Yesterday's Magazette

11 – Special Yarn Blossoms

Special Yarn Blossoms

By Terri Elders

“We are all special cases.” — Albert Camus

A while back, I listened to journalist Morley Safer opine on 60 Minutes that today’s generation of twenty-somethings, the Millennials, were raised to think of themselves as special. He implied that this meant that they saw themselves as superior, privileged and entitled. His sentiments were echoed by a series of work force experts. But as the show continued to depict today’s youth as spoiled slackers, my mind drifted back to the earliest days of my adoption.

Mama signed me up for Blue Birds in l944, two days after my sister won a $25 war bond at a victory rally. With Shirley Temple dimples and ringlets, seven-year-old Patti had torched through “You’ll Never Know” with all the gusto of Alice Faye herself–and with perfect pitch.

A year younger and four inches shorter, with braids as limp as the shoestrings that refused to stay tied on my scuffed shoes, I started to sulk. When our aunt and uncle had adopted us the year before, they’d said we were special. Patti sure was. Our piano teacher had grumbled that I was hopeless. Patti, of course, could pace through Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto without a metronome–and by ear.

As I dried the supper dishes, Mama thanked me again for helping to make dessert. I had read the oatmeal measurements aloud, but even as Mama talked, my eyes strayed to the icebox door, where she’d taped Patti’s drawings, delicate and droll as those in my beloved fairy tale books. With pencil stiff between my fingers, I barely managed circle-snowmen and stick-people.

I begin to sniffle, ashamed and afraid I’d never be special. Learning at Sunday School that the Bible bans envy, I pretended to love my scraggly pigtails. I’d try to be like Margaret O’Brien in “Lost Angel,” wrinkling my forehead a lot. At the dime store, though, the paper doll folders featured pretty, bubbly Shirley, not plain, earnest Margaret.

Mama took the towel from my hand and brushed my bangs back from my damp eyes. “Tomorrow I’ll talk to Mrs. McGee about getting you into her Blue Bird troop,” she whispered. My tears stopped when I heard meetings would be after school on Wednesdays, when the piano teacher would be admiring Patti’s graceful fingers racing through “Fur Elise” on the living room upright.

We would make handicrafts. Maybe I’d make something for Mother’s Day–something lovely. My early handiwork, a plaster of Paris palm print plaque, though undeniably lumpy, earned me badges for promptness and effort. Also, after covering the blotch of black paint on the bottom of my May basket with crepe paper grass, Mrs. McGee took extra time to show me how to tie a ribbon to its handle.

Soon we began to weave flowers to cluster into Mother’s Day corsages. First we dangled a six-inch length of yarn in the center of a fork. Next, we doubled a long strand, hooked it over the two tines on the left, then looped it back and forth, two tines at a time. The ends of the shorter piece were drawn up around the loops and knotted, and when the yarn was slipped off the fork, it magically became a blossom.

I became a weaving demon, begging yarn remnants from neighbors, working in secret at home, hiding my flowers behind a bookshelf. On the Wednesday before Mother’s Day, I stuffed at least two dozen jewel-hued flowers into a lunch bag when Mama wasn’t looking. That afternoon Mrs. McGee helped me assemble them into a bouquet and attach a safety pin.

On Mother’s Day, while Patti sang a solo, I beamed at Mama from the Sunday School choir. Her face seemed as radiant as the garland of yarn on her lapel. As we left the church, other women approached to chat, their roses and carnations paling next to Mama’s ruby, emerald and sapphire nosegay.

“Yes, Patti’s voice is lovely,” Mama would say, “and Terri made my corsage. Isn’t it special?”

Nearly 50 years later, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I worked with the Belize Council of Churches to set up a child abuse prevention group in that new Central American country. With pinking shears we cut bookmarks from old greeting cards and stamped them with the message, “Mark books, not kids.” We gave them out at workshops and through the national library system to publicize our program. We had puzzled over how to make the tassels until I recalled my Blue Bird yarn flowers. Within minutes we equipped ourselves with forks and started to weave.

After the bookmarks were featured on local TV, everybody wanted some. Flowered tassels swung from books throughout the tiny country. Our grassroots group grew confident, raising funds to send a delegation to a conference in Trinidad, despite qualms that they’d be viewed as uneducated housewives from a poor underdeveloped nation.

I’m planning to send this story to Morley Safer. And I’ll enclose a few special yarn blossoms.

(Terri Elders, a retired LCSW, has worked all over the world with the Peace Corps, both as a Volunteer and an employee. Her stories have appeared in local, national and international publications. She lives near Colville, WA with husband Ken Wilson, two dogs and three cats. You can write to her at


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