Willing Hands

The cross-stitched chair cover has languished, unfinished, in the closet of my mind for 40 years.

In my defence, I didn’t start it. It came to me after my grandmother died.

Maybe you’d like to finish it? The flowers are all done.

My mother did not engage in the needle arts, but this observation required no particular expertise, no domain knowledge as we say these days, and she was exactly right. The flowers were done, albeit with some missed stitches; the mustardy brown background was partly done, clearly waiting only for willing hands.

How could I say no?

There was just one thing: There was no yarn with it.

Taking it reluctantly — Did I mention the background colour? — I visited specialty yarn shops, trying to find a match. A fool’s errand, really, given dye lots. But I couldn’t find anything even close: yarn colours were fashion items even then and mustardy brown had, unaccountably, gone out of fashion for decor since my grandmother had last put down this project, easily 10 years earlier. Maybe 20. And I balked at snipping all the stitches and starting again.

As I raised children and completed a degree, the chair cover sat in my basement, eyeing me reproachfully whenever I opened the closet door. Eventually, a family friend gave me the permission I needed to return it to my mother. I assume she quietly chucked it. I know we never spoke of it again.

But there it sits, in the closet of my mind. Unfinished and unfinishable business.

Now that my mother has died, my thoughts turn again to the transition from one generation to the next. I think of the things that are handed on, hoping to find willing hands to complete them or, at least, to keep them going.

I think of personal projects like that dreadful chair cover, and family projects like genealogical research. I think of scientific projects like reaching Mars or recovering an extinct species of tortoise, and national projects like the reforestation of the Scottish Highlands.

And I think of human projects, like finding ways for more of us to thrive, and for all of us to live in sufficiency and peace.

I can’t finish those human projects — heck, I couldn’t even finish the chair cover — but I can at least take the handoff, do my bit, and pass them on.

After all, how can I say no? The flowers are all done.


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8 Responses to Willing Hands

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Good stuff, Isabel.

  2. Just make into a chair cover the way it is — everybody will understand.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – It’s long gone, I’m afraid, but I take your point. There was likely a less-than-perfect solution . . .

  3. Lorna says:

    Isabel, I love this piece. Thanks for your gift of communicating broader ideas so clearly and so gently.

  4. Marion says:

    Only very recently did I finally give away a bag of yarn and knitting needles that I inherited from my mother. Inherited only because my sister wisely said she’d never use them and I couldn’t at the time bear to toss them out. Well, my mother died in 1989 and I one day just accepted that I woudn’t be whipping up a scarf with that nice mauve yarn (sorry, no mustard, Isabel) and gave to Value Village. I’m sure that some willing hands found them there and a scarf is now waiting for that first chill morning of the winter.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Marion – Yes, I understand that impulse. It’s interesting that the time does eventually come when to say goodbye. And I bet someone was thrilled to pick them up. Do we still call that a win/win?

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