If you've talked to me for longer than five minutes, you've likely heard me mention my 98-year old grandma, Lillian. My grandma is the kind of person who gets dressed up for life every day: gold statement earrings, a bold red lip, and probably something velvet. She loves to go thrifting and finds great meaning in buying something on sale. One time, the National Council for Jewish Women Thrift Store displayed an outfit she donated on a mannequin in the front window and we still hear about it even now. She spent years as a docent at LACMA, studied Spanish in Mexico as an adult simply because she wanted to pick up a second language, and collected teacups from her world travels with my grandpa in their younger age.
My grandma is an artist first and foremost. She loves painting, crafting, acting, and, most of all, dancing. She hand-knitted and crocheted each of her thirteen grandchildren (and eighteen great-grandchildren!!) personalized baby blankets, hats, and sweaters. My grandma is young in spirit and one of the most active humans I know—always running off for a game of bingo, art class, or for her theatre rehearsals. More than anything, though, Grandma Lillian possesses the incredible gift of making the sweetest lemonade out of all of the lemons life has thrown at her. And there have been some sour lemons. If it isn’t clear, I admire her tremendously.
Like many people, I can’t see my grandma right now. She currently resides in a retirement living center which has almost entirely sealed off access to the outside world with the exception of a very few essential workers. It feels uncomfortably ironic how much I’d love to go visit her there at this moment. To my chagrin, I spent many Saturday afternoons of my childhood whining about having to go to visit her and my grandfather, before he passed away. I didn’t like how the home smelled, that the fish tank was sparsely populated and murky, that some of the residents seemed confused about where, and perhaps who they were. I didn’t like wearing the sweaters she crocheted for me and deemed the ones that came from Limited Too much cooler. Isn’t it interesting how self-centered and limited we can be at different points in our development? How that can feel like an entirely separate person? All of this to say, I miss her deeply and, despite regular telephone communication (she does not have a computer for video calls), I feel horribly that she is so alone right now.
On a recent call with her, she asked if I was still crocheting. A few years ago, she pronounced me a “hooker” (she really did say, verbatim, “Now with crocheting you use a hook, you’re a hooker!”) and taught me how to make a simple, no-frills scarf. It was bright red, and really a novice project. I initially struggled to get the right hand motions down and felt almost immediately frustrated that it wasn’t coming naturally to me. My grandma was patient, though, and identified my self-ridicule as unnecessarily cruel. It was just a scarf after all, and undeserving of so much negative energy. From then on, crocheting became something we frequently did together. It’s kinda our thing. Whenever I would go visit or when we would see each other for family get-togethers, I’d bring my yarn and crocheting hook for her to teach me a new stitch and, if I’m being real with myself, help me start/finish my pieces. Believe me, I have Googled how to do it many times and still cannot begin the first few lines, nor tie the knot at the end as well as my grandma can.
In the short time since that call, I've started crocheting every day, even if just for a few minutes. I’m still not very good, and can really only make basic scarves, but it helps me feel relaxed, creative, and grounded in a time characterized by its abundance of moving parts. More than that, though, it makes me feel closely connected to my grandma, Lillian. I can hear her reminding me not to be so hard on myself when it doesn’t go exactly right; that I have to let go of the little things and just feel proud of my own creation as she has. We don’t always get to choose the way life, or maybe even a roll of yarn, unfolds, but we do have control over how we feel about it. This isn’t a novel thought, but one that I think a lot of us, myself included, easily forget.
When I talk to her, she is clear that she isn’t afraid or lonely right now. She has witnessed the world in some of its ugliest, darkest periods and still has an unwavering tenacity and optimism that things will all be just fine. And I choose to believe her. I cannot wait to crochet with my grandma in real life again soon, but, until then, I will continue trying my best to hone in on her ability to make enough sunshine to weather this storm, and, maybe also learn to tie up the end of my scarf.