Wednesday, October 2, 2019

For Grace

“It’s like Cheers without the booze,” I tell people of my job at Hodge Podge, the gift section of A Stitch in Time. It’s a gift/needlepoint/knitting shop in San Marino where I work one day a week. There’s something about the female bonding that happens there, the women supporting eachother, that I love.

The thing is, though, I’m lousy at needlepoint. I struggle with a needle and fiber. It takes me eight months just to stitch a holiday ornament no bigger than a luggage tag. 

After working at the shop nearly four years, I attempted a special canvas for my son, Joseph’s, graduation from college. I gave plenty of time to compete it, then, accidentally, I left it on an airplane. My close friend, Wendy, a gifted stitcher, gently took the newly replicated canvas from me. “Let me do it,” she’d said. “I can do it quickly.”

I had to come clean with Joseph. “Wendy did it.”

“Whoa, Mom,” he’d said. “That’s so cool of her. To do this for you.”

“No,” I’d said, “It’s for you.”

“Maybe,” he’d replied. “But she was looking out for you. She knew you needed her help to finish.”

I’d wanted to do something for Wendy in return for her help, to thank her somehow.  “Stop, Heather. It’s not about a tit-for-a-tat. Just accept that I wanted to do this for you to give to Joseph.”

I was humbled by her generosity and I felt the need to give her something in return. I felt uncomfortable and, frankly, undeserved, a byproduct of growing up in a household where attention was scarce. Despite a loving husband and devoted children, I still struggle with self-worth.

Though I continued to attempt needlepoint projects of my own, the truth is, most get sent off to the Philippines where the artisans finish what I am unable to complete. I wish I had the patience for this timeless art dating back to the Egyptians, and the passion to needlepoint as the women at our shop tables. But I do love the finished project!

So, when my first grandchild, Grace, was born on Friday, June 7th, I called my co-workers at A Stitch in Time where I’d already picked out her stocking with no intention of stitching it myself. 

“Grace!” I told my co-worker, Gina, my voice bursting with joy on the other end of the line.  “She’s here and she’s healthy and her name is Grace!” 

“Congratulations! Such a beautiful name,” she'd replied. “Ok, we’ll send it out right away to get her name painted on her Christmas stocking.”

Time is of the essence on these things. The canvas must be stitched and ready (no easy feat) at the end of September to get to the finisher to do the backing and the trim in time for the stocking to hang on the mantle at Christmastime.

A few weeks ago, three months after Grace’s birth, I was with my co-workers, catching up with eachother before the shop opened.  “I’m in a writing slump,” I told them. “I have random slips of paper with scribbled ideas littering my desk.”

“Don’t worry, you’re gathering your thoughts,” Gina said.

“I’m in my own slump,” another co-worker, Caryn, said, joining Gina behind the waist-high wooden counter. “I haven’t had any inspiration to needlepoint.”

“You?” I asked. “But your work is beautiful, and you love to stitch!” Caryn’s needlework is flawless. 

She looked over at Gina, also an expert, who teaches our needlepoint classes, and bent down, reaching for something. “I had absolutely no inspiration,” she said, her voice betraying a smile, “until this." She rolled out a needlepoint stocking across the counter. “This one sang to me.”

Grace’s name was stitched across the top. 

I stared at the finished canvas in disbelief. Wait, wasn’t this sent off to the artisans in the Philippines weeks ago? My stomach tightened, my heart beat fast trying to take in what was in front of me. This was no ordinary work from the Philippines. Complicated stitches, beading, French knots… I studied the decorative stitches, thinking about what has been said about needlework - that each tug of the needle imprints a story and an emotion. It can take someone like me years to complete such a work of art. Or, let’s be honest, I’d never finish it. 

“Caryn, you’d do this for me?”

“Gina did the stitch guide,” she replied. “We confiscated it,” she winked. “We wanted to surprise you.”

I looked over at Gina, brandishing a big smile. Then, back to Caryn. My mouth, gaping open, had gone dry. “When did you…”

“I took it home. Worked on it there after you told Gina that you wanted decorative stitches.” Caryn said.

I thought back to that conversation at the end of August when the canvas had come back with Grace’s name on it. “That was five weeks ago! You did this huge stocking in five weeks?”

“Well,” she laughed, “my fingers are pretty raw.”

I brought my hand to my chest. “It’s beautiful. I can’t…” I started to cry. “I need to tell Grace when she’s older.”

Gulping in between sobs, I added, “I’m overwhelmed. You did this for me.”

“And, for Grace,” they laughed. 

“Oh yeah, her,” I laughed back through the tears, reaching for a tissue in the box on the counter. 

“Seriously,” Caryn said. “We loved doing this. You’re special, Heather.”

As much as I try to believe that I’m special, and work with a therapist who encourages me to resist constantly feeling as if I have to pay, or do, or say something to be liked. Old habits die hard. 

“I don’t know what I can do to repay you both. I need to do something for you.”

“No, you don’t,” Caryn said.

Meanwhile, the store had opened, and a customer had wandered over to my gift section. My emotions still running high, I headed over there thinking back to Wendy and the canvas for Joseph. Now this. This breathtaking piece of handiwork. I rang up a sale and sat down with a sigh behind my counter. My hands shook as I picked up a pen and the little yellow scratch pad next to the register.

Dear Grace,

I did not stitch this stocking for you. My co-workers took this on to help me get to the finish line in time for your first Christmas. 

It is your birth and your name, that has inspired me to accept an unearned gift, to accept the grace of the people around me.

Sure, Santa will fill this with toys and how exciting that will be, but the real gift I want to give you is to remind you to be open to the love that surrounds you. May you always know your value which has taken your grandmother sixty-two years to understand. 

*Thank you, Caryn Moore, Gina Luizzi.  And, Wendy Siciliano.  You women rock.