When I look back on my life… as a DIY devotee, as a crafter, as a thriftress, and as a Christian, I can’t help but tip my hat to my grandmother, Dorothy (or as we affectionately call her, “Dot”) as she has embodied all of these things — and more. And I mean this as no slight to my mother, because I think she would agree that she has these same qualities and values, too. (The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree… three generations in a row.)
Dot has always been thrifty, but well before it was cool to blog about it. And as long as I’ve known her, she has always shopped at Goodwill — before the hipsters told us it was “in.” In fact, the very first time I ever went to Goodwill, I was accompanied by Dot. (She wasn’t going to get ironic t-shirts in the kids section that she could re-fashion into workout clothes. #guilty.) I don’t recall what we bought that day — if anything — but I remembered feeling so inspired, watching her go through the housewares section, seeing all of the figurative diamonds in the rough, explaining to me the potential of each item.
On another Goodwill trip, we bought this silver cuff bracelet; I say “silver,” but it looked more like burnt tin foil. It was tarnished, gross, even a little smelly, and I couldn’t for the life of me see the big deal. But that afternoon, we took it home, she taught me how to polish silver, and MAGIC! That thing was gorgeous and good as new. (Consequentially, this is where I developed my love for polishing silver, which is equal to my love for spray painting anything and everything.)
While she loved thrifting, she really excelled in all crafty endeavors. One of my favorite Dot crafts EVER were the heating pads she made for herself. Being about 5’2″ and approximately 75 lbs., she was ALWAYS cold, so these were a necessity for her nighttime routine. She made a sort of sleeve out of scrap fabric, filled it with rice, sewed it closed, and attached handles made out cording on either end. Apparently microwaving raw rice brings out the water inside the grain, thus making for a steamy, soothing heating pad. Genius. (One time I needed one, but we didn’t want to take the time to sew one, so she just took an old tube sock, filled it with rice, and tied the end. And since I don’t sew, I still use this method all the time.)
And well before the words “upcycle” or “repurpose” became household words, she was doing just that to anything and everything she could — old jars, Pringles tubes, spent drapes (think Maria in The Sound of Music). Being born in 1927, saving things to recycle them later was just a way of life for a Depression Era lady, and she passed that on to my mother, and her to me.
But it wasn’t just things that she cherished. She could see the value in anyone. She was kind. She was patient. She was loving. She was slow to anger — though prone to “tizzies” as we called them, moments of stressed-hands-in-the-hair-loud-sighing-and-general-harumphing. But these were rare and typically a result from receiving a gift, to which she’d respond “Well, it’s beautiful and I love it, but I certainly don’t need it and you didn’t need to spend the money!” And while she may not have found these moments endearing, we certainly did.
In addition to her tizzies, she was known for her crooked finger. My mother always said that Dot rarely had to raise her voice because she could display that crooked finger, point it in your direction… and yessiree, you could bet that you’d sit up real straight in that church pew. And while I was basically a model grandchild (of course!), there were a few exceptions where I was witness to the crooked finger (and by then her crooked finger had became a crooked set of fingers, so you can imagine the power it held over me).
And did I mention she’s a wordsmith? She coined the term “thoughty,” which bears a striking resemblance to the word thoughtful, and — you guessed it — means the same thing. (Don’t get me wrong — this had nothing to do with lack of education. Dot earned not one but TWO degrees. In College. In a time and in a part of the country where it wasn’t exactly old hat for young women to go to college.) And if Dot called you thoughty, well… you were pretty special. Thoughty was usually only reserved for people who did great philanthropic deeds… and anyone who ever wrote her a thank you note. (Woe to you if you’ve ever forgotten to write her one.) She was never slow or conservative in her expressions of gratitude, so she expected the same from everybody else.
And always full of surprises, this same woman who made me dozens of frilly clothes for my American Girl dolls, has always been the biggest sports freak ever, especially when it comes to the University of Tennessee basketball and football. She has loved Peyton Manning before he was “Peyton Manning.” And if my father is away from a radio or TV and needs to know “the score,” he’d often call Dot because of course she’s sitting in the den, heating pad behind her back and eyes on the TV screen.
As for Dot’s accolades, I could go on and on: an incredible gardener, a devout and faithful Christian woman, a loving wife, a mother of four children, a seamstress extraordinaire, an excellent athlete (in her prime), etc., etc. And aside from all of the lacy, doily-covered grandmother type stuff, she’s always been a spitfire and a half. Even if her opinion wasn’t the popular opinion, she’s never hesitated for a minute to express it… while reminding you that “I’m only telling you this because I want you to be happy.” And she truly did.
About a week and a half ago, Dot passed away. After 85 years on this planet (sorry, Dot, I told them your real age anyway), and after a bout with emphysema and congestive heart failure, she has gone on to Heaven. While her passing did not catch us off guard, it has been hard nonetheless because our loss is so great. However, I’m comforted with the belief in my heart that she is no longer suffering, and that she is reunited with my grandfather (who we tragically lost back in 1996).
And while it hurts to know that I can’t pick up the phone and call her or drive four hours to Knoxville to see her — something that I wish I had done more while she was alive — I know I can always count on her memory to remind me, to nudge me, to kick my butt… when I’m lazy about saying my prayers, when I’m less than generous to my fellow man, when I even consider not writing someone a thank you note…
Because that’s not how Dot would have done it.
She would have gone out of her way, past the point of convenience, past her means, even past the point of her patience, if she thought that might make a difference to someone or something.
Talk about thoughty.
I love you, Mama Dot. And I always will.