5 min read

The Silliest Strings

There are gifts that keep on giving and gifts you can't give away.
The Silliest Strings

Hobbies can be good cleansers of the soul, a way to occupy ourselves as we meditate on the most significant benefits of life, and a love of all beings, great and small, that surround us.

I have watched third-world masterminds fashion exquisite jewelry to commemorate a poor couple's wedding that would retail for hundreds of dollars elsewhere, crafted exclusively from junk metal nuts and bolts others would have tossed in the trash.

With awe, I have witnessed the creations of painters of all stripes coloring their worlds with magic, from Banksy to Fairey wheatpastes to vibrant Latin frescos and incredible railroad tags.

Japanese woodcrafters make objects that confuse the mind and fill the heart with joy as every heartbeat synchronizes on inspection with the tap-tap-tap of their specialty hammers on the luxurious wood.

Much, I imagine, like the rhythmic lulling reverberations a Roman soldier might have made whilst attempting to nail down a specific Palestinean man's hands that wouldn't quit squirming and had taken the whole Brer Rabbit costume design in the wrong direction. As his actions unleashed raw cruelty and, in answer, brought to life a new religion and world culture, my mother assaulted the decent minions of mankind with a crochet hook.

Allow me to explain.

My mother had the process of crocheting down cold. She had a talent and skill with the form, for the most part, but one day some malevolent form at a women's magazine said, "You know what would be fun?" And thus, into the world were unleashed five pages of sulfur-laden instruction that could summon a demon, and into my mother's hands was the art of crochet weaponized like the Death Star in Star Wars.

She began with the idea of crocheted vests and sweaters crafted of colors commonly discovered in human vomit. We aren't talking about a meticulously wrought Aran sweater as one would find in the hands of the Irish. No, my dear affected friend, we are talking about hyping the craft as such and then building a clothing item the quality of a plastic dime store Halloween costume.

This bundle of twine-tangled hatred is presented to you as a serious gift.

Of course, you're going to wear the darned thing because you'd be a rude so-and-so if you didn't. You will thank her for the gift and even be grateful for it because, in the sage words of a favorite comedian Dennis Miller that I have taken entirely out of context, "If they really wanted to screw you, they'd give you two of these things!"

But it's a gift. You might as well try it for the utilitarian potential. Swiftly you discover the winds rip right through it with the impudent rage and a maelstrom of ferocity only set loose by caffeine-addled stress shoppers at a big box store on Black Friday. To wit, dear reader, the couture has enough gaps to shoot a glass soda bottle at twenty yards and slightly less than the spaces between a waffle shop waitress's grill.

Not the new young ones, I mean those with more children than teeth. Yet unlike this damned sweater, they actually work well.

It doesn't even last long in the fireplace once you get home, but it has returned to that darkness from whence it came, so there's that.

Once the pain of the sweaters had subsided, we were presented with the fresh hell of bucket hats, newly scraped from the blackened walls of the still-smoldering South side of the Infernal Abyss.

To make this sensory-assaulting abomination, you need an Uncle Claude, that was a former Marine and can imbibe copious amounts of both Pepsi Cola and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, to the horror and disbelief of your proper Baptist, Jesus-loving Metro Atlanta family. Expect much pearl-clutching and hand-wringing at this stage. He is required to provide a substantial supply of aluminum cans to prevent hours of digging through other people's trash cans like an obsessed trash panda on a divine mission.

Poke a hole in the top and bottom of the can and cut those pesky hard ends off. I'm talking about the top and bottom here.

It would be best to have a couple of good, solid bricks that can take a pounding. Not for the compatriots around you, silly, for the can. I understand the confusion because you probably didn't ask to become involved in this madness and desire to maintain a certain level of peace.

Slice lengthwise down the can and unroll it like a scroll, pushing it hard enough to stay put on the bottom brick, and pound that sucker flat as a piece of paper. With every clunk, you may feel free to question your life choices, your place in the universe, and whether the adage "blood is thicker than water" is accurate since your most innate desire will be to send them down a river on a raft with a hole in it.

Next, it is time for the hole punch. This hand-held device makes a snap every time you use it around the perimeter of the violently flattened piece of decorated metal. Those holes are used for the assembly of the final product.

Your part is finished.

Fly, you fool.

My maternal grandfather had a birthday that landed in the summer. Since this was the summer of 1976, it was the year of the United States Bicentennial. Mom eschewed the vomit colors and chose a more patriotic palette, as Grandpa was a World War II veteran.

I remember the look on his face when she happily presented her pièce de résistance and plopped it on his head. You know the look if you have ever placed the famed cone of shame on a pet at a veterinary office. It is a countenance of confusion, a desire for self-defense, yet a contemplation of the finer points of self-immolation.

After a few obligatory moments of acting like a party attendee that didn't speak the language, he went inside his house. So did I.

Grandpa was a good Christian man. Quiet. A man of few words.

He pulled the contraption off his head, flung it on top of a dormant lamp, and told my grandmother, "I am never putting that piece of shit on my head again."

Grandpa hated alcohol, especially beer. So a PBR hat that looked like angry delinquent children made it in a kindergarten art class was not the labor of love first envisioned.

Once my mother had exacted the proper level of attrition against the family and moderately distant relations, making her famous and avoidable, she sought to market these unholy craft relics to the general public.

My father begged. He pleaded. He got loud.

Of course, I was dragged along as a fun-sized Igor to her maniacal craft sale. She bought a booth at a flea market and made more of them. She sold two, one in the national colors and another the shades of pink lemonade mixed with second-round pizza, to a couple of teens visiting another planet while making the purchase.

Go figure.

Dad finally had enough and said, "Louise, stop this shit before you get us all killed!"

Apparently, the message got through, and after a year or two of hiding fifty of these horror devices in cardboard boxes, they polluted the environment in a landfill somewhere. Dad never said where. I think he was afraid she would go rescue them.

Eventually, someone had a baby, and she got better with color selection and getting the work tighter. That led to a realization in my own life that has proven to be valid:

Anyone can be redeemed with enough effort and hard work.