The Doily

Week 24: #52 Ancestors – Handed Down

By Eilene Lyon

I have very few family heirlooms. My Army-brat upbringing taught me to let go of things. We could only take so much whenever we moved. It’s been only recently that I’ve come to appreciate what little I have received and kept over the years.

This crocheted doily came to me from my grandmother, Reatha (Gusso) Halse. She gave similar items to my female cousins. I’d like to mount it on black velvet and frame it. One of those things to get around to! This is the note she wrote to me on April 28, 2001:

“Eilene & —, S– just left here to go to a wedding in Newport 1:00 p.m. Will return here tonight. Remain tonight and a friend will come to see her – Sunday.

“Today is P–‘s #38 birthday – my how my grandchildren have gotten up in years. Forgive me for that remark. Me, I am 85. What can I expect – !

“I am sending this crocheted doilie with S– for you – It was made by my mother – Stella Agatha Crandall Gusso – I noticed it has developed a flaw. Perhaps you can mend it. She was born June 5, 1893. It was made about 60 years ago…

“I am having trouble eating because of my esophagus – S– can tell you! — Much Love, Grandma Halse”

That closing remark came about because she was developing ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease – which ultimately ended her life, but not without some suffering beforehand. It’s a cruel disease.

As I look on with a tinge of horror at my mother losing her mind to severe dementia, what I recall of Grandma’s deterioration absolutely terrifies me. Being mentally sound with a body that gradually becomes incapable of various functions – swallowing food, use of arms, the ability to speak – to me is the worse fate.

My great-grandmother, Stella (Crandall) Gusso. (Courtesy of S. Halse)

Stella Crandall Gusso, maker of doilies and so much more, died the year I was born. Even if she hadn’t there’s a good chance I would not have met her, given our roaming and her home being in South Dakota. She led a clean life as farm wife and mother, a genial soul, who lovingly tolerated her curmudgeonly husband.

Grandma points out that her mom made the doily around the time of World War II. I can imagine Stella, lover of soap operas, in her rocker near the console radio, listening to a favorite show, perhaps punctuated by a news bulletin with war updates, delicate crochet hook flashing in and out of tiny holes of thread. How fortunate I am to have something created with her own hands.

I also love the box Grandma Halse saved to put the doily in.



36 thoughts on “The Doily

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  1. ALS is a horrible disease, my brother-in-laws mother died from that, she would have only been in her sixties. Thinking of some devastating illnesses, it is frightening to know that we may have inherited some of those genes that so cruelly and slowly took away the ones we loved.

    I have doilies and embroidery made by my great aunt that I cherish. I never thought of framing one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I thought it might be a good way to both display and preserve it. Doesn’t seem to make sense just leaving it in the closet forever.

      I try not to worry about what sort of awful thing might befall me healthwise, but it’s lurking at the back of my mind.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I know what you mean on both counts…. although I do use one or two of the doilies, they really are works of art! (Rest assured, they are not on the back of the couch!)

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I love the idea of displaying that doily on black velvet–that will be so pretty! And I wouldn’t fix the flaw, but that’s just me. A friend and his brother and father all died from ALS; neither son had children, so it wouldn’t be passed on. So terribly sad. All we can do is keep active in body and mind, I think, but it is scary, that disease and others like it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. ALS is so awful. And so is dementia. My mother also has dementia (she’s 89), and she’s gone from being a highly intelligent, well-read, well-informed and charming woman to someone who has no idea where she is or what year/day/time of day it is. But you’re right—she’s oblivious to what is happening to her whereas an ALS patient is fully aware of the nightmare they’re enduring.

    Lovely post! I hope you do find time to preserve the doily. What a wonderful keepsake, as is your grandmother’s letter.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments on these diseases. If we didn’t live so long, maybe we wouldn’t be subjected to such things, but I still prefer the chance of having a long life and maybe beating the odds.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Those degenerative diseases are so cruel. It’s hard not to think about them as we get older.

    I have a lot of 19th century linens from my mother’s side of the family, but not doilies. Tatting was the home embellishment of choice for those ladies. When I was growing up in northern New Hampshire and Vermont, the older generation crocheted three-dimensional doilies. (I don’t know what they were called.) They had sides, which would stand up after being soaked in sugar water and let dry.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The fact that you have so few heirlooms makes the ones you do have that much more precious. And I have to admit, I’m not afraid to die so much as I’m afraid to live with Cancer, ALS or Dementia. I cannot imagine.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s a lovely doily and it looks in pretty good shape. My mom loved the ones she had from her grandmother and used them a lot, but we weren’t the neatest of children so they were all pretty stained and frayed.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I look forward to seeing the photo of the framed doily!

    Why were children of military personnel called brats? Surely, kids are just kids no matter their parents occupation. I can clearly recall my cousins calling me a little brat 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Aging is difficult, aging and ill impossible. I can hear your heart’s anguish, and know that I will pray for you. what a lovely doily. Would you mind if I attempted to make a pattern for it from the picture? I, like you, have moved many times 15 times in the last 25 years. I have very little in the way of heirlooms that haven’t been broken, destroyed, or just plain lost along the way. Your story of this one touches me deeply. I’d like to give it a go, and see.

    Liked by 1 person

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