Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Stitch in Time

According to Urban Dictionary, "a stitch in time saves nine" means "that it is better to deal with problems immediately rather than later as things will worsen and take longer to amend."

Hmm, tackle a problem now instead of letting things build and grow worse... doesn't seem to apply to me at all...

Enough sarcasm. On Sunday I started a counted cross stitch project that has been sitting around collecting dust for years. It's part of a set of three pictures of garden vegetables that will match my kitchen nicely. The other two pictures (of tomatoes and peppers) have been completed and sitting in a shirt box for ... holy crap, 9 or 10 years! Once I get this final project, the artichoke, done, I plan on getting all three framed and will hang in my kitchen.

I can't believe it's been 10 years since I seriously cranked out any needlework. Actually, it was 15 years ago this summer that I learned how to do it.

On July 14, 1992, my dad, my sister and I were in Alaska on a rare (in fact, only) father-daughter trip to salmon fish the Kvichak River. Dad got a call from home and came to us later to inform us that his dad, my Grandpa Harold, collapsed at his favorite diner that morning and was life flighted to Pittsburgh with a ruptured aorta. Despite their attempts to save him, the damage was too severe and he passed away.

A few days ago my mother and I were talking about this 15th anniversary and how this event was really a major turning point in our family, or should I say the eventual dissolution of our extended family. Grandpa Harold was a quiet man who sometimes came off as gruff, but he was truly the keystone of our family, the stable, solid presence who kept everyone civil and smoothed over ruffled feathers. Without him, the petty bickering, old resentments and festering issues that he managed to keep in check went out of control.

For me personally it was also a watershed moment. The day of his funeral was the day I finally realized that my father would never be able to be there for me emotionally in any capacity. I don't know what I cried over more: the loss of my grandfather or the death of my dreams of having a close, loving, supportive relationship with my father.

I don't hold any bitterness or anger about my father's actions during that time. He was under a massive amount of stress and trauma, and for a person who always avoided confrontation and unpleasantness when he could, this was unbearable. His method of coping was running away from us, which isn't that unusual, and turning to his coping device, alcohol. How many of us run away from our problems or escape into some kind of substance? I've certainly had my drug of choice all these years.

I've written a little about my dad before, but if you're new, this moment of realization actually helped me. Once I let go of those old expectations of what I wanted from my father, I learned to accept what he could give me. Since that time our relationship has actually improved because I know his limits and don't set myself up for disappointment like I used to.

Anyway, back to the needlework. I was home from college that summer, and after the funeral I moved in to my grandmother's house and lived with her until the fall semester began. My Grandma Kate and I had a lot in common -- to this day people tell me I look like her and have her caring nature. She was such a well-loved person in our little town and to this day I catch myself wanting to emulate her.

Grandma was famous for her prolific needlework. In the spring she would have us grandchildren go through her catalogs and pick out projects we liked, and that Christmas we would get it as a gift. My house is filled with beautiful needlepoint pillows, framed pictures and a foot stool, among other things. She was also part of our church's needlepoint group and contributed a large part to the altar paraments and the Christmas Nativity set. She also contributed to a plastic canvas reproduction of our Main Street district from the turn of the century.

Up until the last year of her life Grandma was dedicated to her needlepoint. After supper she would sit on her sofa and stitch away through the 6 o'clock news, Wheel of Fortune and all the prime time shows, then finally finish up for the night with the 11 o'clock news. I have stacks of photographs of all the pictures she took of each project before she gave them away; it's amazing how much she produced.

That summer, the summer she lost her husband of more than 50 years, she taught me how to do needlepoint. I remember sitting on her back porch working on plastic canvas bookends (you put bricks inside them before stitching them shut) and a tissue box cover that looked like a goldfish bowl. Before long I graduated from plastic to fabric backed projects which were much more intricate and detailed.

Then one afternoon Grandma took me to her friend's house. Mary was a counted cross stitcher, and she gave me a little starter project of a little owl. After that I still did some needlepoint, but after that I veered more and more toward counted cross stitch projects. Part of it was because I knew Grandma would be making me a needlepoint project each year, so it freed me up to do something else.

I remember being so proud when I gave Grandma a framed counted cross stitch picture of a cardinal on a snowy lamp post as a Christmas present. Grandma loved cardinals and often wore a sweater with the red bird embroidered on it. It felt wonderful to be able to give her something made by my hand, after all the years of giving to us.

But the gift she gave me continued throughout the years. I loved doing needlework. I would get so absorbed by a project I'd stay up half the night stitching away. When I lived with my ex-boyfriend some of our best Sunday afternoons were spent on the couch watching football games while I worked on some cross stitch.

As I've mentioned before, I quit doing needlework when Mabel came into my life. It was hard to concentrate on a project when I had a toddler who needed constant supervision, and I couldn't afford to stay up half the night when I needed all the sleep I could get.

Even now, as I'm beginning this new project, I feel like I should be doing something else around the house: cleaning, organizing, etc. I've allowed my life to get so hectic and stressful with things that need to be done, not necessarily what I want to do.

But, as my daughter is fond of saying lately, "How's that working for ya?" Obviously, not very well.

So I'm paying attention to the old idiom "a stitch in time saves nine." I'm resurrecting what was once a very pleasurable, stress relieving, and non-food recreation for me, and I'm enjoying it greatly. I'm not waiting when I have more time, or when my home office is finally organized. I'm doing it Now.

Better yet, Mabel is interested in it, and I've started her on a latch hook project. But she's already got her sights on needlepoint and counted cross stitch, too. If my grandmother is able to, she must be smiling as she looks down at me and my daughter as we work on our projects together. It's a tradition being handed down to another generation, and it's me putting conscious living into action.


Nicola said...

The last paragraph of that post sent tingles down my spine. It was wonderful :)

Anonymous said...

Talk about de ja vu! Reading about your grandfather reminded me of how my mother had been the 'hub of the wheel' for our family. Her death was like someone had taken on old wooden wagon wheel and whacked it apart into bits and pieces of wood. And to this day I can't bring a mental picture of my dad to mind without him either drinking a beer or glass of wine. I now realize that for all his intelligence, wit and open, easy going manner, he was still an emotionally unavailable person. Now my grandmother (dad's mom) was also an 'ace' knitter/crochet person who had NO TALENT what so ever in working with other people. To this day the thought of knitting or crocheting is distasteful due to her trying to 'teach' me these skills. Needless to say, her 'auchtung!' attitude (sie mussen!!) turned me OFF and killed any interest I had too.

Lastly, I used to embrodier (sp?) and turned out lovely pieces, but I eventually lost interest because I'm really not a 'cutsie' type of person. So I ended up sewing clothes and even household fabric projects (re did sofa/loveset etc.) Having a talent and being able to look at the results is VERY enriching. Good for you to have re-claimed your craft :)eekk