A few weeks ago, I wrote about splitting my life and time into thirds: A third of my time doing for those who will come after me, a third for doing for those I love, and a third for doing for me. This post is about the things I do for others to show my love for them. Now, we all do a few things more for other people that for ourselves. I go to superhero movies with Boyfriend. I don’t mind them, but I’m really going for him. Likewise, he watches Game of Thrones and now, Orange is the New Black with me. He’s okay with them–but he watches them with me so that I don’t have to watch them alone. I love to cook and bake for my friends and family–the perk is that I also like to eat, so everyone is happy all around.
I do think there is a special gift in finding one thing that only gives you true satisfaction if you do it for loved ones.
For me, that thing is cross-stitch.
Both of my grandmothers have walls of framed cross-stitch masterpieces hanging around, as do many of my aunts. My mother cross-stitched a pillow for me when I was born and it sat in my crib, and then my bed, until I was nearly a teen. I remember counting the stitches on it when I was sent to my room to pass the time. On one vacation (I believe I was six or seven) to one grandmother’s house, I must have seen either her stitching or another aunt doing so because I asked her to teach me. She found a simple pattern with a bear on it, holding balloons. After each row, she patiently counted out the next row of stitches and showed me what thread to use. I still have a body-memory of pacing the kitchen and staring at the clock on the wall, tense with anticipation of her coming home from the grocery store so that she could show me the next line. She never became impatient. I eventually learned to do it on my own. One of my aunts was pregnant and I decided to make the piece for her baby.
I finished the piece, except for the baby’s name. I remember coming downstairs in my pajamas one weekend morning and hearing my dad offer congratulations on the phone. The baby had been born and had a name. I ran back upstairs and stitched it beneath the bear. My first piece was complete.
And that was it! My “domestic compulsion” (as a college roommate called it, finding nibs of thread around our apartment, which he also called, “like the discarded needles of a heroin addict.”) was also complete.
Growing up, I stitched hand towels for schoolteachers, whose eyes welled up when I presented them at the class Christmas parties. I made ornaments for friends. When my grandfather died, I stitched Footprints in the Sand for the same grandmother who taught me how. I made another piece for my other grandmother on her 80th birthday. This past year, she gave me a piece she started but never finished, so that I could finish it. I will get to that one when I finish the project I am currently on…and I already know who it’s going to. I once stitched a breadcloth for my mom as a Christmas present. I asked her to drive me to the craft store and then somehow managed to slip away from her and buy the cloth and thread when she wasn’t looking. She swears she had no idea, of course. I’ve made two pieces for my dad.
I think all the attics in all the houses on both sides of my family are packed with patterns, thread, needles, and yards of hole-dotted cloth. When I go through these patterns, I really do have myself convinced that I’m going to make them all someday.
The summer before I learned to drive, I was bored and broke as a suburban teen could be. My mom came home from work and looked at my crazily-idle face–one that had tried to read through an entire Stephen King novel in one day and asked if she could help me find something to do. We went to the craft store that night and I started this:
It took me three years to finish it. Mom had it framed beautifully and when I was preparing to move to New York, she asked me if I’d like to take it with me. I said no, as I was worried of what might happen to it in the new city. In reality, I liked the way it looked in my mom’s office. I still love it, but I do notice the loose stitches and shortcuts only a true teenager would take. (Nice, Weber.)
On the same day I finished that one, I started this one:
I told my mom I wanted to make a piece for her. She picked out the pattern as the Magnolia tree is one that has a lot of meaning to our family–the Southern roots and all. It took three years, but it is some of the best work. I love this one because it looks like a painting from far away.
So. My most recent piece took eight years…..
This was supposed to be my sister’s graduation present. But then I got a cat. The cat and I lived in one small room and she was still mostly feral. She couldn’t bear to be in the room with me, seeing all the threads moving without trying to kill them. Cotton thread is hard to kill, but human flesh holding the needle holding the kill-worthy thread is easy to slice n’ dice. I was afraid the blood would stain the fabric (I do have scars from fighting Lilith the Cat during the early days of this project, but so far as I know, no blood made it into the piece) and put it away. Eight years later, my sister got engaged and I rushed to finish the work. There were so many things to look forward to at my sister’s wedding: My hilarious family, introducing Boyfriend to my hometown, seeing my sister happily marry a wonderful man, and the apple-green bridesmaid’s dress which made me look like a 1950′s movie star in all the album photos. But the thing that had my feet tapping was giving her the cross-stitch piece. I love seeing it up in her home, the wild flowers tumbling out of the frame in the way our troll dolls did out of the Barbie car when we’d push it down the stairs….
For me, there is joy in the work. There is a beauty in the piece. But the real joy for me comes in smiling secretly, imagining the person’s face when they receive their piece. It is seeing it hung up in their hallway or bedroom. Sure, there are lots of lovely pieces I could make for myself, but the soul of the work is in doing it for those I love.
And yes…I am currently at work on a project. But I won’t say what it is and I won’t say who it is for….;)
Do you have something you do that gives you the most joy in doing it for others? Do share!