I am a grandmother of two middle-school-aged girls who call me “Granny,” and I darn socks. Not many people these days take the time to do it. People will throw holey socks away and buy new ones.

As I darn in my wooden rocking chair, I know that with my white hair I look like the traditional grandmother. On cold days, I even wrap a shawl around my shoulders.

As I rock and darn, my thoughts often circle around a sore spot, a hole in my life and the lives of my grandchildren: their mother, who died at age thirty-four from a heroin overdose. This was six years ago, when they were eight and six years old. If her loss is a hole in my long life, I can only imagine the crater it must be in theirs. They have never wanted to talk about it with me, not even right after it happened. The oldest, Molly, said my son told her she would be “surrounded by love,” and that’s the last thing either of them said about it to me. When I tried to bring it up after it happened, I was met with their shrieks: “Don’t talk about it!” And that’s the way it’s been.

My friend Kitty has a darning egg, an oval wooden ball she puts inside the heel of the sock. Heels are where most holes occur. Darning isn’t just bringing the two sides of the hole together; it’s actually weaving with new material, bits of yarn, creating more sock to replace what has been worn away. It took me some time to teach myself how to do it. At first, I wanted to sew the worn edges together. Gradually I realized that I needed to create a new fabric in the center. I push leftover yarn through the hole of a big darning needle and create a ladder of strings, not pulling the edges tight but looping across the hole. I cut and tie the yarn, then start again, creating another ladder crosswise to the first, slipping the needle above and below the first ladder. I go back and forth, changing directions until the repair looks sturdy enough to last for a while, then cut and tie it off.

Perhaps someday the girls will want to talk with me about their mother. What can I tell them? That she loved them? They know that, and they know the limits of that love, its inability to stretch beyond her death, or even beyond her addiction. I know there must be a part of each of them that is afraid that their mother’s fate awaits them, that they will die an unhappy early death. I want to tell them that won’t happen, but they know my knowledge is as limited as that of anyone.

There are some things that can’t be fixed. I will take them for ice cream and talk with them about whatever they want to talk about. I will watch their TikTok videos and give each one a heart. If they call me, I will answer no matter what. And maybe, over time, the weave will grow, not to make the hole disappear, but to make a strong enough web over it that they will be able to walk with confidence, and not fall through.

Patricia O’Donnell is Professor Emerita at the University of Maine at Farmington, where she taught Fiction Writing in the BFA Program. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Agni Review, and many other places. Her most recent novel, The Vigilance of Stars, was chosen by the Maine Humanities Council to be discussed in libraries across the stateher novel A Symmetry of Husbands will be published this year by Unsolicited Press. More information can be found here: https://patriciaodonnell.weebly.com/

Art by Sheila Squillante