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Before we kids left home, I remember spring and summer evenings as hours filled with checking on the garden, watching storms gather, sweeping the kitchen floor, and finally getting us kids to bed.

When Mom and Dad became empty-nesters, however, and supper time meant the day’s work was over, they started watching baseball and they quickly picked a team, the Minnesota Twins. They sat together in their matching velvet recliners, following their favorite players, shaking their heads at bad calls, and celebrating runs.

Baseball games, however, are played all over the United States and sometimes game time stretched into bedtime or at least sleepy time. Mom especially found that she could hardly stay awake through an entire game. She felt bad not only because she did not want to miss any plays, but also because Dad liked her awake and commenting on the game with him. She also needed to stay awake for their evening cup of coffee and a cookie, strategically chosen during a little break in the game or at least when the other team was up to bat.

Mom started crocheting potholders to help her stay awake. A trip to to Ben Franklin for yarn and she was all set. She liked picking colors that went well together and often mentioned, “Aunt Hattie makes potholders too, but she has no sense of color. “ Mom especially liked the browns and greens with a bit or turquoise mixed in, but soon she started asking her daughters what colors they wanted. Then granddaughters and friends.

Every time we visited, we went home with a few more potholders. No problem for me since I am notorious for setting a potholder too close to the burner; I soon felt good about discarding scorched pot holders because I had a backup pack.

Years passed and Mom kept making potholders. Every grandchild’s wedding shower, most of which Mom could not attend, included a gift of at least one set of potholders. Every visit home included a couple potholders along with sandwiches and cookies for the road trip home. If Mom got a hint about one of us moving or changing colors in a kitchen, new potholders soon followed.

As our lives changed so did Mom’s. After Dad died, Mom still watched the Twins and still crocheted potholders as she watched. When she moved to the nursing home, she had a drawer devoted to the “potholder stash.” Although we all gratefully accepted potholders we didn’t need, the drawer kept getting fuller. Soon Mom was giving them to many of her visitors and her most-loved nurses. When she heard that someone in her church was getting married, Mom made sure they got a set of potholders. If I visited and mentioned a friend of our family who was engaged, I went home with a set of potholders. A few of her potholders even made it to the Lyon County Fair and came home with ribbons. Occasionally, a visitor offered to buy a set and Mom was quick to crochet and quick to let us know about her productive entrepreneurial venture.

At first we found those pot holders sturdy and practical, but as Mom’s arthritis affected her ability to pull the yarn tight and her dimming eyesight affected her color wheel and counting skills, the potholders got looser, less effective, and less attractive.

The day I dropped a tray of cookies because the potholder just did not keep the heat away, I knew the days of actually using them to hold hot pans was over. Her watchful eye no longer examines my kitchen for her gifts since her traveling days were over. Still, she often asked, “Do you need more potholders?”

Not having the heart to turn them down, I collected the loosely constructed yarn masterpieces in my closet. Mom kept giving them away and no one turned her down. In the nursing home, Mom was ever positive, always kind, so accepting a sub-standard potholder from her never seemed a hardship.

At family gatherings, we talked about Mom’s infamous potholders. Most of the grandchildren, in their well-equipped kitchens, had long ago replaced Mom’s potholders with heat resistant, practical squares that did the job right. Like me, however, almost no one could throw them away.
“I use them as hot pads.”
“My kids throw them as kitchen-safe frisbees.”
“I use them to separate my good pans.”
“I put them in the kids’ kitchen.”
“I use them to protect my legs from the bowl when I eat something in front of the television after I’ve heated it in the microwave.”
“I hang mine on a hook just to remember Grandma.”

No one could throw them all away. I thought about discarding them, and the really scorched ones that met my burners did end up in the trash, but mostly I kept the potholders because Mom made them and they told a story.

When Mom was in hospice, she could hardly talk, but asked for her yarn and crochet hook. I laid a half finished pot holder in her lap and positioned the hook in her weak, gnarled fingers. She tried to catch a stitch and then dozed off. Even as she slept, her hands tried to engage the hook and yarn.

After Mom died, we went to the nursing home to clean her room. We expected to see a drawer full of potholders. Mom had told me just a few months before, “Take some for your family first and then give the rest away.”

But when we opened her dresser drawer, it was empty. Where did those potholders go? We will never know. Maybe she went on a give-away run we didn’t know about. Maybe she had told someone at the home to distribute them if she died.

I like to think Mom gave them to the angels who came to bring her home. Lack of heat conductivity is likely not a problem in heaven and I’m sure all of her potholders have been restored to perfection.

Helen Luhrs

An Iowa woman to the core, Helen Luhrs is a recently retired high school teacher who lives in the country near Knoxville, Iowa. Helen and Lee have four married daughters, six grandchildren, a graceful prairie, and a square foot garden.

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