Written and Illustrated by Betty Auchard
My mother lived on the first floor of an independent living facility for seniors. Even though all of them were capable and confident, Mom referred to them as dingbats. She did not consider herself one of them and made harsh judgments about the others. She said, “I think everyone here is kinda “off” in the head, but the real weirdos live on the third floor.”
Isabel, a third-floor weirdo, approached my mother one day and offered to crochet an afghan for her. When Mom told me this, I said, “That’s really nice.”
“Nice, my foot. The woman’s projects are crappy; someone should teach her how to crochet.”
Mom was an expert on the subject and used to invent her own designs. Arthritic hands forced her to give it up, but she was still a good judge of crappy crochet.
I said, “Since you feel that way, what did you say to Isabel when she made the offer?”
“What could I say? I was caught off guard and didn’t answer. She finally asked if I wanted one or not, so I told her to go ahead and make one. Then she asked what colors I wanted, and I said, ‘Surprise me.’”
“That was kind.”
“Kind, my ass. I just wanted her off my back.” With a wave of her hand, Mom added, “If I’m lucky, she’ll forget about it.”
But Isabel did not forget. Two weeks later, Mom’s doorbell rang. She opened the door, and there stood Isabel with a happy face, arms cradling a colorful mass. She said, “TA-DA! Your afghan is ready,” and presented the brightly colored bundle to my mother as though it was a precious offering. Mom somehow managed to thank her. After unfolding the thing to its full size, she saw that it was an uneven rectangle made from every bright color of dye that could suck up to cheap yarn. Mom described all of this on the telephone before saying, “Betty, the colors were so God-awful gaudy I think they damaged my eyes.
“Oh, you exaggerate.”
“I kid you not. It hurt me to look at that thing, but I hid the pain behind courtesy.”
As critical as she was, my mother avoided any direct confrontations with her neighbors.
Then she said, “But get this: Isabel said she was glad I liked it and told me I owed her twenty dollars.”
I was shocked and asked what happened next. Mom said, “I told Isabel I thought this was a gift. She said she couldn’t afford to make gifts for nothing.”
I was beginning to agree with my mother about the third floor residents.
Mom gave in and paid Isabel and stuck the ugly thing in a box in the closet. Seeing her twenty-dollar gift would remind her that she’d been taken by a wacky lady on the third floor, and the memory made her mad all over again.
In spite of the anguish it caused, my mother loved telling the story to anyone who would listen, and it got better each time.
That winter when the weather turned cold and damp, Mom dug out a sweater for her arms and that afghan for her lap to keep her warm while watching TV. Her gaudy lap blanket felt so good that she forgot how ugly it was and how upset she’d been. When the weather warmed, she returned the afghan to the box.
After too many falls in her apartment, my mother was admitted to a convalescent home several years later. Whenever she got out of bed, she sat in a wheelchair with the afghan tucked around her legs.
When I visited one day, Mom greeted me with a frown that made her eyes all squinty and full of anger. I asked what was wrong and she said, “My ugly afghan is missing!”
I was determined to find it and searched everywhere: the laundry room, the clean clothes area, and every other resident’s room in case it had been placed there by accident. I even pinned an announcement to the bulletin board and asked all of the nurses to keep their eyes open for the afghan. One nurse said, “You mean that God-awful-gaudy thing?” They knew what I was talkin’ about.
It never showed up. Heartsick, Mom said, “I never thought I’d feel so bad about losing that thing.”
She was so down in the dumps that I bought her a beautiful lap blanket to lift her spirits. After a few days, she snapped out of the doldrums and became her funny old self again. She said, “Betty, you know what?”
With her forefinger stabbing the air, she said, “Whoever took my afghan deserved it, because they have really bad taste.”
We got a lot of mileage out of that funny thought. Then Mom said, “Betty, as much as I like this fancy blanket you bought, it’s not much fun.”
“What do you mean, the new blanket isn’t much fun?”
She paused for a minute to gather her thoughts before saying, “It’s perfect, but I don’t have a story that goes with it.”
My mother has been gone for a long time now, but recently I had an experience that reminded me of the afghan fiasco. While attending a neighborhood craft show, I noticed that an elderly woman wasn’t selling any of her crocheted items. People either floated right past her, or they looked at her handiwork for a few minutes and left. Each time someone stopped to look, her face lit up. When they left without buying, she slumped in her chair, dejected and forlorn.
I felt so sorry for her that I paid twenty-five dollars for a shoulder shawl crocheted in colors I liked: rust and lavender. When I got home and took the time to look at more than just the colors, I was shocked at how many potholes and blobs marred the pattern. I wondered how I could have missed them, but it didn’t keep me from wrapping the shawl around my shoulders while watching TV. That’s when the memory of Mom’s ugly afghan made me smile. Neither of us liked what we had purchased, but we both grew attached to them.
Even though I’ve bonded with it, I never show my shawl to people who crochet well. I did, however, point out the mistakes to my daughter-in-law, who said, “Awww, that is so sweet.”
“Whaddaya mean by sweet?”
“I feel sorry for the lady who made this. There are so many messed-up places that she obviously didn’t know she was crocheting boo-boos.”
Now I’m wondering if these old gals are purposely dropping stitches and twisting yarn the wrong way so people will feel sorry for their efforts. Oh, well. I still like my shawl because it feels good around my shoulders, and defects in the design make me feel closer to Mom. Each time I snuggle inside it, I feel like saying, “Hey, look, Ma, I got bad taste, too.”
I am a retired public school art teacher who turned into a writer when my husband of 49 years died of cancer in 1998. Since then I’ve had three memoirs published … the first one when I was 75, the second book when I was 80, and the third one when I was 86. I sometimes illustrate my stories and this is one of them.