Crochet hooks seem to fly in Fran Tracy's hands, even as her 88-year-old mind struggles to remember what she is making and why.
Tracy, whose daughter said she was diagnosed in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, crochets blankets for the cattery at the Nebraska Humane Society. Her daughter, Geri Curtis of Omaha, said she starts her mother off with an 11-by-14-inch piece of cardboard for a pattern, and away she goes.
“It takes about one skein of yarn to make each blanket,” Curtis said. “When Mom gets to the end of the skein, the blanket is finished.”
Curtis said her mother has crocheted all her life, and now making blankets for cats seems to give her an important sense of purpose. A great-niece, Allison Bentley, suggested donating the items to the Nebraska Humane Society.
Mother, daughter and Bentley recently delivered 50 cat blankets to the Humane Society. Curtis estimated that in the past 10 months, her mother has made about 100 blankets, many of which have gone to friends and family members with pets.
“We're going to have to blow up a big picture of mom and all the blankets and hang it on the wall so she knows where they all went,” Curtis said. “She keeps asking why she is making these things, and I remind her it's for the cats.”
Dr. Jane Potter, chief of geriatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said it's common for people with Alzheimer's disease to be able to continue to use talents they learned long ago.
“The area of the brain where she has talent for knitting or crocheting is different from the area where the brain creates new memories,” Potter said. “I've known people who have advanced cases of Alzheimer's who are able to play intricate pieces on the piano that they learned when they were young.”
Bentley got the idea of asking Fran to make blankets for the Humane Society from her own cat.
“My parents brought one of Fran's blankets home from a family reunion, and my cat just loved it,” Bentley said.
Pam Wiese, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society, said the colorful blankets are welcome additions in the cattery. Volunteers will dig through the pile to find “just the right colors” to accent the cats on display for adoption.
“We have quite a few seniors who donate blankets, but I've never seen a load like this,” Wiese said. “They will make the cattery so much more homey and cheerful for the cats and people who are looking to adopt.”
Curtis said her mother always was a cat person who would have four or five felines under foot. Fran's eyes brightened and glistened with tears when Wiese handed her a kitten to hold during their recent visit.
“She's so soft,” Fran said in a barely audible whisper. “Isn't she pretty?”
Fran makes the blankets while at home with her daughter or while attending an Omaha facility catering to individuals with memory-related disorders. Sitting next to the pile of blankets, Fran began counting them.
“I don't know what we're going to do with them all,” she said, looking up at her daughter.
“Mom,” Curtis said softly, “they're for the cats.”