My grandmother never wasted anything. Having lived through two World Wars, she had developed skills most of us never will. For example, when she was done using a tea bag, she’d hang it up to dry on a rack above the kitchen sink, then try to eke out another cup of tea. When the tea was done for teamaking, she opened the tea bag, dampened a wad of tea, and used if to clean our oriental carpet in the living room. She moved the tea leaves across every inch of the brown and black carpet, on her aching knees, with a scrub brush. She said it got the dust out. She found uses for stockings with runs, leftover string and rubber bands, and bits of yarn from her many projects knitting and crocheting.
I was the recipient of many of those projects. If I wanted a new sweater, I simply asked for one. Mom and I would go and buy the yarn, and Grandma would make it. I might have to wait until my birthday or Christmas to get the new sweater, but it always arrived.
Grandma made afghans in her spare time. It was a secret income source for her. Since my grandfather would not allow her any money of her own, she would begin two identical afghans, but always hide one, so he thought she was only making one. She would finish them at about the same time. The $40. she sold one for, my grandfather made her hand over to him. But the $40. for the second afghan he never knew about and so she kept the money for herself – hidden, of course. She hid her money in between her shoes and their rubbers, and in her box of stockings, in-between the layers of nylons.
On a special occasion was I was about 22 and nearing graduation, Grandma presented me with an Afghan – the one in the picture. A zigzag pattern of reds, dark greens, off-whites, yellows, blue, and a color like maize. I hugged her and thanked her, thinking that these colors really did not go with my new apartment at all.
Once I got it home, I examined it more carefully. The yellow yarn was from the cable knit cardigan she made me in fifth grade. The green was from the sweater she made me when I went off to Girl Scout camp after 5th grade, to match the dark green Bermuda shorts that were the standard uniform. The red was the loose knit red sweater with the glass buttons she made for me in 7th grade, when all the girls were wearing mohair sweaters and I didn’t have one.
In high school, Mom made me a kilt, and I wanted a pullover sweater to go with it. I saw the leftover yarn from that. And finally, when I took up downhill skiing as a teen, I needed a ski sweater. So she made me an off-white Scandinavian style cable knit. My grandmother, throughout my early years, was always keeping me warm, and those sweaters kept me warm for much of my life.
For years, I did not know what to do with all the sweaters, none of which fit anymore. They filled an entire trunk. I was sharing this with an elderly friend one day, about how I was keeping them, conflicted about what to do with them.
“That’s just stupid,” my friend pronounced, known for being candid and forthright. “They could be keeping someone warm.” She was right, of course. So I only kept one sweater, and the rest moved on to warm other young women in this very cold place we live in.
The afghan lives in my home office on my reading chair. If I am chilly, it wraps me in my grandmother’s love. With it, I feel close to her. And in times I have felt wounded or alone, I have sought the afghan for comfort. And, sometimes, I still do.