I was on a beach in Mexico when I learned that my Grandma Valen had died. It wasn’t a total shock. She was 92 and she had fallen a few months earlier and broken a hip. Then she’d come down with pneumonia. And just when she was beginning to walk again with assistance and gain back some strength, she started to act a little off. A day before we left on our Mexico trip, I’d gotten an update on her condition from my mom. I was in the car, so the conversation was short. My grandma was showing signs of confusion, which was unusual for her. Doctors were chalking it up to a bladder infection. When I hung up the phone I didn’t think this was the beginning of the end. But it turned out that it was. She died three days later.
I know I shouldn’t pick favorites, but my Grandma Valen was the best. She had 19 other grandchildren who I’m sure feel the same way. She was always there for special celebrations and milestones, no matter what. She was there to see me graduate from high school in Delavan and college in Eau Claire. When my son, Will, was born 14 years ago, she and my Grandpa endured the 5 hour drive to Minneapolis to meet him in person.
Not only was she there for her grandchildren, she knew us all as individuals and made a point to connect with each of us about our interests. I loved hearing about what my cousins were up to during our visits. She was a great letter writer, and I regret not writing more often as my boys got older and our lives grew busier. But she understood. She also loved reading and talking about books. When my first book was published she made a point of going to her local library and asking if they had it on the shelves. She was so proud to see that they did.
That first book, For the Love of Knitting, was an anthology of stories and essays that I had collected and edited. Back then I was knitting all the time…in the car, in front of the tv, on the couch in front of the fire. A friend from college had started a knitting group, and we were all new moms. I knit for my own sons, and I knit for my friend’s babies too. I was a bit obsessed and fascinated with anything knitting related.
In the essay I wrote for the book I mentioned that I hadn’t known any knitters when I was growing up. I had written, “No one in my immediate family was a knitter, and it seemed to me that knitting was an art one should learn at a young age, preferably under the watchful eye of a grandmother or mother. My grandmother is a superb seamstress, but she does not knit.”
This was a nonsense stereotype, of course. For one thing, my grandma did knit–she simply preferred to sew. But my grandma took it to heart. The next time I saw her she said, sheepishly, “Sorry I never taught you how to knit.” Of course then I felt bad. I didn’t care that she hadn’t taught me to knit. In the essay, I was just building the argument that I was not destined to be a knitter because it had not been in my family. Also nonsense. I was just trying to be clever.
What’s funny now is that I haven’t knit in years, but I have found my way back to sewing. I’ve sewn curtains for the boy’s rooms and halloween costumes. I’ve transformed old t-shirts into pillow covers, added appliqued designs to t-shirts, and made a whole slew of origami bags. I’m kind of a rebel at the sewing machine in that I don’t really like to follow patterns. Instead I tend to just make up designs as I go along. This can lead to problems, of course, but I simply deal with those as they come. To me that’s part of the challenge and part of the fun.
So when my mom called me up as she and my aunts were sorting through my grandma’s things and asked if I would want the Bernina sewing machine, I didn’t hesitate. I can’t wait to take it for a spin. And I love the thought that my grandma will be with me each time I sit down to sew. Perhaps I can channel some of her talent and German precision into my own projects. A girl can hope, right?
Rest in peace, Grandma. I feel so lucky to have had you in my life!