Countless things spool through my mind when I think of Mary Kate. Today, the day after she died, I’m thinking a lot about that; that she died. More frames reel, and something keeps coming back around: her hands. Mary Kate’s were working hands. Holding books as she read to everyone’s kids, the fragile juggling of double-pointed needles turning out endless beautiful wool socks for her family. Hands that were happiest in the dirt of her gardens.
My woolgathering thoughts move to a tree in her front yard, some sort of Scottish tree that just doesn’t grow in this country, but some old Scot who’d owned the house before her grafted it onto a tree stump that grows happily here. It’s an amazing tree. A climber like none I’ve ever seen. As a tomboy growing up in the woods of the Catskill Mountains I’d clambered my share of limbs, and none of them came close to the perfect climbingness of that tree.
Mary Kate was never not making something with her hands. When I was filling plastic eggs with store-bought chocolate, she was creating little Easter animal figures out of wool and felt and embroidery thread. At Christmas she gave me a tiny baby elf of wool, sleeping in its walnut-shell cradle. She made the kinds of things that take your breath with their delicate sweetness. Each of her four children has a collection of these beautiful treasures crafted individually with her love and her hands.
Her gardens are unparalleled beauty. They are perfect cottage gardens of herbs, perennials, strawberries and fruit trees. Some have tiny stepping stone paths, others are built on little hillsides; terraced steps of perfection. She knew exactly what each plant was, and what it needed to thrive. She knew this about her children too.