- Snowflake No.1
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My mom’s mother, my Oma, knitted, crocheted, embroidered, and sewed skillfully. In the years I knew her, she spent evenings watching television news programs with my Opa, always working a project in her hands and lap.
My mom never learned to knit, but she crocheted and embroidered well, and sewed with even greater precision than her own mother.
I learned to sew in middle school home ec. The telephone-shaped pillow and stuffed toy schnauzer I made in that class are among a handful of sewing projects I’ve seen through to finish. I learned the basic knit and purl stitches from my Oma, but my completed knitting projects consist of only two scarves. Crocheting, I never tried.
The world of fabric, yarn, and thread feels like my country, but one I left early and have visited only briefly. Rows of heavy bolts of fabric, unrolled and measured against a yard stick built into a counter; cellophane packets of seam binding; neat lines of buttons on backing cards: the aisles of Joann, the chain fabric store, are achingly comfortable, bringing me back to trips there with my mom when she was taking in alterations as a way to make money.
My Oma died when I was in college, leaving behind hundreds of blankets, tablecloths, stuffed animals, sweaters, and socks. Too soon after, in my late twenties, my mom died too, and I inherited her handbags and pillow covers, skirts, pants, and dresses, holiday table runners. Tiny hardboiled egg cozies made to look like pastel chicks, with beaks and eyes on one end and pompom tail feathers on the other.
And snowflakes, delicate, white, which she used to crochet as Christmas tree decorations. When I was in elementary school, she made it a tradition to crochet one for my teacher each year and give it to her—always a her—in a holiday card before the winter break. Aside from those she gave away, I have a collection of twenty-two snowflakes made by my mom.
The blank gap that opens behind me in my mom and Oma’s absence reflects growing up in a time when taking on such projects was a choice rather than routine. I consider myself lucky that I was expected to pursue an education and a profession. I was never expected to care for my family by making and repairing our linens or clothes. And while my family modeled stitchery, when I felt the impulse to create, I gravitated toward arts—drawing, painting, and writing—that felt more communicative, expressive, and, I thought, more personal. I have often wondered if my Oma felt creatively satisfied by her handmade work, or if it felt to her more like repetition, as memorization is to learning—following someone else’s patterns. Yet there is part of me that envies those generations the way their stitch-work gave them daily occasions to meld necessity with beauty, detail beyond what was required for utility alone.
Two Christmases ago, as I hung the snowflakes my mom left to me, and again as I packed them away for the year, I was thinking about how she made them for my teachers.
I had been wanting for a while to continue that tradition. Especially, I felt, I [End Page 71] would like to make them for the teachers at our preschool, Great Beginnings, whom my husband Stephen and I have known and trusted since my older son started there when he was three years and eight months old. Kelly, Lenay, and Brandi had been role models to me not only as a parent, but also as a human being, practicing calm and patience in the midst of exuberance, crying, or defiance. When things were tough at home with my older son—his insecurity and flaring anger, my unsettled emotions and temper—I’d found true solace in knowing there was a place I could bring him and feel certain that he was okay.
But our time at Great Beginnings was running out. My younger son was going into his final year before moving on to kindergarten in public school. The next winter...