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A daughter helps her 96-year-old mom crochet some love into their community

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Two mom friends, playing on a Washington state beach with their kids, were inspired by an idea that has touched 5.3 million people in 44 countries at last count. Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller spent years collecting washed up plastic waste of every size, shape and color. Where did all this plastic come from? The simple answer is us. It all comes from our homes, our work and our cars.

The women started The Buy Nothing Project in 2013 to encourage us to buy less and share more. But there’s so much more to the project than just this message.

Buy Nothing groups are usually found on Facebook and are hyperlocal, meaning a group operates just within one town or neighborhood. The rules to the group are simple. Give freely without any expectation of reward or compensation. There is no trading or bartering and no money ever changes hands.

Members of the group can also ask for particular things they need. Need a new soup pot? Post your request to the group’s page. Maybe your neighbor three blocks away who you’ve never met has a perfectly good soup pot they rarely use. An easy porch pick-up or drop-off is arranged. The ultimate etiquette for a group member is called a “gratitude” post. That would come as a picture of your soup cooking in that new-to-you soup pot.

All gifts or asks are seen as equally important, no matter how large or small. And at its core, the real value of the Buy Nothing group is the human connection.

On Feb. 9, 2022, Deb Murphy of Cranford, New Jersey, posted a gift.

“Does anyone need a Valentine’s Day gift? A 96-year-old grandma has started crocheting again and we’d like to offer these crochet headbands. If interested, please name your color preference!"

The comments flooded in.

“God bless her!”

“Those are beautiful and she’s adorable! I’d love a blue one!”

“How nice! I’d love one in any color.”

Soon Deb had so many requests, she paused the comments to see how many she could fulfill. My own request was one of the many.

Deb updated the original post a few days later: “Happy to report that we have enough headbands to fulfill the requests below! My mom will be happy to know that there is so much interest and that there is a purpose to each day beyond her medical status.”

Along with all the others who wanted this handmade gift, Deb messaged me her address for a porch pick-up. I drove over the next morning. As I walked up onto Deb’s porch, I saw the basket filled with headbands. Each one was labeled with our names in the colors we’d requested.

I also saw Lily, Deb’s 11-year-old yellow Lab. Her tail began wagging as she picked up her stuffed animal in her mouth and welcomed me to her porch. My voice flew up into that high-pitched dog-loving sound as I pet Lily and told her how beautiful she was. I took my pink headband from the basket and spent some more time with Lily. She made it very hard to leave.

And as I (loudly) enjoyed Lily’s company on their large, beautifully decorated porch, Deb opened the front door with a smile. We talked for a little while about Lily and dogs and COVID and her 96-year-old mom, Cirilka.

I mentioned my daughter and Deb quickly offered an additional headband for her. “What color would she like?!” Deb asked as she showed me more of what was keeping her mom busy recently. And as we said goodbye, with one last pet and cuddle of Lily, I was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude for this chance human interaction.

I wore my headband on errands and walks and the compliments were frequent. And with every thank you, I wanted to tell each person more about this simple crocheted headband that was not so simple at all. I wanted to be part of this ripple effect of human interaction that began on a Washington state beach when the Buy Nothing Project was born.

I messaged Deb through Facebook and asked if she’d tell me more about her mom.

Cirilka was in her 20s when she left her home in Yugoslavia during World War II. She was given the choice of sailing to Canada, Australia or America on a very long and traumatic boat ride. Leaving the only home she’d ever known, Cirilka tells the story of starting this journey in a long wool skirt. By the time she reached America, that wool skirt had shrunk with ocean water to a mini skirt, she’d jokingly tell her family.

Cirilka met her husband, John, while they both were working at Lionel Trains in Hillside, New Jersey. John and Cirilka, now both 96 years old, are still living in their own home with the help of aides and their two grown children, Deb and her brother, Ron.

Deb, a clinical researcher in neuroscience, began to notice a mental decline in her mom. Cirilka’s three full days of dialysis every week for four years, combined with the isolation of the pandemic, began to take away her spark in a very noticeable way.

During one of Deb's daily visits to her parents' home, Cirilka noticed Deb wearing a headband that she had made for her years ago. Cirilka commented that it looked nice on her and Deb immediately got an idea. She grabbed a crochet hook and some yarn that hadn’t been touched for well over a year. “Mom, do you think you can still make one of these?”

It took a few attempts to remember the mechanics that day, but Cirilka soon remembered. Despite her arthritis, she began to crochet. She made 10 headbands in the first batch and declared, “That’s enough. I’m going to stop.” Little did she know it was far from enough.

Deb began bringing the headbands to Cirilka’s doctors’ appointments, and the dialysis center to give them out to other patients and health care workers. Deb made sure to always have a stash in her purse. The headbands were an ice breaker to begin a conversation that Cirilka might never had started.

Despite Cirilka being in a wheelchair, Deb encouraged her mom to give them out herself. One day noticing another elderly lady, Cirilka said to Deb, “Maybe she’d like a headband? Go give her one, Deb.”

Deb, seeing this as another way to encourage human connection, told her mom, “Nope! YOU give it to her!” Cirilka did and a lovely short conversation ensued. Deb did everything she could to safely encourage these small human connections.

When the first batch was all given away, Deb bought more yarn and told her mom to “get cracking” making more! Trying to keep up the momentum of the mission to help her mom, Deb got the idea got to post on the Buy Nothing page as well.

The headbands take about an hour each to make, but the benefits are long lasting. Cirilka’s new sense of purpose reminded her of her lifelong talents of embroidery, sewing, baking and cooking. And while she may not be able to do everything she once did, her crochet work is making a difference in people’s lives.

Deb recently got together with a group of girlfriends for dinner and made sure to bring a headband for each of them. And when Deb showed Cirilka the group picture of the evening with all the friends wearing their headbands, Cirilka had a big smile. She remembered many of the women as Deb’s longtime friends.

One lady from the Buy Nothing post left a beautiful handmade card in the porch pick-up basket thanking Cirilka for this gift of her handiwork. Deb placed that card right on her mom’s nightstand so she would see it every morning and night.

Years ago, when Cirilka was doing more intricate work, she made some baby blankets and had Deb put them away. Cirilka intends these blankets to be given to her great-grandchildren one day. Billy, Deb’s son and Cirilka’s grandson, is now 30 years old and engaged to be married next year. Deb tears up as we talk about the inevitable. And even though she knows how fortunate she is to still have both her parents at age 96, our parents aging is rarely easy for anyone.

The headbands have even been modified recently to have a small twist in the front. Cirilka is on a roll! Deb also just found a very simple heart pattern that Cirilka is going to try to learn. If she can do it, Cirilka’s crochet work will be incorporated into Billy’s wedding next year.

In the meantime, Deb, along with her brother, will continue visiting twice daily with Lily the dog. The headbands will be made and given out just as fast. And when Cirilka says, “I’m going to need more yarn, Deb,” everyone smiles for so many reasons.

Cirilka with her headbands.

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