my grandmother’s woolen socks

It is very strange: sometime we remember those small details related to someone we love, just some marginal and minimal episodes, which in some way our mind has fixed in the memory, as indelible elements. In the movie of someone’s life just a frame, a small fragment, remains as a precious gift, imprinted on our heart.

For instance, an insignificant memory has just come to my mind about my grandmother: her passion for woolen socks. It is surprising how these small details emerge among the thousands of things I could say about her.

My grandmother  made socks on her own, knitting the wool left over from some sweaters. It had become a sort of mass production; the socks didn’t take shape, primarily, because someone needed them, but as a kind of stock for the future… an investment for tomorrow. Facing our protests that the drawers were already overflowing with socks, her answer was as simple as it was disorienting: the socks would be useful even when she was no longer with us, and, therefore, represented a kind of insurance for tomorrow.

Her concerns about the future was something singular: the socks were the way she chose to take care of us through time, anticipating today what she knew she couldn’t give tomorrow. I think that this strange ability to prepare a future that they will not be able to dwell in is typical of the elderly. This care for tomorrow was not driven by worry or anguish: it was a serene and confident way to prepare for the future, knowing that, most likely, she would not be part of it.

These woolen socks were born from her hands as unique pieces. First of all because there was no model to reproduce, but each piece was created on the spot, without a prior design; secondly, the uniqueness was dictated by the singularity of the color: having to reuse the wool left over from previous processes, it was not guaranteed that the socks were all of the same color. It frequently happened that the ankle was red, the sole blue and the toes green. So it was not so rare that you were wearing singular and extravagant “harlequin” socks. Moreover, it happened that a sock got punctured. So it was subjected to a precise, yet particular, form of mending: the entire damaged part was removed and replaced with a new one whose color was, of course, dependent on the wool available at that time. Then it was not so strange to have beautiful blue socks, with a fiery red heel, the result of a late intervention by her.

I still keep some pairs of her socks as a dear keepsake. When I observe them I think of two teachings that my grandmother, perhaps unwittingly, gave me…

What we take care of becomes, naturally and inevitably, a unique, particular and original piece. The things that pass through our hands are never pieces made in series, even if they are produced in many copies. Our hands have the ability to make things unique, to transform balls of wool into small masterpieces. The preciousness of those products does not consist only in the skill and art that have generated them, but perhaps in the fact that my grandmother put her heart into it, she made it as a gift. The socks were a way for my grandmother to express her affection, closeness and care. The extraordinary power of our hands applies to socks as well as it applies to those relationships that support our lives.

There is a second thing that my grandma’s socks taught me. These unique pieces, which we have created, require maintenance; that is, the expression of faithful care over time. It is not enough to have produced them a long time ago. It is necessary to take care of them with patience, to fix them over time, to mend them and to treat the damage caused by the use.

The socks, with toes and heels of different colors, remind me that each unique relationship requires a loyalty capable to overcome the limits of time and a will ready to repair what has unfortunately worn out.


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