I’m often asked what it is that got me started in my craft. It’s really been so long that it’s difficult to pin down. I have had a pencil, typewriter, glue stick, clay or pair of scissors in my hand on a daily basis for pretty much my entire life.
I could mention my mother who was an avid knitter until a physical disability stopped her from being so. Or my father, a talented woodworker who encouraged me to sell my early childhood creations in the tiny closet-sized office just off our living room. No one ever pushed me to be creative, but I can clearly see many moments of encouragement in the rear-view mirror.
It’s rare – and I mean rare – for me to shop online via adds on social media. But, several years ago I came across an ad for a T-shirt made for a creative person. It was priced right – and most importantly to me – comfortable. So, I ordered one. I ended up wearing it so much over the following years that it practically disintegrated in the wash. Like all my ‘work’ clothes, it was eventually covered with the inevitable splattering of paint and glue. I think both helped keep the shirt together toward the end.
It was a simple black graphic tee with white text that read “I make things because I get sad if I don’t”. That in and of itself is the answer of why I do what I do. Such a simple statement but so factual. If I go too long without making something, it does have an impact on my psyche. My favorite days are when something new that’s been on my mind comes to life in the workshop. The story could end there, but it doesn’t.
As I said, I wore the t-shirt quite a bit. I mean all – the – time. Both of my parents were still living at the time and both, for different reasons, needed care around the clock. My siblings and I split time along with paid caregivers to take care of them. After Dad passed in 2019, we continued to do the same for Mom until her passing just recently.
Anyone who takes care of someone with a memory illness knows that you never know what you’re going to get for the day. You could be laughed at, insulted, yelled at, or loved on. You take the good with the bad and just do the best you can. So it was with my father in particular the last several months before he passed.
The first time I wore that T-shirt to their house for my shift as caregiver, I knew it was a mistake right away. A graphic tee and dementia do not mix. Unless you want to hear your shirt read to you over and over (and over) again in the span of a few minutes, leave it home and wear something else.
Dad would read it aloud and usually comment that he liked the statement. He’d read it again and chuckle. He’d read it again and ask it if were true. We’d do this a few more times. You could practically set your watch to it. I’d sigh and smile and respond in my usual manner to his question. He’d usually nap before too long and if I were still there when he woke up, we’d start all over again.
But then there were some days that were better than others – and that T-shirt would open the door just enough for my “old Dad” to walk through. He’d read it and laugh – and then a twinkle would show in his eyes. He’d remember something that either he or I had made, and we’d talk about it. Other times he’d ask what I was working on now or whether I had used up something he had given me to use several years ago. These were the magical days. They never lasted very long – usually just until the next nap, but it was enough to catch a glimpse of Dad the way he used to be.
I finally had to throw the shirt away a few months after he passed. The fabric had become so thin that you could practically see through it. The funny thing is, when I think of that shirt I don’t remember the million and one times he read it back to me – I first remember those few times that it started an actual conversation. I bought that silly shirt because it was priced right and I thought it was cute. Little did I know its simple statement would become my motto and trigger warm memories that have become priceless.