My grandmother's name was Viola Cole, but she wasn't my “real” grandmother; she was actually my mom's half-sister. My mom was Dorothy Maina, whose mother died when she was four and whose father died when she was nine. Viola was her half-sister, who at the age of twenty had just married Abe Cole. Viola and Abe raised my mom as their own daughter, even though no legal documents were ever recorded. That's what families did back then: ---they took care of one another. Viola and Abe had two children, Scott and June. They and my mom, Dorothy, were all three raised as equals, and thus Scott and June became my uncle and aunt.
My mom graduated from high school, went to work, and in time married my father, Charles Knott. About the same time, Abe Cole was a building contractor, and he purchased several acres of property on Spectacle Lake near Valparaiso, Indiana where he built three identical homes. My parents lived in one, my grandparents lived in the middle, and Uncle Scott and his family lived on the other side. Uncle Scott now had two children, Marcy and Scotty, who were the same age as my brother, David, and I. We were inseparable. The four of us were the Cole’s grandchildren and were treated as such.
We played at the lake, rolled down the hills, played on swings, and in our sandbox, but the center of our lives was our grandparents’ home, especially the kitchen. Marcy and I watched Gramma make perfect pie crusts using no recipe, something that I have never been able to duplicate. She made pancakes for the four of us, always making extras, so we could put jelly in the middle and have them as snacks the next day. Birthday parties were always in Gramma’s kitchen, as well as all holiday meals.
The one thing that alone fascinated me was Gramma’s treadle sewing machine, which was in the basement. I watched her sew and asked myriad questions that only a five year old could ask. She patiently answered me. Then one day she asked if I'd like to learn to sew. I was so excited! I don't remember how I was able to work the treadle, but I remember sewing with her sitting next to me. None of the other grandkids were interested, so I had my gramma all to myself. We talked and shared all kinds of things, which made me feel so special.
At that age, I wanted to do something to really impress my gramma. I went to the basement by myself to sew something. I think my intent was to show her my completed project, and I imagined her big smile and hug at my accomplishment. I didn't know anything about fabric, patterns, cutting, pinning--only making that marvelous machine sew those neat, even stitches.
I sewed ten perfect straight lines. They were so pretty, and I was so proud. I took my project upstairs to get that much anticipated smile and hug. It didn't quite happen the way I imagined.
Gramma looked at my project, grabbed it, and began waving her brand new garden gloves in the air. I had sewed a very straight line of stitches in the middle of every finger of those gloves. As anyone who sews knows, ripping stitches is a necessary skill, and one which I learned that day.
We had many laughs about that incident, but my gramma continued to help me polish my sewing skills. One of the best Christmas gifts I ever received was the sewing machine they bought for me when I was nine years old. My dad showed me how to take it apart, clean and oil it, and put it back together, which I knew was my responsibility. I used that machine until I was twenty-four, when it was damaged in a household move.
My gramma's encouragement, patience, and understanding taught me a skill I continue to use today. I used to make all my own clothes, but I don't do that anymore. I quilt now, but how many quilts can one have or use? Now I make charity quilts for persons less fortunate than I am.
Through sewing, I have met many people who became good friends and influenced my life. Years ago after Hurricane Katrina, a woman in my quilt guild secured a truck to take supplies down to Louisiana. Guild members made quilts to donate to survivors who had lost everything. We filled her truck, and she took off with the promise to return with lots of pictures of the grateful people accepting our gifts.
One of those pictures showed a woman crying and wrapped in one of the quilts I had made. What an enormous feeling and connection that was! I realized that something I did benefitted someone I would never meet.
At five years old, my gramma could not have known how her teaching me to use her treadle sewing machine would affect my life with so many rewarding experiences. I am blessed that she accepted me as a “granddaughter”-- the only gramma I had.