Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mother's Crochet

The other day, when I was tidying up, I came across yet another doily my mother had crocheted.

My mother took up crochet at the age of 52, a year after her own mother, who crocheted bed spreads and table cloths with fine sewing thread and tiny steel hooks, had died.  I wonder if her own mother's passing had influenced my mother to try crochet? She never said, although she did voice her regret that she hadn't taken it up while her mother was still alive - it would have given Grandmother great pleasure to know that one of her daughters had taken up the hobby.

The piece I held in my hands the other day was a small, rectangular doily of individual flowers joined together and a scalloped border crocheted all around. She had made it when she lived in Hong Kong, in the mid 1970s. This was a time when the three of us, my mother, my step-father, and I, lived in 3 different countries. My step-father was in Taiwan, trying to work on his immigration papers to enter the U.S. I was in the U.S., attending university. My mother was in Hong Kong, teaching.

At one time, she had been the mistress of 2 houses. Now, in Hong Kong, she was reduced to renting out a single room in someone else's house. She paid $10 extra, per week, for the use of the kitchen facilities. The houses in Hong Kong are cramped for space. Mother's room probably measured no more than 6'x8'. There was just enough room for a single bed along the long wall, a small table next to the bed along the short wall, a chair and a small cupboard at the foot of the bed for her clothes and other belongings.

Mother would wake up early, make herself a cup of tea and walk to the school where she taught. School started at 7:30 a.m., but teachers had to be there by 7:00 a.m. After school, at 4:30 p.m., she would walk back to her lonely room and make herself another cup of tea. The rest of the evening stretched out ahead of her. There were papers to be corrected and graded, of course, and lesson plans, etc. But she was a teacher with 25+ years of experience and she was very efficient, so these things wouldn't have taken more than a couple of hours.

Her landlady spoke almost no English and Mother spoke almost no Chinese, so, she couldn't "visit" with her landlady. My stepfather's sister lived in Hong Kong (and taught at the same school as Mother), but she had a busy life caring for her own family. The daughter of another of stepfather's sisters also lived in Hong Kong, with her husband and babies, and she used to invite Mother over to her house on the weekends, but week day evenings were not convenient for visits, for either of them.

So, during the week day evenings, Mother would stay in her room. The room was not heated (most houses in Hong Kong aren't; it doesn't get cold enough to snow, but it does get down to about 40F some nights). On cold winter evenings, she would remove the 60 watt bulb provided by her landlady (the electricity was included in the rent) and replace it with a 100 watt bulb - not only for the added light, but also for the extra warmth she fancied she felt from the extra wattage (she wasn't allowed to have an electric heater in the room). In the morning, before she left to go to the school, she'd replace the 100 watt bulb with the 60 watt bulb, just in case the landlady would check and make a fuss. Apparently the landlady was able to enter the room when Mother was not there. Perhaps there was no lock to the door or perhaps she had a master key.

So, after the papers were graded and the lesson plans were made, Mother would write her weekly letters to me (she wrote a little bit each day over the course of the week) and she would crochet. Keeping her hands busy creating something to keep loneliness at bay.

Only once did she write to me about her loneliness. In one letter, she mentioned looking out her windows at the mountains in the distance, and quoted a line from a song in The Sound of Music: "I go to the hills, when my heart is lonely."

All these memories and more rushed to my mind, while I held the doily. This was one of the smallest items my mother had crocheted - I have several table cloths/bed spreads she has crocheted and larger doilies. Yet, I washed it by hand and hung it up to dry.

I have since placed this doily on the mantle (living room fireplace), in front of a photograph of Mother and placed a vase of roses on it, a little to the side of the picture. There are 2 more of her doilies in the living room, as well, on the coffee table and on a side table.

It's close to 9 years since my mother's death, but the items she made remains: cherished heirlooms to be enjoyed every day. 

In the meantime, my daughter has taken up crochet!  Mother would have been proud!

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