"that" hat

9:32 AM

Last night I had a complete panic attack. I was running out the door with V and couldn't find her hat anywhere. Now mind you, just like her mama, she has about two dozen hats to chose from. But I wanted that one and the fact that I couldn't find it was making my stomach churn. All while running errands it was on my mind. And by the time we got home someone was a very fussy baby and needed to be fed right away. No time to look for the hat. And then I needed to bathe her. And put her to bed. And again no time to look for the hat. Finally, as tiny little snores escaped the crib I tiptoed into her room, pulled out the drawers and there it was, safe and secure, folded away with the rest.
The hat was hand knit for Valentina by her namesake and her great grandmother almost six thousand miles away in Moldova. It was hand delivered to my uncle who got on a train that took him to Moscow where he hand delivered it to a family friend traveling to the US. You see this hat isn't just any hat, it's a hat my grandmother has been knitting for decades. These fluffy toppers have been putting food on the table for her family since before my mum was born. In fact as soon as my mum was old enough her sister and she were taught how to knit and would help churn out dozens of them a week. And to this day at 84 years old my grandmother knits these hats and walks several miles to the market where she has been manning a stand for the last forty years or so.
I couldn't possibly tell you my grandmother's story because there is enough to fill a tome. There is so much heartbreak, sadness and perseverance it would put most books and movies to shame. But what I can tell you here briefly is that she is somewhat of an enigma to me. Since I was little I found her to be both incredibly sweet, emotionally volatile, strong, opinionated, funny and kind. As soon as she learned that I inherited daddy's sweet tooth she bought some "kitty caramels" (a favorite candy of mine) and would hoard and hide them in a sugar dish in order to hand them out to me when I came to visit. She would give all us grandkids change here and there to go buy bubblegum at a local bodega in town and we would cover her tiny white refrigerator with stickers of the Flinstones, Scooby Doo and Tom & Jerry that we found in the bubblegum wrappers. I loved her house because it wasn't a museum, the way most old people's homes were. Instead we were allowed to completely run amok. We would shelter litters of kittens next to the boiler in the back hallway and she would teach us how to pluck a chicken right in the middle of the kitchen, tiny little feathers floating towards the ceiling as we worked.
To a seven year old child babulya's house was pure magic. There was the cellar downstairs that was always stocked with canned tomatoes and cucumbers and juice. And that's where they kept the watermelons cold. I loved rummaging through her sewing room - examining every shred of fabric and wishing so badly I could just "get" knitting like everyone else in my family. Babulya had the patience of a saint and spent so many hours on her bed with me helping me make at least three stitches in a row but to no avail. I used to sleep on the fold-out sofa in the living room and loved waking up to the rooster who climbed on top of the hen house every morning that was directly next to the widow by where I slept.
To me babulya was adventure, excitement and it fun. I never wore shoes, rarely took baths and ate fruit right off the trees. As I grew older and learned more about her story I realized just how ironic my image of her life was. But I think she would be happy to know that even if she herself had so little joy in her life she gave so much to others. She never went to school past the second grade and struggled her entire life. But I suppose that's something admirable too, in that she was never afraid to get her hands dirty and to work hard. She instilled that in my mum and her siblings and it's something I respect so much. She never had a "job" or went to "work" in the traditional sense but she sewed baby clothes, knitted hats, slaughtered chickens and geese, pickled and grew oodles of fruits and vegetables and supported her family via whatever means she could find.
I'm praying fervently that she is in good enough health for our visit to Moldova in 2015. I am praying that Valentina will meet her namesake and the woman from whom she has so much to learn. Regardless of what happens I will raise her to exude all the things I love about my grandma so much.
Every time I put this hat on her I'm reminded of the incredible hands that made it just for her.

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