Mom got the first inkling when she fell into the flower garden for no reason, which really just meant scary unknown reason. The knowing took a long time, while in the meantime the inklings started stacking up. Parkinson’s is notoriously resistant to diagnosis so it would be years before anything near a conclusion would be reached — and even now, 17 years later, there is still a certain amount of professional disagreement about is it Parkinson’s – like or is it Parkinson’s.
It’s an intellectual argument really when in reality there was no arguing how her sewing skills were unraveling, running backwards, back back back through all of the mountains and mountains of mittens, gloves, head bands and head wraps, neck warmers, sweaters, bonnets & booties, hooded baby bath towels, bibs, onesies, shawls, ponchos, tote bags, zippered bags, socks, hats made out of yarn, hats made out of cut-up sweaters, hats made out of felt, pants, sweaters, napkins, table cloths, pot holders, bed skirts, pillowcases, sheets, bath mats, aprons, bedspreads, wall hangings, banners, placemats, pot holders, table runners, laptop cases, brief cases, tampon holders, wallets, eye glass cases, change purses, one 3 ft. x 3 ft. baseball card portfolio, hanging shoe bags, diaper bags, purses, fanny packs, handbags, belts, jackets, coats, dickies, I’m sure there were dickies, tutus, leggings, belly shirts, something she called bottom huggers — exactly as it sounds, a decorative wrap for the bottom like a necktie is for the neck — which were also made from cut-up sweaters and which I think she invented (thankfully for the 3-year old gal in the family and not the 50+ year-old ones), and near the end, crop tops for boys (also thankfully for the little boys and not the big ones) as she reached to find unbroken ground for textiles and tools, some new geography to explore with a crochet hook, a knitting needle, a knitting hoop, a loom, a sewing machine and, underpinning it all, the plain old toothpick of a hand-sewing needle.
Whether by the week or by the year, at every family gathering large or small, Mom would come with a freshly manufactured, huge box of goods. Nothing seemed to feed her more than for whoever was present to drop to the floor and paw through the pile, carefully fingering their way through the wild assortment of color combinations and patterns, wildness being her specialty, her wildness our delight.
While the men were mostly excluded from the pawing and also the project recruitment, on occasion they were drawn in when Mom created something intended for all — one year a line of original design hats for the purpose of shielding sun, another year aprons — and, after the pawing and pairing to the individual, we would all line up for a photo, a family woven together more securely by head wear and aprons.
There was one exception, though. While men were largely excused from production, there was one man in the group whom Mom had her eye on as an apprentice….Drew, the handiest of all in the manufacturing of goods department, being a master craftsman of fine homes and furniture. But Mom is known for her free-range connections and what’s the difference if you work in wood or you work in ribbon and remnants, really, so Drew was roped into making an apron for himself which he unbelievably and good naturedly did — I was never so accommodating — because Mom had acquired some material depicting lobsters and Drew loves lobster, always needing to boil up a pot when he comes from the midwest to Maine, so that year he had an apron made of his own hand for his lobster boiling project, something he probably hadn’t seen coming, but then again, maybe he had; Mom is something of a wild card, that much you can count on.
But Parkinson’s was undo-ing all that, her unraveling mirroring the days and days she spent un-knitting mittens in which she’d mistakenly attached the thumb to the wrong side or sweaters with neck holes that would only go over the heads of mice, or a million other projects that had strayed from the path and which now had her pulling thread and yarn out faster than she could re-create. Her work took on a crude, child-like quality, briefly passing through a folk-art sort of period before a rapid descent, moving from small, careful stitches to big stitches to duct tape, dropping from the high end of the spectrum — silks and other slipperies — all the way down to felts and fabrics adaptable to glue and staples, whatever she could employ to bring things together. She would find ways to make until she could make no more.
She did this steadfastly, stubbornly, presenting boxes now of misshapen pieces.
Did she know?
Once, as she discussed with me the red and green stop-and-go mittens she’d made for Zoe and Leo which I would take over later that morning — Leo’s mittens cat-paw size and shape, Zoe’s with the thumbs much higher than where thumbs go — she looked at me and simply said, “I would do better if I could.”
There was still life in those crooked mittens, an irrepressible creativity insisting upon expression, no matter the shape it took.
I stand in awe.
The stories in this blog are excerpts from my memoir, The Organization Project. While they are true to me and reflect how I see, I acknowledge there are multiple truths, including my own which change over time, even as the events themselves remain the same. What I make of an event 5 years out may not be what I make of it 10 years out.