Friday, October 01, 2004

I've been thinking a lot about my grandmother lately. Last weekend I was walking by some stores and saw a needlepoint shop, and a pang of sadness came over me. It was closed, so I lingered, looking at all the patterns and colorful threads lining the walls. At the store display showing off a needlepointed clutch and change purse. A canvas of a tiger stared out at me from a rack of hanging canvas designs, ready for nimble fingers to take them on, and the pang stabbed again, a little deeper.

My grandmother taught me how to needlepoint, patiently teaching me the stitches and showing me how to stretch the canvas. She started me when I was around five or six years old, with a big needle and thick thread, my stitches uneven but pretty good for a five year old. I'd stitch some straight and some cross stitch, making monochromatic outlines of flowers or dogs and cats, with a single "X" for the eyes. My creations looked like crude hieroglyphics, all from the side view and with no perspective. My grandmother was proud of them nonetheless, and told me how good they were. When I was ready, we moved onto more grownup needle point, meaning smaller needles, tighter canvases, more colors and complicated stitches. We made trips to the house of friend of hers, walking up to the door and waiting outside in thick Arkansas heat. The door would open, a rush of air conditioner hit our faces and we'd be asked inside. I'd sit on the overstuffed couch with my little legs pointing straight outward and my round hoop sitting on my lap. My grandmother would sit with me or in other cases leave me there to be taught. I can't remember if some of the lessons were paid for, but I'm sure the ones where I was left with the lady and a couple other little girls were lessons that were paid for. Grandmother would return, and I'd show her what I'd done. I was also ready to shed the dress that she'd made me wear and go swimming.

As I stared into the store, so colorful and happy, I thought about all the knowledge that grandmother had about needlepoint, and how she had enjoyed it so much and shared it with me. I wondered where that knowledge had gone, now that she had passed away. Was it floating around, or did it just dissipate like steam in the air? The sad part was, that it had disappeared before that. She had suffered from Alzheimer's, and toward the end had trouble remembering a lot of things. As with all Alzheimer's sufferers, they have lucid moments, but then they have the moments like the time my grandmother looked at me and not being able to remember my name, referred to me as "one of them," meaning her grandchildren.

I know that some of that knowledge lives on in me. The appreciation for the art, the ability to do it if I want to, and I do want to. But where is the part that lived within her? It was sad to see the remnants of something she loved here on earth. The canvases that she wouldn't stitch, needles she wouldn't hold and thread she wouldn't use. Projects, that if I took it up again, I will not be able to show her. Since the store was closed, it added to the feeling of loss. With me standing on the outside, peering in at something I couldn't touch. No activity happening inside. Just still tools of the trade. Fully visible, but untouchable and unmovable. I felt as if that is how it had become to grandmother, and how grandmother had become to me. And I wondered again, where had she gone?

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