The Story Of My Crochet Blanket
I dread coming home, not the actual being home, but the flight, it scares the living daylights out of me. I am a wreck, no custom official leaves me be, I will always be the lucky one to be “randomly checked”, scrutinized and frisked. Do I really look like a drug-couriering-terrorist I wonder, do I look like someone who might use the cutlery to attack a pilot?
Maybe. With puffy eyes, tear stained cheeks, a runny nose and the shakes they always choose me. This time every siren buzzed. My bracelets. My backpack was unpacked, my camera opened, my laptop switched on, my phone and iPad opened and scrolled through. Everything was re-X-rayed. My children waved and wiped away the tears. Eventually they also threw in the towel and sauntered off. Thank goodness! I thought as an official asked whether I knew Jaco, they play cricket together, but, that was not enough. It must be the old Green Mamba. I’m leaving for Pete’s sake, or, do they think I am running back to South Africa? At last they wished me a Bon Voyage. With haste I pushed and shoved everything into my backpack and handbag, this time not giving a hoot to the precious contents. I can’t wait to see the back of them that’s for sure. Until Calgary that is
With abandon I sobbed as I boarded the plane and wedged my possessions into the overhead locker, flopped into my seat and wailed. Gut wrenching sobs of sadness and frustration. Bits of sodden tissue were caked to my face and my mascara was running down my cleavage. My lips chapped and were on the brink of cracking. This is me going home... Someone asked whether I’m excited to see my beloved. I croak and snap “yes”. “Dear God just leave me alone” I think.
And so I get home, not Jet lagged, just traumatized. It takes a while to unpack, do the laundry and get settled again. I can’t for the life of me open my laptop to download my photographs. I don’t really want to talk about my “holiday”. All I want to do is think. Be in my own head while I mull things over. Fortunately my beloved seems to get this and leaves me be. He, happy to catch up on his social media following, sending jokes to his buddies and quietly reads. Now and then he looks me over as I slowly get to grips with myself and tell him snatches of stories. Friends assume I'm "always on holiday and when's the next trip" I just roll my eyes and shake my head.
There’s a fine line between doing nothing and being quiet, I hate doing nothing it depresses me. That was the last thing I needed. So I unpacked my suitcase and found the crochet hook I'd bought. I fished out all my bits of wool, went onto YouTube and taught myself to crochet a Granny Square. My fingers were stiff and stupid. I wound the wool, as instructed, around my pinky and pulled the skein tight up to my pointer finger and got on with it. I grunted and groaned until I mastered a chain stitch. I was on my way. I had to concentrate on my handiwork, give it 100% attention and count 1-2-3 repeatedly for weeks on end.
It was all I did. Eventually my counting got less and my thoughts got more. I called my blanket “Vankids”. Van because it would be for our Honey Badger and Kids for my children and grandchildren. The colours I used would depict my children as I saw them. I believe people can be described by colour. Like all children from the same womb we remain individuals and so I found similarities with the texture of double ply wool. Even if they're labeled the same brand each colour is different. The weight, the feel as the yarn wound through my fingers. Some needed a slight slackening while others need to be wound around my pinky twice. Sometimes I forgot what my fingers were doing at other times I had to give all my attention as I encouraged my fingers to move. As my work progressed the blanket became heavier but provided a warmth and comfort I needed. Just like families.
Blue is one of my favourite colours and so I started mixing and matching patches of blue. My grandsons are blue. They delighted me with their energy, lust for life, their thirst for knowledge and sheer joy. With them I built Lego structures, sang, danced, puddle jumped and thought I’d lose my bladder and kidneys jumping on the trampoline. They’d sneak into my bedroom in the mornings, we’d read and laugh, tumble in the twisted bedclothes and have fun. At Easter we planted Jelly beans and watched them grow until they sprouted colourful "flowers" on Easter Sunday. We were bowled over to see the bunny had eaten the carrot we'd left out the night before and then the hunt was on. What a privilege to share these moments that pass all too soon.
With me they’d be allowed to have doughnuts for breakfast (which we made) and have cupcakes for lunch (which we’d baked) and Easter Eggs before anyone was awake to say no!
We’d spend hours in the library, delighting the librarians as they watched and listened to our discussions about sharks, killer whales, lions, dinosaurs and superheroes. Soon the boys will qualify for their own library cards.
The natural sciences museum was an eye opener to us and on hot afternoons we’d have ice creams from the ice cream parlour sitting on the steps. I met Neil’s teacher and watched him and friends frolic on the jungle gym, doing hair-raising maneuvers.
With Danny I watched as concrete mixers worked and men laboured to lay a new driveway. They were a delight. Eager to learn new things. So different their personalities yet how similar in many ways. I could see my Timmy as a small boy and Carla’s influence as a loving, caring parent. These two boys who were more taken with the "small" things e.g. Neil with his birthday cards which had to be read over and over again and Danny with his little lions, bought at the supermarket and come at a dime a dozen
I hope they’ll remember the fun times we had too. I hope they’ll remember me. I hope they’ll remember how we laughed, our conversations, what we learnt, our adventures and misadventures. I will remember the hugs, kisses, sitting close, holding hands, arms around my neck, the little fingers and sticky hands tightly holding on as we got to know one another again and loved each minute. My photographs will be a reminder but, my memory will be indelible. I love these two boys with a painful passion.
Pink of course will be Isla. Much to her mother’s horror and my steadfastness she will have a splash of pink in her wardrobe and her blocks, although not all baby pink, the colours will reflect her femininity and powdery pink baby toes, her new baby smell and delicate fingers and rosebud red lips. Here she is in a cloud of pink peony!
She was the primary reason for my visit. The weeks preceding her birth were a whirlwind of Baby showers, picking last minute Layette gifts and necessities. My suitcase was loaded down with bottles of teething gel, gripe water and other South African nursery staples for the first Aid box.
At Lise’s house Marie Condo had been followed in every drawer, shelf and cupboard as Babygro’s and tiniest booties had been rolled and packed in perfect colour coded rows. They were ready for the arrival of this precious child, she certainly was already loved and eagerly awaited.
Lise, was aglow I thought. Slim with a tiny ball belly. She hadn’t inherited my swollen ankles, double chin or puffy pork sausage fingers. She had no varicose veins, no stretch marks and her hair was a healthy mass of golden threads. Her cheeks were still visible and didn’t look like she’d been on a course of cortisone like I did. She glided instead of waddling up to me at the airport and looked radiant. She hadn’t lost her good humour yet, slept well and didn’t spring a leak when Isla kicked her bladder! She managed her heart burn with a good, healthy diet, I had been like a commando worm, everything in sight I ate. I gained weight at the rate of 1kg per week… you do the math.
This was the hallmark of the Perfect Pregnancy. Text book.
During the day we chatted and caught up while tackling the laundry, I was treated to lovely luncheons, teas and coffees at the best restaurants, we went shopping, browsing to see what Summer had in store and even did a Mother-daughter shoot. Carla, a professional photographer and my daughter–in-law dressed us, touched up my make-up and then posed us for the best results. Lise did her best with my frizzy hair and even managed to hide my “bakoortjie”. Although very stressful, I prefer being at the business end of photographs, she captured the essence of our special relationship beautifully. At our very best. I still can’t believe it’s me.
Lise’s confinement and delivery was one of the most emotive experiences I have ever witnessed. I watched as my child laboured, went through excruciating pain, doubled up, kept her composure never crying out as I might’ve, how she was always aware and considerate of her partner. How she listened and took note of her midwives and doctors. She was brave, strong and never lost her sense of humour. Sometimes the hours dragged and they played games at other times things speeded up and everyone was on high alert. There was time to nap, to freshen up, to smile and be cautious.
Unlike our private hospitalization and medical care in Canada they have National Health system which allows all patients excellent health care, but, with it comes the chance of never seeing "your" doctor. A constant stream of medical personel breezed in and out of her room, Doctors, Gynaecologists, gaggles of nurses, sisters, midwives and anaesthetist. Eventually, I lost track of who was who and what their qualifications were. What was surprising is that there was no Paediatrician. Ever. Once again I was humbled by the love, empathy and professional decorum the nurses showed. Without their motivation I am sure things might've gone to surgery. Here I must make special mention of Jodi, one of Lise's nurses, who was exceptional in carrying out duties with her no nonsense wisdom and encouragement. She never let up. Thank you.
At 2h00 it was all systems go and after a short, intense labour our Isla made an appearance. She was perfect. A small, lightweight with the longest legs and healthiest set of lungs. She bellowed herself into our lives and the world. With a mop of black hair and blue eyes we gawked at her and wondered who she looked like. We knew who the mother was, she looks like her father. No questions about that. Isla was born on the 17th April 2019 she weighed in at 6lbs 11oz at a length of 49cm. Her name is Isla Elizabeth Jane Haacke.
And then the most wonderful thing happened. Lise asked me to cut the umbilicus once it was completely clear of any blood. The Doctor dutifully handed over the scissors and I cut it. It was a strong symbol that I was separating myself from my child who had become a mother and with the cutting I was releasing her from me and binding her to her daughter who’d lie on her chest swaddled in a thin cheesecloth to bond with her Mama. Soon she’d wriggle her nose as she searched for the life giving nipple to suckle and sleep. The day was done. It was time for Carla and I to leave, we needed to give this new family of three the space and time to get to know each other.
Carla, recorded the whole birthing process with delicacy and ease. Never intrusive, she managed to maneuver herself around doctors and nurses to capture this most miraculous time. Her photographs are emotive, raw, clear and don't skirt the miracle that is childbirth. With compassion she captured how we all felt.
As my blocks progressed I eventually got to the big children. Often we see ourselves differently to how others see us. Mostly people see us in a better light, we’re so hard on ourselves. I think I chose the perfect colours greys and greens, yellows, oranges, hues of red. In some I see their eyes, the golden light they shine, sometimes the warmth they bring to our family, the caring, the clarity they give us and the abundance of joy they bring to each other’s lives.
This blanket proves that different colours combined, even if they’re not the perfect match or texture or thickness can be blended and fashioned to be really beautiful. Just like families. Once the squares are hooked up together they cover us and keep us warm, safe and secure. Just as families do. The threads that hold us together are strong, but, pull one and a whole blanket can unravel with devasting consequences. That’s why we must keep our loved ones safe, they must know they’re loved and cared for, they must be treated with respect and honoured for being different and we must celebrate our differences and cherish what we have, seeing the beauty, vulnerabilities and frailties and know that together we’re strong. Individually we can see our scars as a whole we don't. A slipped stitch here and there goes unnoticed, in fact it gives the blanket character and can be called handmade.
These were my thoughts as I crocheted my blocks, drew in the threads and attached them trying to do it all with one single thread. (It wasn’t possible). Our modern family doesn't work that way either, we're blessed to have many strong, capable, caring women who keep us together, our children have fathers, step-fathers and father's in law who quietly support them. My Dad, their Great-Grandfather relentlessly keeps up their individual photograph albums. My grandchildren have great-grandmothers, glam'mas, ouma's and grannies. Elizabeth she is for the third time. Like my scalloped edge that finishes the whole thing off. In Africa we believe it takes a village to raise a child. I am hoping that our huge family will raise these precious children.
I can use it in our Honey Badger to keep us warm or for picnics on sunny summer days. It’s not perfect, but neither are we. I look at it and realise that every colour is important, not one more so than another. I have no favourite colour after all. I find them all equally splendid. Do remember "He who sleeps under a crochet blanket is covered by love"! That is true. We are never too old to learn new tricks.. and even teach others something new.
My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold
Once, amid the soft, silver sadness in the sky
There came a man of fortune, a drifter passing by
He wore a torn and tattered cloth around his leathered hide
And a coat of many colours, yellow, green on either side
He moved with some uncertainty, as if he didn't know
Just what he was there for, or where he ought to go
Once he reached for something golden, hanging from a tree
And his hand came down empty
Soon within my tapestry, along the rutted road
He sat down on a river rock and turned into a toad
It seemed that he had fallen into someone's wicked spell
And I wept to see him suffer, though I didn't know him well
As I watched in sorrow, there suddenly appeared
A figure, grey and ghostly, beneath a flowing beard
In times of deepest darkness, I've seen him dressed in black
Now my tapestry's unravelling, he's come to take me back
He's come to take me back
Songwriters: Carole King