My grandmother lived right behind the Randolph County Courthouse, in a 1930 white bungalow that’s long since been torn down, with a deep backyard and a beautiful flower garden that’s
My grandmother lived right behind the Randolph County Courthouse, in a 1930 white bungalow that’s long since been torn down, with a deep backyard and a beautiful flower garden that’s long since been paved over to make way for a municipal parking lot.
In the ’70s, she worked at the courthouse, in the Register of Deeds office, and she took her lunch hour from exactly 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., during which time she walked from the courthouse’s back steps, down the hill, through her backyard, past her beautiful flower beds, and into the back door of her house.
She would make a sandwich — tomato in the summer, grilled pimento cheese in the winter — percolate a fresh pot of coffee, and spend the remainder of her lunch break doing two things: watching All My Children on television and working on a large needlepoint sampler that she draped across her knees while she stitched.
My grandmother had always been comfortable with a needle and thread in her hand; for years, she’d sewn her own clothes, and in the ’50s, she worked as a salesclerk at Buddy’s Dress Shop in Asheboro, helping with alterations as needed. When my mother opened her crafts store in 1972, my grandmother picked up embroidery, drawn to the large patterns of Americana samplers, homespun works of needlecraft that featured letters of the alphabet, decorative borders, birds, flowering trees, celestial bodies. The sun, the moon, the stars.
For all the ways I remember my grandmother — how she fastened a single strand of beads around her slender neck and dabbed her lipstick with a tissue; how she flipped open the top of her silverplated Zippo to light a cigarette; how she folded her hands over her Bible in her lap at church; how she knelt by a plastic bucket in her garden, filling it with wild onion and tufts of clover dug up by the roots — my clearest memory is of her lacing that thick, warm wool around her fingers, of the long, slow pulls of her needle through the canvas, of how she settled into a rhythm of work that fit her quiet demeanor.
After my grandfather died, she always kept a needlework project going, beautiful tapestries emerging beneath her fingertips, a tactile comfort for the heartache she most surely felt. When her eyesight began to dim from cataracts, the muscle memory in her hands helped guide the stitches, and, although she worked more slowly, she maintained a steady, even tension on the yarn, her work as elegant on the underside — where no one would ever see it — as it was on top.
If you met my grandmother, you might’ve thought she lived a plain life. She didn’t travel far from home and mostly walked where she needed to go. She hung clothes on a line and canned her food: beans and beets, corn and tomatoes. She reused bread bags, rinsed out jelly jars for drinking glasses, refolded wrapping paper. But she could also whistle to mimic the warble of a robin, recite fairy tales from memory, and spot Orion rising in a clear winter sky. She’d trace the constellations with her fingertips until I could see them, too, a tapestry of celestial bodies imprinted in the sky, a motif of stars, adding their shining light to the heavens.
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