When It’s Time to Unravel

My maternal grandmother taught me to crochet at the tender age of 7.  Despite limited formal education herself, she taught me many things over the decades – about making due with what I have, about self-confidence and bravery, about baking and cooking, and about being creative in all aspects of my life.  She also taught me about unraveling when the time is right.

That weekend is a clear picture in my mind.  My grandparents lived on the South Side of Chicago, in the third-floor apartment of a brownstone they proudly bought when they moved there from Poland.  Busia was a cafeteria lady at Marshall Field’s downtown, and I loved to visit her there.  The apron and hairnet she wore were the coolest things back then!

In addition to her day job, Busia made crocheted ties, highly prized back then, and she did tatting.  I have some of her lace, saved as best I can against age and fading to someday share with my nieces.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like, to wield such a tiny hook required for such miniscule stitches.  She was gifted at this, as she was at other things, but she thought it was nothing.

My grandparents road four buses to come to our house on the North Side.  On special weekends, I could go home with them on Friday night, and my parents would come for me on Sunday.  Two whole days with two of my favorite people on the planet was sublime bliss.  That weekend, since I was ‘old enough’, I could hold my own thin paper transfer, clutched tight in sweaty fingers.  No adventure had ever been so exciting.

The next morning, Busia and I went to Woolworth’s.  This was a wonderland to me.  You could buy anything you’d ever want there, I thought.  The cavernous store was dark and cool, with shoes and notebooks and hardware on shelves stacked to the ceiling.  Nothing was as amazing, though, as the bins of colorful yarn.

As I often have in my life, I gravitated toward red.  A little skein, only an ounce, wouldn’t make much, but it was enough to get me started, Busia said.  We bought a hook for me, red plastic.  I still have it, the size long since worn off.  I carried my bag with pride, because that day, I was going to learn how to crochet like Busia.

We did many things that day.  We baked bread, cinnamon-raisin loaves so fluffy and light, from a recipe only written in her head.  Dzia-dzia (my grandfather) took me for a walk, explaining the plants we passed in neighbors’ yards.  Busia made notes in her neat printing in a ledger book, seated at a desk that now occupies a place in my home.

And then, finally, FINALLY (you can imagine the impatience of a seven-year-old girl with too much energy) it was TIME!

She showed me how to hold the hook – and to this day, I still crochet like a European.  The first loop was next, and I had to do it dozens of times until I mastered it by myself.  Then, the first chain stitch.  Yarn over, pull through.  Yarn over, pull through.  Repeat.  Repeat.  I can easily see my young self with a tongue tip sticking out, concentrating with a frown that has long since dug permanent grooves between my eyebrows.

Then Busia made me unravel it.  I cried.  I wanted to show Mom and Dad what I’d made.  It was okay, she assured me.  You can do it again, and the outcome will be even better.  So, I unraveled, sniffling, and rolled the pretty red yarn around the skein.  And I began again.

I’m not sure how many times I repeated those steps on that long-ago afternoon.  Dinner was ready, then bedtime, where I read a story to them to show off what I learned in school.  I slept.

Sunday morning, I awoke early, as I’ve always been prone to do.  My brain was buzzing at full throttle already.  (Many things have not changed with time!)  My grandparents slept on.  I picked up my hook, stuck my tongue between my teeth, and I made that first loop.  Chain.  Chain.  Repeat.  Repeat.

By the time they woke up, I’d used up my little skein of yarn to the end.  That single chain stretched from the front of their apartment to the back – seventy feet in length!  Busia looked at it and at me, puzzled.

“But Yvonne, why didn’t you turn around and go in the other direction?”

“Busia, you didn’t show me that part!”

So again, I unraveled.  She patiently taught me how to chain a few, then turn around and go the other direction, making my work wider.  The lesson took a while, because I was always an impatient kid.  (Yup, still no different there either.)

I pondered that memory last night, as I unraveled a large piece I’d begun last winter.  I had a different vision for the yarn now, so I pulled and rolled and wound and pulled some more.  It took about an hour to take it all apart.  No regrets, just ruminations.

I thought about all of the unraveling and re-chaining I’ve done in my life.  Moving to new places.  Celebrating friends come and gone.  Working at a profession that allowed me to embrace the constant change I adore.  Saying goodbye to an old series so I can begin writing a new one.

Sometimes, you must unravel the things in your life to prepare for something new, something exciting, something more beautiful, even when you don’t yet have its vision.  It is never a waste of time, the work you did that is now so much yarn waiting for its new purpose.  It’s part of the learning process, the growing, the rebirth.  Now I yearn to pick up my hook and cast on the first loop, and chain in a new direction until that beauty is revealed.

What things have you unraveled in your life, in preparation for the wonders of something even better?

2 Comments

  • Joan Fernandez

    September 4, 2017

    Yvonne, Lovely! Lovely memory and message. So relevant to me to unravel (as I approach retirement) and begin again. Joan

    • Yvonne Kohano

      September 4, 2017

      Thanks Joan! Thinking about my grandparents brought up other terrific remembrances I want to capture too! Yvonne