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  • HeatherJoy Bagnall

Gramma’s Knitting Needles

Even as a very old woman, my Grandmother was this tall, stern, farm woman. She had these knitting needles, they were huge! As a child, I thought they were some sort of weird swords. They were round the diameter of my 7-year-old wrist and the length of my arm. Gramma could go from knitting and sipping tea to smacking my older sister’s butt with one of those knitting needles and back to knitting like a ninja. “Stop picking on your sister!” SMACK! My sister would run off to tell mom.


Gramma would look at me, “Stop letting people talk to you like that!” and return to kitting and sipping her dandelion tea.


Looking back, I didn’t mind nor care how my sister or others spoke to me, I would stay in my own little world, write my stories, and draw my pictures. I ignored much of it.


Fast forward, forty years. It’s Saturday, April, 18, 2020 at 2:44 AM


  • 3,574,392 people worldwide have been tested for Covid19

  • 2,249,662 people worldwide are positive for Covid19

  • 154, 254 people worldwide have died, that we know of, from Covid19- because we aren’t testing everyone.

*https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html


We are Working from Home

Work. Quarantine. The current situation is like none of us have lived through. Dr. Maya Angelou’s words have been ringing in my mind for days.


You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Gramma’s blankets were interwoven moments of everyday life. The dandelion tea, the very life she lived, the farm, the life, and death. Every turn of the knitting needles the words of those we live with and work with, welcomed or wounding. But like Dr. Maya Angelou’s words, We Rise.


Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I've got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.


When I began my current job, I was so excited. I proudly placed my graduation goals over my desk. I tried not to bother anyone, but I learned from afar and gained knowledge, willing to share. I was in awe of the opportunity before me. The honeymoon ended nearly as fast as it had started. My goals sheet was offensive. I made others look bad. I wore stupid-looking dresses and ugly sweaters. I no longer knew who to trust and who to believe. I escaped into writing.


Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I'll rise.


Every single day, I got up, got dressed and went to work. I loved working with my teachers and we made huge progress. “I turned on the computer but I don’t know where the Google is.” Her words will ring forever in my brain. But, she did it! We did not give up on each other.


Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?


Words became more interwoven in my life blanket. “We don’t like you.”

“I only help people I like.” “That program is too hard for you.” “No one wants to work with you.”


Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don't you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

I journal. I write all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.

“We don’t want you in our group.” “There are music positions, go apply for one.”

“Stay in your lane” “Is today an ugly sweater day?! No one told me?” The laughter at being set up. But, hey! We ate cake!!


You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.


I wish some of my responses were better. Too often perhaps I said nothing and allowed your words to knot the yarn weaving my life blanket. I did try, fruitlessly to offer support, kindness, but mostly to stay away. I learned the life lesson of complaining and having it fall on deaf ears. I stopped talking.


Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I've got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?


I spoke up again after some time. My words fully in support of you, your children, and this difficult time. My belief in you and the change you can be in education, in your child’s education. My words were, by some, twisted, Taken to be condescending. Here’s the thing. I care. I care too deeply.


Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.


I care too deeply. I have put myself through hell to learn how to be an education researcher, to be a good teacher, to know the philosophies, and to stop the pendulum. I am, without apology, part of a movement caring more about your children than your children’s test scores. You can continue to try and humiliate me and you can try to keep me in a lane, in a box. Or, you can realize boxes and cookie cutters are what brought education to its current state.


Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of *my grandmother.


There is no cage that will hold me. There is no box that is ‘me’ shaped. There is no cookie-cutter we all fall into. I am able to untangle your knotted words and thoughts from my life blanket. Your words are my steps.


I rise

I rise

I rise.



*my grandmother was substituted for “slave” as the last word in Dr. Angelou’s poem. There are too many questions surrounding the life and nationality of my grandmother to leave it as an assumption of my own history. I changed out this poem completely several times but returned to the words of Dr. Angelou because everyone should know her and I love her words. It is from a woman’s perspective for life, love, and strength which I highlight Dr. Angelou and weave my thoughts of my own grandmother. Listening to Dr. Angelou’s lecture at SUNY Oneonta will always, always rest in my mind and heart.



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