Betty Land always has a hat.
She does not wear them on her head. She holds them in her hands. They usually can be found in various stages of development because, like everything else, they have a beginning, middle and end.
This labor of love comes to life by the light of her living room lamps. She works her magic with crochet hooks and colorful acrylic yarn.
“There’s no telling who she has helped over the years,’’ said her daughter, Laurie Freeman. “It’s just her little ministry from her chair. She keeps her hands busy, even if she doesn’t get around much anymore.’’
She may have a remote-controlled La-Z-Boy recliner, but Betty is anything but lazy.
In 2002, she began crocheting hats for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
In those 17 years, she has crocheted 688 hats.
“I hope to do a thousand before I die,’’ she said.
She has logged every one of them in a notebook, its pages now yellowed and brittle. Since she is left-handed, the pages flow from right to left.
Betty is one of those joyful souls who gets up every morning and goes out and makes a difference in the world, even if she never leaves the house.
She usually can be found watching “Jeopardy!” or “Wheel of Fortune” or some Hallmark Channel movie while she crochets. She puts down her handiwork long enough to complete the daily crossword puzzle in The Telegraph.
Betty grew up in Columbus, where her father worked in the maintenance department at Fort Benning. She developed her love of crocheting from her mother, who was employed by a local hosiery mill. The mill manufactured silk stockings until World War II came along. The government needed the silk to make parachutes, so switch was made to rayon and nylon.
“My mother crocheted and made afghans,’’ Betty said. “I learned from watching her, but I’m left-handed and had to learn to do everything backward.’’
She began volunteering as a “pink lady” at Navicent Health/Medical Center after a 34-year career with C&S Bank, which later became NationsBank and Bank of America. For many years, she would work the desk at the hospital’s waiting room for heart patients and their families.
“That’s when I got started making the hats,’’ she said. “I would sit at the desk for four hours, so I asked them if I could crochet. Some people would come up and ask me to make them one. They even offered to pay me.’’
But the hats never were for sale, and Laurie said her mom never turned a request. Many of the patients and hospital staff began to call her the “Hat Lady.’’
She gave them to the local Golden Opportunities organization, which collected and distributed them to patients through the “Halo of Hope” program.
“They had a ‘hat tree’ where anyone who wanted one could get one,’’ Betty said.
Three years ago, she had to stop volunteering at the hospital after undergoing an emergency heart procedure, which later required a pacemaker. She no longer is able to walk the long halls of the hospital.
Betty is not one to complain, but her eyesight also is failing. She suffers from arthritis in her shoulders and upper arms.
But her fingers still work. And she puts them to work.
“I don’t get out too much anymore,’’ she said. “But I don’t feel sorry for myself that I can’t do things.’’
Laurie calls her mother “amazing” and “fiercely independent”
“Her age has slowed her down, but she hasn’t given up,’’ Laurie said. “And I don’t expect that to happen to her.”
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.