My Grandmother's sister was named Juanita and she became deaf after a terrible fever at the age of four. She went to school and learned how to read and write but didn't get beyond the 6th grade. My great-grandmother finished high school and then attended all all girls school taught by nuns for a year. She didn't want Juanita to be left uneducated so she did her best to teach her what she learned. Juanita just didn't want to go to school.
Aunt Juanita lived with my Great-grandmother. She learned to sign and read lips but developed a sign language of her own with Great-Grandma. I remember her being so serious yet very warm. When we would visit she would always talk to me and show me all the things she had made. Aunt Juanita would also knit and crochet and made beautiful sweaters and bedspreads. She would make booties,socks, mittens and hats then go door to door to sell them. I remember her coming home one day and showing me the money she earned then tapped my chest really hard with her hand and then picked up the bag of yarn, needles and half-crocheted booties, her eyes sternly fixed on me. She handed me a hook and yarn and I sat beside her and crocheted. She worked very fast and I remember each piece was symmetrical and perfect. All her sizes were uniformed. She never used patterns.
Aunt Juanita was pretty with her long, jet black braids. She was older and stood taller than Grandma who was only five feet tall, Juanita was five foot seven. She had a presence and was always very serious. To see her laugh was always surprising and to make her laugh was gold. Still she was very sweet and I don't know why I didn't ask her more questions, I mostly listened and watched.
I wish Juanita and my Great-Grandmother were still around today. Since they passed I have hundreds of questions for each of them. I would like Aunt Juanita to show me how she made her sweaters without patterns because I have been trying and still cannot master it the way she did. I would like my Great-Grandmother to tell me how things were for her growing up as a Native American woman. I'd like to hear her play the twelve string guitar that hung behind her bed and tell me how she met her husbands and things like that. I ask my Grandmother all those things and I ask her about Aunt Juanita and Great-Grandma, she tells me what she can then says,"I don't have their hands."
I was lucky to have my Great-Grandmother around until I was 20. My Aunt Juanita passed away when I was 24 and my Grandmother gave me all her hooks and needles. I was hoping they held her skill and talent in them and would help me create the things she did. Every hook and pair of needles I have has a story, some once belonged to my Aunt Juanita, others hold memories of walking with my Abuelita (maternal Grandmother) to stores in Mexico to buy them. When I do crochet or knit all the women in my family sort of come together in my heart. There are pieces in my family that my maternal and paternal Great-Grandmothers have made, there are sweaters and hats by Aunt Juanita, Abuelita's tablecloths...
With the whole craft resurgence I have often thought of how websites like Etsy would have have helped my Aunt. She could have made a small fortune selling her pieces online. She saw it as her job to make things and she never stopped making things. She treated it as a real business and helped support my Great-Grandmother that way. If she were alive today I'd set her up on Etsy and I know she'd be able to navigate the website on her own after only being shown once. There is nothing worse in life than wasted talent, Aunt Juanita never wasted her talent.