LARGO — Dorothy McDade is 87, and sometimes wonders why she's still here.
Her friends are dying off, one by one. Her husband is gone, too.
She doesn't move around much anymore, not since she broke her hip and got an inferior replacement. She gave up her car, and with it most of her freedom.
"Why am I here?" she asks.
In simple skeins of yarn, she searches for an answer.
• • •
Whenever McDade sits, she crochets.
"Never wanted to knit," she says.
She picked up the craft as a teenager in Iowa. She lived on a farm surrounded by corn and oats and stinking pigs, and when she wasn't tending to animals, she crocheted doilies to drape on furniture.
Yarn over, yarn over, double crochet.
As the years passed, her hobby took a back seat. McDade's first marriage was hell, her second marriage bliss. Don held open doors and spoiled her rotten.
"We were so happy," McDade said. "It was the best 26 years of my life."
Don died in 1994, after they retired to Florida, and McDade adjusted to life without him the best she could. Then five years ago, she had to adjust again after tripping over a speed bump and breaking her hip.
Able to do little else, she found comfort in crocheting.
Loop over two, loop over two, chain one.
• • •
She found purpose, too.
There isn't much use here for the heavy afghans she made in Iowa. But plenty of people need pillows, baby blankets and hats.
McDade sells her hats for $5 each. Mostly, she gives them away.
She donates them to the homeless, poor and dying. To stillborn babies, schoolchildren and veterans. To people she reads about in the newspaper and thinks might be uplifted with one of her hats atop their heads.
She relies on her friends from the Largo Community Center craft club to deliver the goods. She wishes she could see the faces of the recipients.
"Oh, is this for me?" she imagines them saying.
It makes her feel good to help others, especially the homeless when the weather turns cold.
"Here I am with all the covers I can get on me," she says. "They don't have anything."
• • •
This year, McDade aimed to crochet one hat a day.
She kept count on a notepad. Nothing official, just a tally for her own satisfaction.
A few weeks ago, the total reached 440 hats. That may have been a little low.
"I don't remember if I remembered to write down everything," she said.
She threw out the paper and started counting again.
Yarn over, pull through two. Yarn over, pull through two.
She works several projects at once, maybe has a hat and baby blanket going in the den and another hat under way in her bedroom. Her fingers move swiftly as she twists yarn around her favorite G needle.
Six months ago, she broke her hand. Her first thought: I won't be able to crochet.
The injury slowed her down, she admits.
"But it didn't stop me."
Colleen Jenkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3337.