Not Giving Up on Goodness

Not Giving Up on Goodness

It's Saturday afternoon, August 12th, 2017. I just spent most of Friday helping a friend work through some serious mental health issues. Then I got bombarded, as all of us did with images and stories from Charlottesville. I live just over an hour away from there. I take my daughter there for Saturday Enrichment classes, or Nerd School as she calls it. It's a great town. Between my friend and the hate being spewed in Charlottesville by Saturday afternoon, I am heartsick and furious, frustrated and fearful. I have to get out of the house.

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Passionate Stitches

The striking young woman in this photo is my great great aunt Mattie Verb Minga. That's right her middle name was Verb, and it fit. Aunt Matt was a woman of action, a woman of passion. Sometimes it lead her in the wrong direction like marrying and divorcing the same man twice. Sometimes it lead her to great joy. When Mattie was in her forties and single she adopted the infant child of a cousin who had died in childbirth. Everyone thought she was crazy, thought the boy would need a father, wondered how a single woman working in the mill could support a child. But she did it anyway, and my cousin Gene grew up to be a well respected policeman, veteran and a great father himself.

Our family was large and tight-knit, as families that spend several generations in the same small town usually are. Still Aunt Matt was at every family function. Christmas, summer trips to the beach, anytime we all got together, someone went over to the little house next to the old company store to fetch Aunt Matt. For some folks we might do that out of a sense of duty. My great grandmother, Mattie's sister, did ask my grandmother to take care of Mattie before she died. But the truth is it was because we loved having her around. She's been gone 23 years now, but I can still hear her gregarious laugh. She always had a way of finding things to laugh about, be happy about, even in her late eighties when she rarely left the house. I remember going with my grandmother to visit Aunt Matt in her little house in the mill village and sitting on the ottoman next to her chair and watching her crochet. She was so practiced that she sped through the stitches and rarely had to look down at her work. Even late in life when her health was waning, she never stopped making things.

Aunt Matt's hands were never idle. My grandmother's house is full of things that she made from a plarn (yes, 1960's plarn from bread bags) rug on the threshold in the kitchen to a lace canopy and bedspread on the double canopy bed upstairs. Every Christmas the stairs are lined with crocheted snowmen, and Santa Clause dolls and the tree is hung with lace snowflakes and angels that she made. When my children were born I was gifted with jackets and blankets and hats that I had worn as a child that were made by Aunt Matt and that I am keeping for my grandchildren. She didn't just crochet. Here is a photo of her working on a quilt that spent years on my parent's bed and that I'm sure my mother still has. Aunt Matt was always making something, and everything she made was a beautiful expression of the love that she had for the people around her and of her passion for life.

I've made a lot of really beautiful things in my years as a crafter, but I don't think I've ever been more proud of the work that I've done than I was at Aunt Matt's 90th birthday party, an event so big that we held it at the church. I had made a pillow out of yarn that my grandfather had brought home from his job at the NC State Textile Engineering dept. It was just a big white granny square tacked to a big white pillow, but it meant everything to me as a crocheter and it still does. Now, whenever I finish a project, I can almost feel Aunt Matt patting my hand and laughing with joy the way she always did when we did something she liked.

Sadly, my cousin Gene passed away last November and his bright beautiful daughter years before that. The little house by the company store belongs to someone else now as the mill village is becoming gentrified. There aren't very many of us who remember Aunt Matt, but the beauty of the things she made and the abundance of her work will show for generations.

*This is a re-post of an article I wrote for a now defunct blog about my craft business.

Fiber in the Blood

This grainy photo is one of the few that I have of my grandfather smiling. It's kind of odd, because with his grandchildren he was often joking and laughing. But he didn't care for having his picture taken. He wasn't much for crowds or meeting new people. What he was was a good hearted, incredibly strong and smart individual but he didn't broadcast it. He just was all of those things and more.
My grandad was a weaver. He started working in the Glen Royal textile mill at the ripe old age of 12, and worked in textiles most of his life. He worked his way up to being a weaver at the Royal mill and when the mill closed he found jobs at other mills and eventually worked in the Textiles School at NC State. He found a home there and worked there even part-time after his retirement. Having worked to support his mother and younger siblings through much of the depression, he was always thrifty and as the textile students experimented with spinning yarns of different materials and textures, Grandad salvaged most of that yarn the would otherwise have been tossed and brought it back to my Aunt Matt and others who would find uses for it. To this day my grandmother, mother and I have cones and cones of yarn that was saved in crazy colors or unexpected textures.
I am not a weaver, but I have always been fascinated by the workings of large looms, their speed and complexity. There can be something hypnotic and fascinating in a well woven fabric. That's something that I'm sure I come by honestly. I was lucky enough to have my Grandad until I was an adult, and I wish every day that my husband and children could know him. The many photos of him unsmiling or looking away from the camera just don't show the kind of open-hearted goodness that he spread to those of us who knew him. I still feel it every time I feel thread slide through my fingers.