I am blessed with opportunities to share.
I am blessed with YOU.
I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate your emails, letters, comments, warm vibes. I read every one. I am sharing some emails and letters I have received, but I only do so with the sender's permission. Know that you would never see your communication here. Your words are safe with me. I only share with your express permission. Know that.
I do believe that sharing ourselves with each other is what makes the world go around.
A honey bee in an old timey "Rose of Sharon" (Althea) at our Farm.
Sharing is a bit like pollination.
We gather, we enrich, we fertilize, we amend, we shed, we sprinkle, we shower, we help.
And part of sharing ourselves with each other is taking off the masks, revealing our vulnerabilities. It's sharing our experiences, good and bad. It's being real and authentic.
It's also about sharing our loves, our losses, and how we got through them.
Meet Donna and her Dad. Get yourself a cup of tea and read this beautiful letter...
I enjoy reading your messages and musings to us in Mary Jane's Farm. I followed to your own blog the story about the Christmas jammies. Something you wrote about when you grow up and realize that the magic of Christmas is in the giving not the getting spoke to me. If you do it right, this season of giving becomes even more special as an adult or at least more fulfilling.
I've been thinking about my father even more than usual this week. The 17th was the third anniversary of his passing. He was very giving and his influence lives on. I wanted to share a letter I wrote about our family. I sent it to the head of a yarn company (that will make sense when you read it) the summer after his death. I didn't get a response from her, but that never really mattered to me. It seems that the writing of it, putting down on paper what was on my mind, was therapeutic for me. My mother was quite moved and asked me to send copies to family and friends. She didn't think they really knew Dad in his later years.
I'm sending the content of that letter to you now if you would like to read it. There's a current year update following it.
Thank you for making us think, making us smile and trying to always make the world and the people in it better for having known you!
My father, Howard Whittaker (Whitey), was a very special guy and we lost him just before Christmas. He would have been 80 this year on May 22. He started at age 74 making machine- knitted hats for charity and, at his death, had made nearly 2000 of them!
Mom and I have been knitting and crocheting for forever but Dad’s hobbies were never about fiber unless he was making us knitting needles or some other tool. I got a simple knitting machine in the ‘80s and had no luck with it - got it out of the closet every 2 years or so, tried to get it going, cursed at it and put it back in the closet. Early in 2003, I discovered that a friend in a sewing group was also a machine knitter. She broke the curse of that machine and got me going, with a vengeance. With my mother’s help, I cranked out hats for charity while I learned machine techniques. Each year we have a Christmas coat drive in the medical office where I work and this has come to include mittens, hats, and scarves which we use to decorate the tree. The hats were perfect - colorful and homemade - onto the tree they went. Dad thought this was really great and wanted to do something to help. By December, I had given my knitting machine to Mom and was now cursing at a new and more complicated one. Dad told Mom that he thought he could run her machine and he had time to make some hats before the coat drive deadline.
The plan was that he would get it out of the attic and watch the enclosed video. I was to swing by that evening on my way to our office Christmas party to show him how to work it and get him started with the hat pattern. He was a tool and die maker by trade so he was quite the perfectionist. By the time I arrived, he had watched the video three times, set up the whole thing and had a swatch made. When he started correcting me as I "taught" him how to make a hat, I knew my work was done - he was off and running. He had 14 hats for me by the 16th of December.
What transpired over the coming years was quite a blessing to our family. Dad’s health was declining and he wasn’t able to do as much of the woodworking, fishing and gardening he so enjoyed. He could, however, run that knitting machine (machine being the operative word here, he wanted to be sure that folks knew he didn’t sit and knit, he sat and ran a machine!!!). On a good day, Dad could crank out 6 or 8 hats. Vision issues and some shoulder pain slowed production at times but he cranked out lots and lots of hats over several years. The last 9 months or so of his life he couldn’t sit at the machine but he still made some hats on a hand-held loom. He made thick, warm hats for shelters, adult and child size. We saved these through the year until just before Christmas when they would adorn the tree in our office, a red, white and green one for the tree topper. He made adult hats in baby weight yarn as chemo caps that we donated to the local cancer center and he made preemie hats for the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. The agencies that received the hats were very grateful and their feedback, often in the form of a thank-you note or letter did a lot to make him feel good about himself. I laugh when I hear knitters talking about being yarn snobs. I used to call Dad one - the reverse of the usual though. He never would use wool yarn. It did make sense - his hats were most likely to be thrown in a washer and dryer so acrylic was the best choice. It was funny hearing him relate how different brands of yarn and different colors within the same brand behaved differently in the machine, just like a seasoned fiber veteran. He kept meticulous notes of how many stitches to cast on and how many rows made up the ribbing. As word got around of what we were doing, we started getting lots of donations of yarn - lots - everyone we knew seemed to be cleaning out their craft closets and buying bags at yard sales and thrift shops. We had a lot of wool given to us which I made into felted purses, sold the purses, and then we used the money to buy acrylic yarn. You should have seen Dad and I at the local craft store - we waited for a good sale and were able to fill two carts to the brim with skeins of every color.
A couple years after he started with the hats, Dad had some trouble with the machine that he couldn’t fix. They no longer produced the Brother machine he used so I went looking for one for sale. I asked online at the machine knitting forum I belonged to if anyone knew someone selling a Brother machine just like his. I got two offers, one very kind lady sent us the complete knitting machine for just the cost of the postage and another sold us a machine at a very reasonable price. Fiber folks are kind and caring.
The hat project was a great source of family fun and grew quickly to include extended family and friends. We had yarn given to us that just wouldn’t work in his machine so I started hand knitting scarves to go with the hats, joined quickly by my cousin, Jean, and my friend, Norma. Mom was still busy sewing up the seams as Dad had no interest in learning how to sew and she was making pom-pons for each (at Dad’s insistence). My husband, Mike, was always keeping busy winding the yarn from commercial skeins into balls better suited for the machine. He is also an expert detangler. He became intrigued by the pom-pon production and, with Mom’s help, he taught himself to make very precise ones and took over that job. My mother-in-law, Ellen, developed serious vision problems and found herself unable to drive or do some of the other activities that had been so much a part of her life. Well, it turns out she knows how to knit - we got her large needles (Dad made us all handmade wooden scarf needles - size 17) and she started cranking out scarves at a rate of one per evening. If she can’t see the stitch, she can feel it. She wore Dad’s needles down to a weird corkscrew shape and he had to make her a new set. We got her a 24", size 17 cable needle and got her going on small baby blankets for the hospital - we had to replace that too as she wore down the plastic ends to something shaped like thick screwdrivers, flat with no point. Mom would make lap size afghans for nursing homes from all of the little balls of yarn too small to make a hat or a hat stripe. We wound them up, tied on the next color, and kept winding till we had a big ball of all colors of yarn. Nothing went to waste - Dad used to joke that we needed to find a use for all the yarn fuzz that came from Mike’s precise trimming of the pom-pons. There have been many evenings over the years spent winding balls of yarn, picking color sets for the striped hats, matching hats with scarves and laughing - we have had such a good time.
This past December, I stripped clean the office tree on the 15th to take everything to the agencies in time for Christmas. Dad passed away on the 17th and, with a heavy heart, I made the delivery the following day. One of the directors of the Clothing Bank happened to come out to meet me at the car that day. She saw the hats in the bag and grabbed one - remarking how nice it was. She remembered meeting Dad a couple years before. As I explained why it would be the last of them, she hugged me and we both stood and cried there in the parking lot. It was after New Year’s before I returned to work to find one of Dad’s hats sitting on the front desk. The girls had found it when they took the tree down - a runaway that had fallen back behind it. They said I was meant to keep one. And I did - it sits here on my printer right next to the laptop. We’re not quite ready yet but Mom, Mike, and I hope to set up Dad’s machine again and crank out hats for this coming Christmas (or next).
So, knitting, seems to some a simple pastime but it’s been so much more to my family. It gave Dad a new purpose - filled his days with activity, stimulated his mind, allowed him to help others. It continues to provide recreation for Ellen and a way for her to help others even with diminished sight. It has provided all of us with many hours of family fun and fellowship and the good vibes are spreading. The wife of a long time patient used to make scarves for me each year for our office tree. Her needlework group is now making knitted and crocheted items for charity and doing their own coat and clothing drive. Another patient knits for the local Seaman’s Center - we give her the extra "guy colors" we have for her projects. Mom fills 30 goodie baskets each Christmas for a local nursing home and will expand that this year to include stockings for soldiers. Now everyone we know is saving us their travel toiletries, combs, pens, costume jewelry, etc. even a nice lady who moved away but she still sends us a box of things a couple times a year. The generous gifts of yarn, the knitting machine, and the interest people have shown in helping us help others has affirmed my faith in human nature. Thanks for letting me share our story with you.
The 2011 update to that letter is that I'm happy to report that we had a banner year for the coat drive - the most coats we've ever collected - 113. There were 226 scarves, 128 hats and 91 sets of mittens or gloves. We still can't quite bring ourselves to get out Dad's knitting machine and use it to make hats - maybe this summer the time will be right. We did, however, enjoy the Indian Summer weather here in the east this fall. One Saturday evening found us sitting on Mom's deck, she and I knitting and Mike making pompons - smiling and laughing once again. We have picked up a couple more hat makers. My cousin, Jean, has added loom knitted hats to her repertoire along with her mother, Aunt Marie. My mother is making loom hats and all are getting hand crafted pompons from Mike. We've added our friend, Madeline, who helped us sort, bag and deliver all the goodies with her pick up truck. The wife of our long term patient passed away suddenly last year and I hope that her group continues on with the charity programs she set up. A nice lady in the office has started crocheting us scarves each year and several patients now either buy or hand knit/crochet items for us. Mike's mom, Ellen, continues to crank out a scarf, a hat, or most of a little baby blanket each evening. I don't get a lot of knitting done but I coordinate the donated and purchased yarns and get them to the knitters.
Mike and I helped Mom stuff 40 nursing home baskets which we'll deliver on the 23rd. So many family and friends collected things for us that we were able to share with the Stockings For Soldiers program.
Thank you for letting me talk to you - it helps me get through this now bittersweet time of year.
My best to you and your family - Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, peaceful 2012.
Thank you for letting me share your story, Donna!
And it spreads....