If anyone had ever asked me what I would be doing after I retired, never in a million years would I have replied, ” making baskets out of pine needles.” Let me say right up front…..I’ve been a technical “nerd” my entire life. I majored in Math and Computer Science in school and all my jobs have been technically oriented. I never dreamed I had an artistic bone in my body. In fact, I envied some of my artist friends who could create such cool things. My story of how I became a “coiler” starts with my mother. I hope you enjoy the tale.
Back in the early 1980’s, my mother, Ruth Busto, took a coiling class sponsored by the Columbia, SC Parks and Recreation Department.
She learned how to coil baskets using raffia and the needles from the long needle pine tree in her back yard.
On one of my visits home, she proudly showed me one of her creations….her face brimming with excitement over her newly acquired skill. Her early baskets were roughly made but gorgeous just the same. Every time I returned home, she would beg me to let her show me how to coil. But, as a young professional woman nearing 30 I had much more exciting things to do than make baskets. Besides, why make one myself when I could just “acquire” one of her creations every time I went home!
But, as mothers usually do, she finally convinced me to sit down with her one afternoon so she could show me the basics. After several hours of “trying” to coil, I simply gave up saying I just couldn’t do this! I couldn’t get the needles to do what I wanted; the raffia kept breaking; the needles hurt my fingers; and it took forever to do! Nope! This was not the hobby for me. I put the needles down and that was the end of my coiling.
As the years progressed, mother’s skill and talent grew. Her baskets became more and more lovely and complex. And, of course, the “best” ones ended up at my house! I loved them and would display them proudly on my walls.
Mother usually gave away all her baskets….to friends, to relatives, to church bazaars. I don’t know how many she ultimately made, but it had to have been a lot!
Over the years, mom’s coiling slowed as her health declined and her ability to gather the needles out of the yard was limited. Eventually, my brother and I moved her to an assisted living facility. She took her coiling supplies with her, but by then her coiling had slowed tremendously.
In 2004, mom’s health had declined to the point we had to move her to a nursing home. As we sorted through her belongings choosing what she would take with her, we came upon her coiling supplies. She told me to take them since she would not use them again. I tossed them in my car along with other mementos and family treasures that we wanted to keep.
After getting mom settled in the nursing home, I returned to Richmond with boxes full of the items she had given me. Too distraught over my mother’s rather rapid decline and the fact that she needed to be in a nursing home six hours away from me, I tossed the boxes in the closet to deal with at a later date.
The next few months were a blur as mom’s health continued downhill. I was on the road every other weekend making the long drive from Richmond to Columbia….never sure if this trip would be the “end”. In August, 2004, my mom went to be with my dad in Heaven. I was devastated and lost. No more daily phone calls to hear her voice. I had lost the person whom I loved most and who loved me unconditionally.
Many months after mom’s passing I was doing some “spring cleaning” and stumbled upon the box of mom’s coiling supplies I had stashed in the closet so long ago. I opened the box and found a basket that mom had started but never finished.
Tears ran down my cheeks as I recalled how much she loved to coil. Right then and there I resolved to finish that basket in her honor. I picked up the needles and raffia and tried to recall what mom had taught me. It all came back in a flash. She had done the hard part….I just needed to finish the sides and end it. It took me a while, but finish it I did. And now it hangs proudly with all her other baskets. It is the most beautiful one of them all.
Finishing that basket gave me a whole new outlook on coiling. Well, that and maybe being 30 years older! I found that I really enjoyed it. No longer did it seem tedious or hurt my fingers. I finally understood why mom loved it so. Watching the joy in other’s faces when you give them one of your creations is amazing. Thank you, mom, for your last life lesson. I miss you and love you dearly.