ignore all of the dysfunction—Heaven knows these things can continue on to future generations if they aren’t aired out and dealt with—but do find the parts of your family, the traditions and the stories and the memories of honey-colored afternoons full of pleasantness (even if they are few and far between), and celebrate them. Make connections. Carry on the best parts through blessed rituals and shared interests. Stack up your own pile of gratefulness. Then, sit back and tell the story of how far you’ve come.