My Mother’s Afghan



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 and someone should teach her how to crochet.”

Mom was an expert on this subject and used to invent her own patterns. Arthritic hands forced her to give it up, but she was still a good judge of crappy crochet.

I said, “Mom, if you felt that way, what did you say to Isabel when she made this offer?

“What could I say? I was caught off guard and didn’t answer. She finally asked me if I wanted one or NOT, so I told her to go ahead a make one. Then she asked what colors I wanted, and I said surprise me.”

“That was kind, Mom.”

“Kind, my ass. I just wanted her off my back. With a wave of her hand Mom said, “If I’m lucky, she’ll forget about it.”

But Isabel did not forget. Two weeks later, Mom’s doorbell rang. She opened it and there stood Isabel with a happy face, arms cradling a colorful mass. She said, “TA-DA! Your afghan is ready.” She presented the brightly colored bundle to my mother as though it was a very precious pile of something. Mom thanked her and unfolded the thing to its full size. It was an uneven rectangle of every bright color of dye that could suck up to cheap yarn. Mom described all of this on the telephone and said, “Betty, the colors were so God-awful-gaudy I think they damaged my eyes.

“Oh, Mom…you exaggerate.”

“I kid you not. It hurt me to look at that thing, but I hid my pain behind courtesy.”

As critical as she was, my mother avoided confrontation with her neighbors.

Then she said, “But get this: Isabel was glad I liked it and said I owed her $20.00.”

I was shocked and asked what happened next. She said, “I told Isabel I thought this was a gift and she said she couldn’t afford to make gifts for nothing.”

I was beginning to agree with my mother that the third floor really might be for people who weren’t rational, but Mom paid her anyway and stored the ugly thing in a box. She couldn’t stand the sight of it because it made her mad and reminded her that she’d been taken by a wacky lady on the third floor. In spite of all the anguish, 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 warm sweater for her arms and that afghan for her lap while watching TV. It felt so good that she forgot how ugly it was and how mad she’d been for getting jilted out of twenty bucks. When the weather warmed she stored the afghan back in the box. .

Several years later, and because of too many falls in her apartment, my mother was admitted to a convalescent home. Whenever she got out of bed she was in a wheel chair with her afghan on her lap and tucked around her legs.

When I visited one day she was frantic and greeted me with “My ugly afghan is missing.”

I was determined to find it and searched everywhere; the laundry room, the clean clothes area, and every other person’s room in case it had been placed there by accident. I even pinned a sign on the bulletin board and asked all of the nurses to keep their eyes open for Mom’s afghan. They said, “You mean that God-awful-gaudy thing?” They knew what I was talkin’ about.

But it never showed up. Mom was heartsick and said, “I never thought I’d feel this bad about losing that thing.” She was so down in the dumps that I shopped for a really beautiful lap blanket to lift her spirits. She loved it and after a few days snapped out of the doldrums and became her funny old self again. She said, “Betty, you know what?

“No Mom…what?”

With 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 and Mom said, “Betty, as much as I like this fancy blanket you bought, it’s not much fun.”

“Mom, what do you mean, the new blanket isn’t much fun?”

She paused for a minute gathering her thoughts and said, “It’s perfect but I don’t have a story that goes with it.”

My mother has been gone for a long time now and just recently, I had a similar experience to her afghan fiasco. I attended a neighborhood craft show and noticed that an elderly woman wasn’t selling any of her crocheted items. People either floated right past her or they looked at her items for a few minutes and left. Each time someone stopped to look, she appeared hopeful. When they left without buying, she slumped in her chair, dejected and forlorn.

I felt sorry for her so I paid $25.00 for a shoulder shawl with colors that I really liked:  rust and lavender. When I got home and took time to look at more than just the colors, I was shocked at how many potholes and blobs were in the pattern. How could I have missed this? But it didn’t keep me from wrapping the shawl around my shoulders while watching TV. And that’s when the memory of Mom’s ugly afghan made me smile. Neither of us liked what we had purchased but eventually grew attached to them.

Even though I’ve bonded with mine, I never show it to people who crochet well. But I did show the noticeable 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.”

Hm…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 poorly made project because it feels good around my shoulders. And this tacky shawl makes me feel closer to Mom. Each time I snuggle inside of it I feel like saying, “Hey, look, Ma…I got “bad taste”, too.”

 drawings by Betty Auchard

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  • Laura/Readerwoman

    I used to crochet as well (arthritis means no more crocheting – I’m sure my family is relieved) and I made MY mother an afghan once – she opened the present and said oh my, you’ve made me a hammock!
    I love the stories behind well loved things! Ugly or not… here I come!

  • Sue Campbell

    Betty, I LOVED this story. It reminds me of my grandmother who also used to make us gifts of questionable taste.

    Every year just before Christmas, a visit to her house included a privileged look into the gift closet at her works in progress. Always, they were slated for “… your cousin/sister/mother, but don’t you tell!” And all the while you knew that you were getting one just like it, but perhaps in a slightly different never-before-seen color combination.

    For years those gift afghans, and quilts were treasured (albeit under another bedspread) until they finally wore out. I still miss grandma’s wink, wink, conspiracy of the “secret” gift stash and the way she couldn’t wait until Christmas to reveal her wild n crazy creations.

    Thanks Betty, for the memories!

  • Shanon

    I loved this story. Your mom with her dingbats and weirdo neighbors made me smile. I’m glad she got so much mileage from that afghan. It was $20. well spent! Also? Enjoy that tacky shawl.

  • oscar case

    Got a good chuckle from this one, Betty! The Goodwill Store or the Salvation Army gets some of the things I don’t like, but bought to help out.

  • AL Levenson

    One more vote in the “I love this story” column. Why did I have to wait this long to find out about your blog. I will subscribe today and expect you to reach the high bar you set with the story of your mother’s afghan.

  • Shirley

    Love your story on so many levels. You are a wonderful writer and I just finished reading Dancing in My Nightgown…terrific. I look forward to your future stories. You are a real inspiration.My mother’s projects are treasured by all. We love them because she made them and they are beautiful to her children and grandchildren.