The Things We Come To Know

Grandma Johanna on her wedding day, November 5, 1924

In late winter, I sift through cupboards and closets for items to give away, and tackle indoor projects I can finish before the garden calls (and doesn’t end the call till September). This past month, I completed a project I’d put off, both because of its immensity and because of the hours of exercise and rest I was forced to give my healing knee. I know, too, that I’d delayed facing this task because of the emotional journey it would invite, the memories I’d encounter, and the long hours of reflection such experiences deserve. These weren’t sad or painful memories, but when we travel to the past we never who will be there waiting …the older I get, the more the winnowing projects that entangle my emotions become a gathering of ghosts, and our time together is bittersweet. I miss the lived presence of these people in my life. It’s easier at times, to avoid the journey.

I don’t mean that going through my clothes or household items is challenging or drama-laden, but when it comes to sorting through family bits and pieces–in this case, boxes of my childhood dolls and the finely-crafted clothing my Grandma Hannah made for them (and a few dresses she made for me)–the winnowing accrues layers and layers of meaning. Considering beginning such jobs is sometimes too much of a muchness. So I postpone and focus on simple chores that I can cross off the endless list.

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But my younger brother has a new granddaughter, and girls are rare in our family. I knew it was time to pass on these lovely pieces of our family heritage, to gather them, clean and press and mend them, and to likewise gather photos and write their stories down for my sweet grand-niece to one day (I hope) know and cherish.

I was able to locate photos of dresses Grandma Hannah had made for my mother and her sister: the wedding dress they shared, the maid and matron-of-honor dresses they wore for each other’s weddings and in the wedding party of their elder brother…and then I took photos showing how all those fabrics had been used in later years to create these beautiful doll dresses, too.

This doll is wearing a dress made from the soft green silk dresses Hannah made for Mama and her sister to wear in their older brother’s wedding.
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Grandma Hannah made these beautiful doll dresses from the velvet dress and wedding gown she made for her daughters years before. Mama looks so darling in her velvet dress!

When I was about 8, I also received a handmade quilt from Grandma, who used the pattern called Sunbonnet Girl, and it features so many other fabrics I recall seeing in Grandma’s creations over the years that studying it is like walking through a hall of memories. My mother wisely stored the quilt till I was grown, and now it decorates our guest bed. I sent its story on to baby Abigail Joyce and her parents, too, but–for now–I’m keeping the quilt with me. Just for now.

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And my original Raggedy Ann is also staying with me. Grandma and sweet Pa Louie gave her to me when I was a newborn, and that was the day Hannah suggested my parents call me Kitty. My mother had to give Raggedy so many new faces and yarn-hair makeovers over the years that there’s not too much left of the original doll, but the “I Love You” stamped over her heart. My favorite dress for Raggedy Ann was too faded and worn to send on to Abigail, but I patched the tears, and dressed Raggedy in it once again (with the original matching pantaloons), and my first darling will stay with me. No more facelifts; she’s perfect just as she is. We’ll both be 67 in a couple of months, so I think we’ll accept our faces for what they are and be glad that our hearts still share mutual love for each other. We share one story; how could we ever part?

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So, off went the boxes of carefully wrapped dolls and dresses, and my handmade clothes with all their stories. I felt like I was dropping my childhood off at the Post Office. But I also felt relieved that the job was completed and that Grandma’s Hannah’s artistry and story are safely in the hands of those who I know will cherish and protect them.

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Me, in all my bald brilliance, with my Raggedy Ann, and in one of the dresses I sent to Abigail.

What I did not expect to derive from this project was such a deep resonance of the love Hannah must have felt for me. Now that I’m older than my grandmother was when she created these works of art, I’m stunned to realize how amazingly beautiful and detailed they are. The stitching, embroidery, trim, puffed sleeves, smocking, crocheted lace for edging hems and pantaloons, tiny buttons and snaps…it really left me in awe of the time and care she put into these. And then I found photos of the dresses she made for me, too. My goodness, they were beautiful; the photos don’t do them justice.

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This looking back with new eyes is a gift of aging. Of course, I objectively knew I was loved by my grandparents and I appreciated their gifts, but what a revelation to witness the talent and expertise Hannah evidenced in making all of these doll clothes, to imagine her delight at my own joy in receiving them, and to recall the years I played with them developing my own creativity and imagination. This longer view gave me such deep pleasure and summoned a far greater gratitude than I likely offered her as a child. What does a child know of hours sacrificed in love? How can a child perceive the value of handmade treasures?

I felt my grandmother’s love so profoundly during the days I worked to restore her handiwork and get all of my childhood dolls ready to share. I felt her presence with every piece I mended and pressed. And, in preparing these gifts for Hannah’s great-great-granddaughter, I felt the ties that bind me to my mother, my grandmother, and further back, through all the creative, loving women I follow in my time, and how my life leads to Abigail’s, and beyond. A procession of women trailing their gifts and love through time.

A chore that seemed daunting became a lesson about the things we come to know as we age and sift through memories in the company of ghosts. When we come to know again, and with greater understanding and wisdom, how deeply we’ve been loved by others, it reignites that love’s power and light for us, no matter how old we are. And then we know our one important task is to pass it on.

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace

6 thoughts on “The Things We Come To Know

  1. From the great resignation to moments of resonation was part of the theme of my very successful event on this past Saturday. I talked with those that came to see my vision about dear memories like the ones you shared in your post as moments of resonation to continue the work of those before us and to give all the love they gave to us away so that the weight of that love doesn’t become so heavy that it turns into depression. That’s what joy not expressed turns into…sadness and depression. This is a beautiful post and I love this for you…thank you for sharing…I’ll share more of my good fortune soon. God’s best, Kim

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  2. Oh goodness, what a stunningly beautiful post. Your Grandmother sounds wonderful and so talented. I love how you have kept all these delights and treasures and are parting with so many of them, your grand niece will appreciate them and the family history and will hopefully pass them on too. Raggedy Ann is simply stunning, how well you must have looked after here. I loved seeing all the photos of your family and you. I just loved this. Love and huge hugs to you all.xxxx


  3. Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. I had so many other doll and clothing photos, but really didn’t want to put my readers to sleep…happy that was not the case with you, dear one!

    Joy to you, and thanks again for your kind words! XO


  4. Beautiful post, and lovely memories retained in these physical keepsakes. I love old pictures and objects… they’re like precious doorways to a distant past. And like to think that as writers, the words we leave behind will continue that tradition – give future generations more than just visual clues of our times, but also glimpses into our minds and hearts. The retention of human experience, captured permanently in this God-given mechanism of language and the recorded word. May we all leave behind legacies as lovingly beautiful as Grandma Hannah…


    1. Ah, thank you, Yacoob! It’s good to think of our own legacies and what our gifts will leave for others. The written word takes on something like an obligation for us when we think of it that way, doesn’t it? The actualization of all our gifts is encrusted with a kind of sacred duty—and privilege—to fulfill. These are our contributions to our time and our legacies. Thank you for sharing such an expansive insight…also one of your gifts!

      Liked by 1 person

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