Marlena Hartz : CNJ Staff Writer
Tia Littlefield leans forward in her living room chair as she slowly and methodically draws one loop of yarn through another, and another, and another. The muscles in her small hands are nearly always tense — Littlefield has cerebral palsy.
It will take her days to loop the yarn into a blanket.
She wears braces on both legs and relies on a cane for balance, yet walks to local stores to buy yarn. She labors not for herself but for others: Her crocheted hats and blankets go to Vista Care hospice patients and the needy.
“The first blanket I made, I sent to a missionary in Africa,” Littlefield said, her brown eyes big and earnest. “I give some to the homeless. I know there are lots of folks out there who need more than I do.”
Littlefield has crocheted 10 squares of blue and burgundy yarn for her next project — another blanket for a Vista Care patient, one she will likely never meet.
“I am going to connect these squares with gold yarn,” Littlefield said. The spools of yarn for this blanket, she said, were given to her — “I mainly use brighter colors,” she said. “They’re more uplifting.”
Littlefield, 39, leaves much of her finished work in the care of Yolanda Vela, coordinator of the Vista Care volunteer program. “We have a box of blankets we let the patients pick from,” said Vela. “There are all kinds to chose from — fleece and all different colors, but anything handmade is a blessing for people. It has sentimental value.”
“Her blankets are beautiful,” Vela said.
Indeed, the work is quite immaculate, the rows evenly stitched and neat.
Although she learned her basics from a family friend when she was 21, Littlefield learned more complex stitches from books. She recently received best of show and first and second place prizes for her work at the Curry County Fair. Littlefield said it took years of practice to learn how to crochet well, and she holds no illusions about her physical limitations.
“My coordination is not quite as good as the average person,” said soft-spoken Littlefield. “There’s some stuff I do well; there’s some stuff I don’t do, and there’s some stuff I have no business trying to do — like climbing a ladder or driving a car. I don’t have the balance to do those things,” she said.
The term cerebral palsy describes a group of chronic disorders that impair movement and coordination; it is generally diagnosed in the first few years of life and does not worsen with time, according to the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Strokes Web site. Though doctors are not sure what causes cerebral palsy, premature babies are more at risk.
Littlefield’s mother, like the medical community, only speculates about what caused the disorder in her daughter.
“(Tia) was born two months premature,” said her mother, Laura Johnson, wife of a retired army man.
“We were in Germany at the time. I had been having false labor pains. The doctor didn’t speak very good English. I don’t know if he understood what I was telling him; he just gave me some pain pills and sent me home. I always thought maybe if I had another doctor we could have done something to stop it.”
Littlefield’s twisted ankle and other physical impairments cause more than physical pain, Johnson and Littlefield said. Some assume her impairments mean she is mentally retarded; she is not, her mother said.
“I didn’t like the way I got treated in school — having students gang up on me, or having a teacher scream and yell at me because I couldn’t do something.
“ It came to pass though,” Littlefield said, in her yellow chair, quoting one of her favorite Bible passages, “It came to pass. Thank God it didn’t come to stay.”
“Some people look down on me, or laugh behind my back. The stereotypes for people with disabilities are almost the same as if you were a different race,” Littlefield said.
It is religion that helps her live with cerebral palsy, Littlefield said. She fell in love with Catholicism at the age of 9 and since then has attended church regularly. She can recite whole prayers, hymns, and Bible passages verbatim.
She prefers to not to dwell on the way some look at her, or laugh at her, or assume things about her.
“I just like to give,” she said, her needle buried in a spool of yarn on her lap.
“It don’t matter if you’re rich or poor, there’s always something you can do somewhere to help.”