Sunday, January 25, 2009

Flying Fingers, Lace Legacy

They'd move so quickly—hooking, looping, twisting yarn with a crochet hook—your eyes couldn't keep pace with the motion of Yiayia's fingers as they transformed an unbroken strand link by cotton link into a lace doily, a place mat; wool into an afghan. Her hands were always busy, fingers flying, creating an abundance of fabric objects, some functional and others purely decorative, placed under lamps and dishes, serving to cover side tables, the backs or arms of the plastic-coated living room furniture I remember quite well (and thought of as strange). The white lace doilies, several of which I have inherited, are quite delicate, some simple and others intricate; they have in common an elegance that was generally lacking in my grandmother's difficult and often impoverished immigrant life. Because of her circumstances, her culture, her upbringing, her temperament, it should be said that she was not delicate with her children (my mother and her five siblings), and that this had its effects. My grandmother was a Greek woman of meager means, direct and coarse in her speech—but with her handcrafts and her other passion, tending roses in her garden, she brought some beauty into hardship, at least in this way. With the grandchildren, I remember, she was all affection: wobbly arms to give hugs, fingers to pinch cheeks and offer homemade cookies. Her voice contained the gravelly sound of pebbles and the Ionian sea that formed her native landscape. For me, when I was perhaps ten, she crocheted a beige lace purse, lined with cotton muslin. I have not seen it in years and fear I may have given it away in a teenage shedding of skin, so to speak. Another lost treasure is the granny-square afghan of shocking mix-and-match colors against a black background (looking very 1970s kitsch), which was in my parents last house but seems not to have made the move to their present apartment. They do still have a soft, off-white baby "blanket" (more like a shawl) that was a gift at my birth, plus a duplicate that had been made for a friend's family and that was given back to ours when my own son was born. Today is the anniversary of Yiayia's birth; she would have been 109 years old. If I had the afghan, I would curl up in it, think of her tonight, and keep warm on a cold evening. As it stands, with a few pieces of lace for a legacy, along with a simple gold cross on a chain, a water pitcher, and a set of cordial glasses, I will simply decorate my table tonight and toast to her memory. Yia sou, Yiayia, s'agapo!

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