Belle

Another entry in my ongoing notes about the women who have influenced my life.

Belle became my stand-in grandmother in my junior high years. She would take me into her home on Saturdays and we would craft beautiful things. My parents had accepted my insane love of hand-crafts by that point in life and felt it best to let me learn from someone who knew what they were doing.

I do think that Belle must have insisted on the meetings at some point, perhaps because she was lonely. I know she had a daughter of her own, but they were estranged. Perhaps like my own mother, this daughter felt that sitting for hours transforming thread into tapestry was a waste of time. Whatever the cause, I was the richer for that daughter’s loss.

Belle was a girl during the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. She remembered the fear in a distant, child-like way, telling me that she had thought at the time her father was playing a prank on her and shaking her bed. She taught me that disasters happen, and that you live through them…turning them into stories to pass on to future generations while knitting or crocheting.

There was a peacefulness to her days. Her husband had died young, after investing in some stock or other. She had been told not to worry about money, and so after his death she continued to live in the same method to which she had become accustomed — very frugally. After her death, I learned that those stocks had been railroad stocks and her daughter was left a wealthy woman.

Perhaps my allergy to money comes from Belle. I know it was never important to her if she had it or didn’t have it. She made beautiful things with her hands and never would have considered something store-bought as an improvement. She made her own beaded jewelry as well as hand-fashioned clay beads.

Belle found my perfectionist tendancies annoying. "You’ll never see it from a galloping horse" was her comment to every complaint I made about my amateur attempts at new crafts. It took me years to understand that cryptic phrase, and even now when I find myself fussing over some tiny detail, I can hear her words.

Somewhere in my early teens, she found out that my parents officially opposed dancing. I say officially because years later my mother would tell me a story about how she almost married her dance instructor…and so I know that at one time, she must have danced. Belle was horrified that my parents had never taught me to dance. "Young lady like you…can’t have you not knowing how to dance!" And so, while my parents thought we were crocheting, she would put on old records and teach me to waltz.

She filled my head with stories of romance, and the love she held for her husband even after he’d been dead many years touched my heart. I knew that I could never settle for anything less than a once-in-a-lifetime romance…something unheard of in my own family for several generations.

Driving with Belle was an adventure. She was well past the point were this was not a good idea, but she managed to stay on the roads and hit only curbs. We’d drive down to the bead store to pick up whatever we needed for our latest project, and then return home where she’d make me a warm lunch while I recovered from the terror of our escapade. Those simple lunches of soup or sandwich were the most delightful of my childhood.

My parents divorced when I was 17. For some reason, Dad got Belle and Mom got me. I was kept away from her as she aged and was put into assisted living. At some point, she realized that she was unlikely to see me again and gave a friend of hers a few things to pass on to me once she had died. To her friend, Maxine, she also left one very important charge: to protect me from my mother. Maxine took over my care when Belle died.

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