Poems & Essays

21 Dec

Gogi’s Christmas Stockings

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“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care” reads Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem about Santa Claus, and we also lovingly and carefully hang our handmade stockings on the mantel each year. We reverently remember Gogi, my grandmother, who over the course of thirty-five years gave us this most cherished Christmas tradition. Wrapped in tissue paper for safekeeping, the hand-knit stockings are kept in the hall closet in a box covered with images of Santa. Each year, we carefully take down the box, remove the tissue paper, and hand each child his or her stocking to hang on the mantel in the family room.

From their prominent perch, the eight stockings, each with a name knit across the open end, warm the hearts of Gogi’s family just as the hearth below them warms the home. The stockings bring back memories of the shy, industrious woman who lovingly and patiently made them with her slender hands.

My grandmother’s real name was Mary Elizabeth, and her nickname was Bette until my older brother nicknamed her “Gogi” when he was two. Whenever she came to visit, she would take my brother to the park, or to the library, or to the soda fountain shop on South Main Street, and so the minute my brother saw her walk in the door, he would excitedly shout, “go, go, go,” which later became Gogi. Her knitting skill was acquired when she was a young girl helping her mother and other women knit hats, scarves, and mittens for World War I soldiers.

Exceptionally good with numbers, Gogi was an expert bookkeeper, and this talent may explain her unusual ability to alter or create her own knitting patterns. According to family lore, she found a pattern for a Christmas stocking featuring Santa Claus that she loved, but she altered it slightly to make it even more to her liking. Gogi seemed to use Clement C. Moore’s description in the poem as a guide, for indeed, her Santa had “cheeks like roses and a nose like a cherry.” To make Santa’s beard “as white as the snow,” she used white yarn or, in some cases, white fuzzy material. “The right jolly old elf” on Gogi’s stockings appeared “chubby and plump” with a “broad face and round belly.” Unlike Moore’s portrayal of St. Nicholas, Gogi added a small jingling bell at the tip of Santa’s hat. This became the pattern that she used to knit stockings for her grandchildren and then the spouses of those grandchildren. Her nimble fingers stitched together stockings as family memories were stitched together over time. As each new great-grandchild was born to her large family, she excitedly pulled out her knitting pattern and created yet another beautiful stocking, expertly adding another name to the new sock and to the family genealogy.

As Gogi aged, her fingers became less nimble and her eyes less keen. The Santa on her stockings took on a different shape, often not as round and chubby. The details in the later years became less defined, and yet our lives were lovingly defined by Gogi’s compassionate care and concern. Her presence graced our lives. She shared “pearls of wisdom” as she patiently made “purl stitches” in knit dresses or skirts or scarves. As an involved grandparent, she set the pattern for our lives as a role model who taught us to be creative, patient, and kind, to work hard, and to find joy in the small things.

From the time I was born until the time I got married, the Christmas stocking Gogi made for me hung in my childhood home on the wind-whipped Nebraska prairie. Then it hung beside the stocking Gogi knit for my husband in our tiny apartment near Duke University. Our first child’s stocking hung in a townhouse in Bonita, CA and after our son was born, four stockings hung in a small villa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Naples, Italy. Later, four additional ones hung in a split-level house in Washington, D.C., America’s hometown.

Now they hang in a large southern home in a small farming community in eastern North Carolina. As the years unraveled in quick succession, the stockings traveled with us and adorned several different mantels. At Christmas time every year, as they are “hung by the chimney with care,” they are always a steadfast reminder of home and family, and the grandmother who skillfully, patiently, and joyfully knit Christmas stockings, but more importantly, knit a family together with her love.

 

Lori Drake is the mother of six children and the founder and former Headmistress of Roseleaf Academy, the only STEM-focused middle school for girls in eastern North Carolina. She taught the writing classes where she emphasized poetry. Her essays and columns have appeared in the Gaithersburg Gazette in Maryland, the Farmville Enterprise and Daily Reflector in North Carolina, San Diego Woman and the Daily Nebraskan. She previously received three Honorable Mentions in the Writer’s Digest National Competition. 

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