written by: Phyllis Souza
In Ollie’s world, things had changed. She’d grown old— ninety-one. Her olive-skinned hands blemished with liver spots.
Ollie’s grey hair pressed against the padded headrest of the chair, while her feet, warmed by slippers, stayed planted on the cold linoleum. She rocked back and forth. She wrapped her arms around herself and called out, “Lilly, I’m cold. Please, get my shawl. The one I made for my mother.”
“Ollie, I think that shawl is long gone. I’ll get the prayer shawl the lady from church gave you.”
“You mean the Stitch and Pray ministry? Did you know a priest blessed that shawl? Think it’ll make me feel young again?” She chuckled, “Go. Get the shawl.”
Like the reflection of an angel, Lilly’s eyes sparkled as she gingerly reached out and touched Ollie’s arm. “I’ll be right back.” A few minutes later, carrying the shawl, Lilly declared, “Such a pretty blue.”
“That didn’t take long.” Ollie leaned slightly to one side, while Lilly put the shawl over her shoulders. “Did I ever tell you about the shawl I made?” She hiccupped. “A long time ago.”
“No, Ollie, I don’t believe you have.”
“Would you like to hear about it?”
“Yes, I would.” Lilly pulled a small wooden chair close to Ollie and sat. She folded her hands on her lap.
Ollie began, “It was spring. I wanted a shawl to wear on Easter Sunday. I always dressed up. I wore a hat, too. Pretty white straw one. Anyway, it was the ’60s, and all the ladies wore shawls. So, I decided to make one.” Ollie paused for a moment. She tilted her head to one side and asked, “Lilly, do you know how to crochet?”
“No, but I’d like to learn. Will you teach me?”
“Silly girl. I’m too old.” Ollie smiled, showing her over-bite. “Where was I?” — “Oh, I was saying, I decided to make one. I bought some cream-colored yarn and a pattern book. I liked a shawl in it. Made entirely of doubled-crocheted shells.”
“It was, at least the one in the picture. I remember being excited. I wanted to show the yarn to my mother, so I stopped by her apartment on my way home. As usual, I was looking for her approval.”
“Did she like the yarn and pattern?”
“My mother liked it all right. She liked it so much; she wanted me to make it for her.”
“What did you do?”
“I made it for her.”
“But you bought the yarn for yourself.”
“I just couldn’t say no.” Ollie reached up and, with an unpolished nail, scratched her cheek, “Would you mind getting me some water? No ice.”
A few minutes later, stepping back into the sitting room, Lilly smiled when she noticed that Ollie had fallen asleep. Soft, shallow breaths drifted from her slightly parted lips.
The next morning, Lilly, her long dark hair tied up in a ponytail, chirped, “It’s a beautiful day, the sun’s shining; Ollie, would you like to finish your story after breakfast?”
“Yes, dear, after breakfast — oatmeal and toast again. And they call this place Camelot. Coffee’s good though.” Holding on to the handles of her walker, Ollie, hunched over, slid one foot in front of the other and headed toward the dining room.
An hour later, sitting comfortably in her chair, and Lilly sitting in the wooden chair next to her, Ollie resumed her story.
“Let’s see, hmmm… the shawl, yes— well, I crocheted the first shell. It curled, but I was sure it would straighten out. So I kept going. Row after row, I kept increasing the shells. You know, making it wider. I worked day and night. My wrists ached, my eyes burned. I even sprained my tailbone from sitting too long.”
“How long did it take you to finish the shawl?”
“How long?” Ollie pinched her chin. “Let me think. I worked on that thing for over a month. I made a big triangle. But I couldn’t get that beginning shell to lie flat. Stretched and pulled. The damn thing had a mind of its own and wouldn’t lie flat.” Ollie lifted a brow and looked at Lilly.
Lilly chuckled but didn’t say a word.
“It’s funny now, but it wasn’t then,” Ollie replied to the laugh.
Lilly swallowed, cleared her throat, and asked, “What happened next?”
“I wrapped the shawl in tissue paper and gave it to my mother.”
“And she put it around her shoulders and danced over to a full-length mirror. She modeled for a few seconds, turned, and looked over at me. Then, as if the shawl had suddenly caught fire, she flung it off.”
‘Ollie, you don’t expect me to wear this?’ she laughed. ‘It curls at the bottom.’
“Don’t tell me, after all your work; she didn’t want the shawl?” Lilly straightened in her chair.
“That’s right. You know, I can still see my mother, laughing as she handed it back to me.”
“That wasn’t nice, I’m sorry Ollie, but I don’t think I like your mother,” Lilly’s mouth turned down.
“Well, my mother wasn’t always nice. And sometimes, I didn’t like her either.”
“What happened next?” Lilly cupped her face in her hands.
“I took the shawl. I’d hoped somehow she wouldn’t notice the curl. Ha! Of course, she’d notice. Nothing got past my mother. And believe me, she never missed a chance to make fun of something—or someone.”
“Ollie, this is a sad story.”
“But it turned out okay. At that moment, I fell in love with the curly shell. If it weren’t for that shell, I wouldn’t have been able to keep the shawl.”
“Yes, that’s true. Guess there’s a lesson here.”
“Sometimes Lilly, it takes something broken, to make something whole. But I have to admit my heart hurt.”
Ollie sighed and dabbed the tip of her nose with a tissue. “Lilly, there’s a chill in the air, and I’m feeling a bit tired. Would you mind getting my shawl?”
“Sure. I’ll get it.”
“Not the blue one. The one I made for my mother.”
“Ollie… “ Lilly raised a hand. “Never mind.”
Lilly knelt on the floor and opened the bottom drawer of the dresser in Ollie’s room. “Oh my, would you look at this.” She took out the cream-colored shawl and brought it to her chest. “After all these years. Imagine that.”
She returned to the sitting area, carrying the wrap. Lilly stopped walking, and a lump formed in her throat. Her heart sank. The room had grown dim.
Ollie’s head had fallen forward; the Kleenex she held had dropped to the floor.
With her eyes clouded with tears, Lilly covered Ollie with the cream-colored shawl with the curled shell.
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