The Thing About These Snowflakes

“Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.”
– Henry David Thoreau

I am extremely sentimental about our Christmas tree ornaments. You’re shocked, I’m sure.

Todd and I have a souvenir ornament from every vacation we have taken since our honeymoon in ’98, and I recall details about our trips as I hang them: The flight to England we nearly missed, and the mad dash through the airport that saved us. The wine we drank at Cumberland Island, and the nap we subsequently took on the over-sized front porch swing at the Greyfield Inn.

We have photo ornaments of the children; one for every year. I study the faces on these ornaments for changes. For baby-fine hair that has since become thick. For missing teeth that have grown in. Scars that have faded and cheeks that have thinned.

This snowflake ornament was made by my grandmother. I have a million of these things. My cousins, my aunts and uncles, my parents, they have millions of these snowflakes, too.


My grandmother’s name was Pansy. She worked for thirty years as a loan officer at a bank. She went off to Atlanta to attend business school as a young woman, and she and the other female students slept two to a cot in their dormitory.

Considering that she was female, that she was from the rural south, and that she grew up in the throes of the Great Depression, it is impressive that my grandmother was so accomplished. She was smart. I guess that is the point I am trying to make.

My grandmother had Alzheimer’s dementia during the later part of her life. I believe she was diagnosed some time in her sixties. That is quite young for such an illness, though I did not realize this at the time of her diagnosis.

Making these snowflake ornaments was one of my grandmother’s main occupations when she lived at the assisted living facility. She had a stash of plastic grids and shiny white yard. She made garbage bags full of these snowflakes. Made them until her hands hurt. Until her scissors were ruined.

I tell you in honesty and shame that I didn’t really want these ornaments when she gave them to me. I was a college student at the time. I didn’t have a tree of my own, and if I’d had one, crafty-granny snowflakes would not have fit my aesthetic. (I was similarly annoyed in high school when she gave me a pair of crocheted baby blankets. What did she expect me to do with baby blankets?)

I know now. It is ten years too late as far as grandmother and I are concerned, but I’ll type out the answers anyway. Here is what you do when an old lady gives you blankets for babies yet to be born or snowflakes for trees yet to be purchased:

1) Say thank you, and hug her neck. Appreciate the time it took to make these items.

2) Realize that she is worried. There is a real possibility that she will not be in blanket-crocheting, snowflake-crafting shape when you have your own baby and Christmas tree. She, like my grandmother, may not live to see your babies. You have probably not considered this, but she has. She is planning ahead.

3) Understand that feeling useful and busy is very important to her (and the rest of us) psychologically. Using her time and skill to make something which she feels will be helpful to you is essential to her well being. To refuse the items, to say, That is okay, I don’t need these is to say, You’re not needed. To graciously accept the gifts is to say, I need you. I’m so lucky that someone who loves me knows how to crochet.

4) Consider how making things with her hands is a healthy distraction. Growing old is not for wimps. There is quite a bit of physical discomfort, even pain, associated with aging. To attend to a project between her hands is to forget, for a few minutes, about the worries in her head or the pain in her back.

5) Display them. At least when she comes over.

I am grateful for these snowflakes and the memories they carry. I am grateful for my grandmother’s life. Grateful that 27 of her years overlapped with 27 of mine.

How like snowflakes are our lives. There is a fall, to be sure, but before the melting away, there is a period of brilliance, of intricacy and individuality. There is an awe we are able to inspire in others, for there aren’t even two of us in the storm of humanity who are exactly alike.


17 Comments on “The Thing About These Snowflakes

  1. This is so wonderful. Every young person should read this. I wish I would have read it when I was younger. πŸ™‚

    • That is really cool of you to say, thank you! Do we real-life know each other? I just requested access to you site so that I can snoop. I hope the site’s title is a John Prine reference.

    • It is a cruel illness. On a related but lighter (hopefully not irreverant) note, the patient I just finished seeing kept singing “darling clementine” and checking the seat of her wheelchair for tootsie rolls and Hershey kisses. I thought, “This will be me for sure.”

      • ha!!! Dementia is hard on the family, but sometimes I wonder if it’s not the worst thing for the person who has it. As long as they feel happy, you know? My grandma often gets randomly lost in songs and thinks she’s a kid again. Is being a kid again such a bad thing?

  2. WOW! Very well written & so very true. I’m so glad I read this post…despite the fact that I now risk water damage to my phone from the tears. I think I may now have to steal one of Mama’s snowflakes (she too has a few to spare) & hang it with a new found sense of pride.

    • You were itty bitty when she was on the snowflake-making kick. I am sure your mom will let you have as many as you’d like. Miss you.

      • Yes…itty bitty I was. The funny thing is though…I still remember cleaning out Grandma’s house with Mama and Aunt Linda upon her moving to assisted living. Actually, I have a scar on my left index finger from that trip (accidentally cut myself with a serrated knife while trying to trim down a candle). Mama has a bag of snowflakes and said she would pass one on. :o) Miss you too! Merry Christmas!

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