Crocheting and Crying

This year as I celebrate 20 years of teaching Write Your Life as a Woman, I’m sharing some older articles and columns inspired by the class.

Crocheting and Crying
by T. Dean Adams
This article originally appeared in skirt! magazine in 1998.

For the past year I have had the urge to crochet. Though I rarely have maternal urges, the desire to crochet feels similar. My great-aunt Myrt learned to crochet when she retired from fifty years of working at a textile mill. She taught my mother, who has crocheted for as long as I can remember.

In most memories of my mother, she is crocheting; her fingers move a needle in and around yarn in a steady comforting rhythm while she talks. Her fingertips count stitches and she seldom even looks down at what she’s doing. Yarn and a needle are always with her like a pocket book. She can make pretty much anything you can think of: scarves, hats, afghans, little Christmas wreaths and Easter bunnies to wear as pins, frilly collars, shawls and bedroom shoes.

My mother crocheted while she waited for me after dance classes, while she sat through football games to watch me perform with the band at half-time. When I moved to Los Angeles she rode with me and crocheted her way across all the oddly-shaped states slammed up against each other, making delicate cross-shaped Bible markers.

She was crocheting during our last big fight. The one we still gingerly step around. The one that made me feel I’d left the tribe for good and the person I’ve become would never be let back in.

I left my family, my tribe, on my own. I went to college, moved and moved and moved and moved and never even thought of moving back to my hometown. I left the church, left the beliefs I grew up on and became activist. I even left the kitchen – the womb of all comfort and care, where love cannot be denied in a green bean casserole and salmon patties, and became a vegetarian. I write the truth, as best I can, as bravely as I can, about me, my life, my story – which is also their story, for total strangers to read.

Aunt Myrt died last month and I suppose I have known for the last year it would be soon. I knew the day she died, knew when I saw the light blinking on the answering machine with the message from my mom. I loved Aunt Myrt because she loved my mother. She loved me too, but she never knew me the way she knew my mother, who she loved like her own daughter. Having no children of her own, she cared for everyone else’s children. Now grown and spanning the ages of twenty to sixty, the children she’s loved each think they were her favorite.

I finally bought yarn and needles and started a scarf. Never stopping to think, “I don’t know how to do this.” Some odd mother-line osmosis gave me the innate ability to crochet with only a quick glance at instructions. Every time I pick up the needle I have to concentrate at first: around, down, around, pull through, around, pull through two, around, pull through two more. After a few rows my fingers fly and stitch-by-stitch a scarf flows from my hands.

It makes so much sense for me to crochet, I told myself. I can make all my holiday gifts. But when I started the scarf, when I tied my first loop knot to begin, I felt nothing logical. The first stitches, the first rows were like a big sigh after holding my breath. I crocheted and cried. This first purple scarf will be full of wanting. Wanting to be part of my family I feel so far from though geographically they are close.

One row is an apology because I did not go to Aunt Myrt’s funeral. It is a weakness I hope to outgrow, but I cannot go to funerals. I fear the sorrow may consume me and I will never stop crying. There are rows and rows of love. Maternal love, not just from biological mothers, but also the kind my aunt gave my mom, and she gave my sister and me, and we all give to each other.

There is a row of forgiveness for the times my big spirit scared them and they tried to hold me back. And a row of sorrow for the years apart. A row of the things I never told them that I wish I could. Another row of apology for the mean things I said and did and wish I hadn’t.

Around, down, around, pull though, around, pull through two, around, pull through two more. I crochet now to relax, to think, and when I don’t know what else to do. The very act conjures up the spirit of my aunt and my mother and I feel the gift of their love and strength, the hope that forgiveness brings, and the grounded feeling of being true to myself, honoring both what I’ve been given and what I’ve become on my own.

Soon it will be winter, and I know this scarf and the peace it brings will keep me warm.