My Opa was a constant presence in my life. My sister and I grew up with him and my Oma right next door to us. We shared a five acre lot where Jill and I were introduced to the world of gardening, canning, preserving, and the joys of fresh vegetables on a hot summer day. For most of my childhood my Oma and Opa were just a short ways away, up the small hill that separated our two houses. Even when they moved to be closer to my dad, we saw them regularly. And I know that they were overjoyed when first my sister and then I decided to go to college just forty-five minutes away. When I would go to their house for dinners, my Opa would always say, whether or not it was true, that I was looking too skinny and it was a good thing I had come to eat some real food. Like any doting grandfather he was worried, but more than anything I know he was proud of not only my, but all his grandchildren’s accomplishments. I graduated from college in May, just three months after he passed, and though he’s not in the pictures with me and my family, I know he was there in spirit because he wouldn’t have wanted to miss this milestone. I still feel his presence because I know he loved me very much.
Opa was born in Bulgaria and came to the United States when he was in his twenties. In his home country, he and his family were farmers producing many things including tobacco and silk, and raising sheep. I think this is where I get my fascination with sheep and fiber. It runs in my blood! My great-grandmother and aunts would weave beautiful rugs and mats out of the wool they gathered from their flock. As many of you know, I recently took the next step in textile production and started spinning my own yarn. The first time I put my feet on those treadles and held that wool in my fingers, something clicked and I knew I was right where I belonged. I caught on quickly and immediately fell in love with the process. When I received a spinning wheel as a Christmas present I was overjoyed at the prospect of continuing to learn this new craft. When my Oma heard about it she couldn’t wait to take pictures of my spinning to send to my Opa’s family back in Bulgaria; she was proud enough for the both of them. When I sit at my wheel, slowly and rhythmically creating yarn, I feel a strong connection to my Bulgarian heritage. The tools they used in the past were much different from my small Loute wheel sitting in my living room, but the basic process is the same. I’m proud that I can carry on this tradition and that I have something in common with the family of my wonderful Opa.
So today, on the one year mark of his passing, I’m going to sit at my spinning wheel and let its comforting and therapeutic whirr help ease the sadness. I’m going to remember him not the way he was on those last few days, but the way he looked pushing a wheel barrow across the yard, how he would cut up a plate full of tomatoes, the sound of him laughing at his own stories, and the feel of his work-roughened hand holding mine. The pain of losing him will ebb, and these will be the things that come back in color whenever I think of him. And this connection I feel to my heritage and to him will only get stronger.