Needlepointing vs. Health Insurance

I always wondered how my grandmother found the time to needlepoint with her busy medical practice. During my childhood overnight visits, I gradually noticed that her home was filled with needlepoint.

The cushions on the dining room chairs were covered with leafy roses and irises, and the antique bell pulls hung like eight-foot vines of needlepoint. Benches in the bedroom, trinket boxes in the living room, and even a pin cushion next to her sewing kit... all embedded with needlepointed colors.

I was about 10 years old when I finally asked when she found the time to secretly needlepoint all these treasures. "I don't needlepoint" she answered, "I tried but I was never quite good at it."

I ran my hand over the textured wool admiring the seat beneath me.

The seat cushions are still sturdy with vibrant color decades later.

The seat cushions are still sturdy with vibrant color decades later.

"It takes quite a bit a skill. True craftsmanship." my grandmother told me, as she walked over to answer the phone which rang with a rattle. 

I was 11 years old when I asked, "You must really and truly love needlepoint to collect it like's everywhere, Where do you buy it? Can I go with you next time?"

"I like it, I don't love it." she replied frankly. "I think I have too much- but it's really well made." She reached across me to turn on the Tonight Show for Johnny's opening monologue.

I was about 12 years old when I finally asked my grandmother, "If you don't love needlepoint - why do you have so much?"

"I had a family of patients that paid me with needlepoint," she shared in confidence as she took a sip of tea. "They couldn't afford all the bills for such a big family so they traded with me. The mother needlepointed goods for services. She had six children. They're grown now."

I was 46 years old when my mother died and many of my grandmother's treasures moved into my house. I looked around and once again admired the same cushioned seats that are now my dining room chairs.

As I unpacked so many of her belongings, I realized she must have traded much more than needlepoint in exchange for a doctor's visit. All around I found one hundred embroidered doilies, sets of small wood carvings, sample after sample of knitted goods, handwritten recipe boxes, tiny painted glass after box...some that I had never seen before. Most marked with names I don't recognize.

What a riddle this would be if I hadn't asked about the needlepoint collection when I had the chance. Now I can only deduce how many times healthcare, commitment and craft interacted in those busy, yet simpler, days of family medicine.


Hilary Crowley