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  • Writer's pictureSarah Carter

Blankets 22 yrs in the making

My maternal grandmother passed away in 1997 from a wicked cocktail of issues all stemming from a life of smoking at least a pack of cigarettes a day since she was 15. On the best days, she was a tough personality to live with - akin to wearing coarse, wool underwear. The worst of days were something else entirely and I tended to spend those days outside for as long as I could manage. I think if you were to be able to speak with her even today, so many years after her last breath, that she would have one kind thing to say sandwiched between at least two negative observations on either end.

She tried desperately to teach me piano, flowing cursive writing, my multiplication tables, basic spelling, and several other things that my brain, or my inability to sit still longer than a sneeze, could not manage to contain. She did manage to teach me one skill that I enjoy now which wasn't always the case. She taught me to crochet. How she managed this, I have no idea (I think she may have enlisted my mother's help). I was more at home in the grease coated garage with my grandfather wrenching away at some stubborn bolt on his most recent rust bucket then I was sitting with her in the living room, quietly watching her stories.

Whatever her methods of imprinting this skill into my child brain, I am eternally grateful because it allowed me to complete the works she began in her final months. I vividly remember sitting with her on one of her last good days as she fluidly twisted and hooked a warm combination of cream and dusty rose yarn together at a surprisingly swift speed. I was memorized by it, as I often was when I watched her work, and I asked her who it was for secretly hoping it was for me. My wish came true a second later when she told me that this one was indeed for me. She went on to tell me that there were two more she had begun - one for my cousin Jake and the other for my cousin Derek who was barely a year old - in the box next to her chair. I peeked in to see what colors they would be receiving. I told her they were good for boys and that I was happy she had picked pink for me. I remember her laughing but that it was not the laugh from the rest of my childhood. My eyes welled up with tears because I knew her time was limited and, no matter how 12-year-old me felt about her prickly personality, I would miss her.

That was the last time I thought of those blankets until last year. I spent a month in Florida after separating from the Navy and moving from DC before I was able to move out to Okinawa (thank you Marine Corps for constantly reinventing wheels...that is a story for another day). I found many ways to stay busy there besides lounging on the beach getting a solid tan before winter came. The most time consuming way I found was helping my dad organize the chaos that was their THREE storage units. This proved to be a combination treasure hunt/workout that unearthed items I do not think any of us fathomed still existed.

Amongst the boxes of Disney VHS tapes, airplane blankets, still wrapped undesignated Christmas presents, hordes of books, and various other items was a box labeled "yarn" in my mom's careful handwriting. I do love yarn so I pulled it open to see if any was salvageable after being in storage. It turned out to not just be yarn but some unfinished projects as well...including the two blankets that, in that moment, I did not remember at all. All the unused yarn in the box seemed to match the projects so I packed it up in the car to take home and sort out.

Once at home, I brought the box of yarn/projects back to the guest room and sat down to sort it out. My mom had laid a stack of clean laundry on the bed while I was gone so I paused to move those out of the way of the box. Before I could set it down on the now cleared bed, I saw the cream and dusty rose blanket on the foot of the bed and a flash of the afore mentioned memories came back to me. I dug into the box with furvor and uncovered the two, partially completed blankets from my childhood memory. Before I jumped to conclusions I text both Jake and Derek to ask if they had every received blankets from our grandmother. They confirmed my suspicions when they both said no and I admittedly cried. An opportunity I could not have ever pictured, even if my grandmother had told me herself, had presented itself and I was not going to pass it up.

I packed those two partial blankets, all their yarn, the pattern I found for one of the two, and the last two "crocheted for you by Phyllis" tags I could find into my carry on suitcase for my trip to Okinawa. It was not even a week from my arrival on Okinawa in October of 2018 before I began to work on the green, more complete blanket. Trouble with that one was that it did not have a pattern. I poured over the body of work that had already been done and wrote out my best guess for the remaining rows. I started, undid, and reworked rows several times until I finally got it blended in right with the original work she'd done. I finished that one well in time for Christmas of 2018 and had hoped to do the same for the other, less completed blanket but it proved a wrought opponent even with a pattern. I chose to send the green blanket to Jake for Christmas 2018 and to come back to the second one once my frustration had dissipated.

I did not pick up Derek's blanket again until almost a year after arriving in Okinawa. I thought that with a cooler head it would come together better, and more quickly, than the first stab i'd taken at it. My how I was wrong! I worked, unraveled, and reworked that blanket until I almost gave up all the while trying to remain focused on just how special of a gift it would be. When it came time for us to travel back to the states for Thanksgiving and Jake's wedding, I was panicking that I wouldn't get it done for Christmas so I brought it with me. Any spare time I had on our vacation home I spent weaving the last details into that project. I proudly completed it the day before we had to leave to return to Okinawa and left it for my parents to deliver to Derek for Christmas.

Jake was speechless when he received his blanket. His beautiful bride, Nicki, called with tears in her eyes to tell me just how much it meant to them both. Jake was 11 when our grandmother passed and could sit still even less than I could. We would spend hours in our grandparent's home "reorganizing" the Tupperware cabinet, helping to bake cakes and cookies by licking the mixing bowl clean, racing in the pool, and running around in the woods behind their house until we could barely stand up. Sitting was not our nature and because of that I don't know that he ever knew the magic her hands could work with yarn. To be able to bring that magic and those memories to him 22 years later is a complicated feeling I can only describe as honor but even that doesn't seem to do it justice.

To be able to bring that same thing to Derek who was just barely one when she passed, is a whole other set of emotions. He was loved so much by someone who knew he'd never remember them. You don't have to have known her and her gruff way to see the love that took. She was determined to try even though her illnesses were more determined to win. I may have completed the stories but her even starting those two blankets when she could have stopped and surrendered to the pain...that is the real story here.

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