A Lesson

As a child growing up on Green Hill Farm there were two things that I looked forward to the most: visiting with Grandma and Granddaddy Rieley and summer time.  One thing that I liked best was neither required dressy outfits or shoes.  I also relished the freedom of an undetermined day, one without rules or routines.  I’d run around on the farm sometimes barefoot and still in my pajamas, or a mismatched outfit chosen by me; one which usually included an article of clothing made of terry-cloth, a Mork and Mindy tee-shirt and maybe even knee socks.  I probably resembled something akin to a cross between Little Orphan Annie and a peasant.  Nevertheless, I didn’t care.  I had Grandma to visit, stuff to get into, and I was comfortable–a formula that equalled happiness in my world.  Of course, those days are long gone, because I’d never go outside today without at least a pair of flip flops on my feet.  I also don’t wear terry cloth shorts or knee-socks anymore, either–at least, not together.  However, I still prefer jeans and tee-shirts to dressy outfits, and I’m known to wear my pajamas outside the house on occasion (but never off the farm).  As for those undetermined days, well, I still love them, because you just never know who you may meet or what you might learn.

It was a glorious summer day like the ones depicted in those old Country Time Lemonade commercials:  the sky was the most beautiful shade of blue, the grass in the meadow was swaying in the breeze, and the sun was radiating a special kind of warmth that you feel both physically and emotionally.  I was skipping along on my routine walk to Grandma’s, when I discovered everyone sitting on metal lawn chairs, visiting in the front garden of the house:  Grandma and Grandaddy, Mom and Dad and Mr. and Mrs. Claude Camellia.  They all sat chit-chatting as the smell of irises, Grandma’s favorite flower, floated over the conversation.  The Camellia’s were from Durham, North Carolina and guests of my grandparents.  Grandma and Grandaddy had met them the previous winter while vacationing in Florida and avoiding the Virginia snow.  I’m not sure what Mr. Camellia’s occupation had been, but Ethel (she told me that I could call her that) was a retired Latin teacher.

As I approached the group, I noticed that Ethel was busily working on something:  holding two, small balls of blue and white yarn, her hands moved briskly from side to side as the colored yarn stretched around a wire coat hanger positioned between her knees.  While everyone talked, I puttered around picking flowers and playing with whatever dog or random barn cat that crossed my path, happily in my own, unstructured world. That is until Ethel called me over to her.  “Would you like to learn how to cover a coat hanger with yarn?” she sweetly asked.  My 8-year-old brain, while strenuously against the idea, was trying hard to come up with a realistic alternative to outright fleeing.  I stood there, fidgeting.  I probably wore an expression that said:  I’d rather do almost anything else on Earth than sit here putting yarn on a coat hanger.  However, when I was about to make an excuse, I felt Dad’s gaze upon me.  I begrudgingly glanced in his direction, and after reading his face, I knew what my answer would be:  “Yes, Ma’am.  That would be nice.  Thank you,” I said.

I felt miserable.  A perfectly good day of puttering–ruined!  “Here, you can have my seat.  I believe it’s time to start fixin’ dinner,” Grandma said.  It was only about 11 o’clock in the morning, but on Green Hill Farm, the meal served at noon was called dinner.  This is probably because farmers rose early; by 12 o’clock, not only had they worked at least eight hours, but they were hungry–dinner was the main meal of the day.  As Grandma got up to go inside, my eyes longingly followed after her until she disappeared into the darkness of the house.  The happiness and lightness that filled me only minutes earlier were gone, and my ill-fated situation was beginning to sink in…for the next hour, I would have to sit still with someone I barely knew, so that I could learn about something for which I had absolutely NO interest.  With slumped shoulders and dull eyes, I walked toward this smiling, gray-haired stranger, who was dressed in a crisp, cotton blouse covered with little, lavender flowers and reluctantly sat down in Grandma’s seat.

As I sat down, Ethel pulled my chair close to hers and proceeded to explain to me how to measure a yard of yarn. She told me to hold one end of it to my nose and then stretch it out as far as I could.  I did that about four or five times, cut the yarn and rolled it into a ball.  When I finished, I repeated the process.  Next, I tied the two ends of yarn together while holding the coat hanger, hook side, away from me.  Then, I tied a knot at the top of the hanger, right under the hook.  I began to tie a knot with each ball of yarn, alternating sides.  As I  worked on my coat hanger, Ethel continued with her own.  At first, I was awkward and slow, and my knots were fat, loose and twisted.  Ethel periodically paused to instruct me in the art of covering coat hangers, stopping me to demonstrate proper technique.  As I worked around the coat hanger with the unraveling balls of yarn in my little hands, I became more adept.  The knots were becoming tighter and more uniform.  I sat there, bent over my work, tying yarn knots for the better part of an hour, until Grandma called us to eat.  By the time our plates were ready, I had completed my yarn coat hanger.  The first half of it was covered in loosely, knotted, blue and white yarn; whereas, the second half was more dexterously rendered.  Anyway, I was very proud of my accomplishment, and I was beginning to like my new friend.

The coat hanger lesson wasn’t terrible after all, and it had actually turned out to be fun!  I enjoyed it so much that I must have made about 30 yarn hangers over the summer, because I remember giving them to everyone as Christmas presents that year.  Throughout my childhood, the coat hangers were also a fun means to earn a few extra dollars.  Family and friends would bring me their old, wire hangers to cover with yarn, and for a $1.00, they would receive a handmade gift with which to delight someone.  Even today, I continue to make yarn coat hangers as my contribution to a fundraising craft table for my P.E.O. chapter–a philanthropic organization for women.

Looking back, I realize that meeting and spending time with Ethel was a gift.  She taught me a number of things during her short visit that summer: one was how to cover a coat hanger with yarn, and the other was to say I love you in Latin–Ego amo te.  But the most important thing that I learned from her wasn’t about coat hanger crafting or Latin phrases.  The most important thing that I learned was to step outside of myself and my routine in order to be open to new people and experiences–people and experiences that would enrich my life.  Over that short week, I grew fond of Ethel.  I appreciated her kindness and attention as well as all the new things I was learning.  Ethel and I were pen pals for a while, but unfortunately, I never had an opportunity to visit with her again.  I often think of her affectionately, remembering her patience with an 8-year-old, little girl who just wanted to run around that day.

Here’s the thing:  All these years later, whenever I sit down to cover a coat hanger with yarn, I warmly recollect that day.  I see an 8-year-old me, playing at Grandma’s, enjoying a beautiful summer morning.  I remember those metal lawn chairs, the smell of irises blooming and learning to make yarn coat hangers with a new friend– a humble moment in time that I will forever carry with me.

 

14 Comments »

  1. Wonderful story. I had an Aunt in Volney, not too far from Marion. I loved going there. Your picture are lovely. Wasn’t it a thrill to be invited to call an adult by their first name ?

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  2. Wonderful post, Tonya…I still have the hangars you made for us years ago and think of you every time I hang up a top!! It is so true how people touch us everyday in a small way and we don’t know it until later… My grandmother is with me every time I chop an onion because she was the one who taught me how… I met a lady in the UPS store and she gave me an extra copy of a dessert bread and I make it all the time..I’ll never see her again but I think of her and how she shared and I am encouraged to share also… I can see still see the man who helped me with Bubs one day at Barnes and Noble…he took my car keys, went and got my car, and helped me maneuver Bubs into the car(he’d also set my phone on 911 and all I had to do is punch it if needed)…I will never see him again either, but he taught me to never be shy if someone is in need. My friend who I drove to cancer treatments to Roanoke years ago bought me a fly swatter one day on our way home and to this day I have it and obviously use it…weird way to remember someone, but I smile every time I pick it up. I wonder if she’s smiling too?? I stopped at a Starbucks one time on my way home from Atlanta and when I went to pay, the cashier said that my coffee had already been paid for by someone before me….I’ve never gone into a coffee place again without paying for someone’s coffee Isn’t it wonderful to things we can learn from others and how it all touches our lives. Thanks for reminding me of just “a few” of those people…love Lynn

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    • Lynn, those are all wonderful memories! The smallest interaction with another can have such a lasting impact on our lives. I remember that day with Bubs and how much that man’s help meant to you. I get teary thinking about it. I believe that our actions and lives touch others much more than we realize. Thank you for reading my post & sharing. 🙂

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  3. Lovely post… I too have memories of being a young girl with glorious summer days to fill with adventures on my parents small farm. Those memories also include comfortable & well-worn mismatched clothes, those lovely old metal lawn chairs sitting in the shade of a flower garden and an elderly neighbor named Ruby that showed me the same craft of covering wire clothes hangers with yarn. After learning how, I ‘taught’ my Mom and we made many of those yarn covered hangers together that winter. She also taught me the measuring yards with the nose to outstretched fingers method!
    After my parents died we were clearing a lifetime of memories out of their old house. I walked into their clothes closet and there they were, dozens of those yarn covered hangers. They all came home with me, the hangers and many other everyday items that are priceless in the memories they hold. For one of my most wonderful finds take a look at this blog post I wrote last winter-
    http://fullcirclefarmersandsawyers.com/2014/02/05/the-old-blue-lunchbox/
    Thank You for jostling up wonderful memories for me on this cold Autumn morning.

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    • Thank you for reading my post and for your generous comments. I loved hearing that you also learned to cover coat hangers with yarn; I’ve never spoken with anyone else who knew how to make them–and that you learned to measure a yard of yarn the same way, too! I really enjoyed reading about your treasured memories, and your post, “The Old Blue Lunchbox” was priceless. I know how much that worn lunch box of your dad’s, filled with his vegetable seeds must have meant to you. My grandparents grew a vegetable garden every year, and Dad continues to now. I could completely visualize the process of preparing the garden as I read your words: working the soil, measuring the rows, planting the ‘Blue Lake Pole’ beans and onion sets after the May 15 frost date. I must now thank you for bringing back wonderful memories for me as well.

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  4. Fantastic post! It brought back childhood memories of living in South Africa and running around barefoot most of the time. My best friend’s mother had a chicken run in the back yard. She used to send us (barefoot) to collect the eggs. I’ve never quite forgotten the sensation of ‘you know what in between my toes’ – squishy and cold at the same time 🙂

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  5. What wonderful memories. It is funny how people seem to come into our lives for a reason? Ethel obviously had a profound influence on you, and taught you something that you still enjoy doing all these years later.
    I always love to see your photos, the beautiful flowers and your gorgeous farm. Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

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