Oh, dear readers, I’ve got a really wicked treat for you to start your week. I’m introducing you to a group of women who are so generous and self-sacrificing they’re gonna make you cry. They call themselves the “Happy Hookers” and they do all their good deeds for our troops serving around the world in harm’s way.
If your mind is in the gutter, get it out of there. There are lots more ways for women to be hooking happily than the one you might be thinking of.
These particular Happy Hookers do it with crochet hooks and knitting needles, wielded by their loving hands all the year through, hand-hooking snuggly, warm, soft scarves and hats for our troops to wear in those oh-so-brutally-cold winter months in Afghanistan and Iraq. All over America these happy hookers hook with love for men and women they will most likely never see.
I just wanted to say thank you for spending time and energy to make deployed Soldiers feel special — your beautiful scarves really made a difference for me. I have one for myself and have another to give my beautiful daughter the next time I see her. Your gesture really makes a difference.
(a soldier in Iraq, name withheld for security reasons)
Sappy? Quite. Corny? Very. Virtuous? Definitely. Truly altruistic? Undoubtedly.
In this modern age, selfishness and egocentrism parade about in the public square with bold, painted-gaudy faces. Such humble acts of happy-hooking and generous virtuosity often get lost as this very quiet modesty hides in plain sight. But the selfless generosity for which Americans have always been known still lives and breathes — even thrives and multiplies! — right before our eyes.
Take a few moments now to see what I learned this week from a few Happy Hookers and let your own life be enriched and inspired as mine has been.
The story of our now-legion, coast-to-coast troop of Happy Hookers begins with one — yes, just one –unassuming lady: Sharon Howard. (Get your hanky handy. You’re gonna need it.)
Operation Gratitude’s scarf program began in 2006 with a simple request from senior officers in the field for some type of extra-warming garment to be included in the packages. Ah, yes. It gets very, very cold — often below zero — in the winter months in Afghanistan and Iraq. Something we home-front civilians don’t seem to know.
The officers’ request fell on the able shoulders of a dedicated OpGrat volunteer, Sharon Howard, who decided that something handmade would serve two purposes at once: something warm not supplied by the military outfitters and something handmade to put the heart and soul of America into each package. So, Sharon set about to gather volunteer hookers and knitters for her new crusade.
From that first email solicitation, through years of arduous labors and donations of yarn from American retailers, through thousands and thousands of hours spent by everyday people from coast to coast, Sharon’s scarves-for-our-troops crusade has cuddled nearly 100,000 troops through Operation Gratitude care packages to the war zones. This year alone, the scarf program will send 40,000 handmade scarves and hats to our soldiers far from home.
I learned all of this from OpGrat volunteer Elaine Campbell, who graciously now co-runs Sharon’s crusade. Elaine and Sharon met in their early 20s doing community theater in Burbank, California, stayed friends throughout their lives, and both worked tirelessly for Operation Gratitude. In the spring of 2010, Sharon Howard succumbed to cancer and is no longer here to spread her charitable wings. Elaine and Lorene Van Ark-Miller now carry on in Sharon’s name and memory.
When Sharon first started the scarf program, she asked all hookers and knitters to use only camouflage type colors — tan, brown, green — but then one day someone sent her a red scarf. As handmade scarves were in very high demand among our troops, Sharon sent the “wrongly” colored red one and got a letter from the soldier who received it, saying simply that it had especially touched him because it was so much like — and the same color as — one he got as a child from his grandmother.
Now, scarves of all colors are welcome — and if you’re not crying by now – well, you don’t want to meet up with Sharon Howard in heaven and have to face her, now do you?
I received a package in the mail today from Operation Gratitude and in that package was this nice hat. Receiving the package was nice, but your hat in it totally touched me. It is such a wonderful, kindhearted thing for you to do. A lot of people send us little things like some candy or stuff like that, but a hand-knitted hat is really a special thing. When I sleep it’s cold at times, so I like to sleep with a hat. This will be my official sleeping hat. I do a lot of moving around, so I can’t keep much of anything, but I’ll be keeping this for sure.
Many thanks from Iraq.
(name withheld for security reasons)
Now, dear readers, these Happy Hookers will be such a shock to your jaded view of tax collectors that you may actually require smelling salts to keep your wits. Never again will you be able to think of California’s “Board of Equalization,”(BOE) aka tax-collectors, as a bunch of gnarly gnomes sitting around trying to devise ways of making Americans’ lives as miserable as possible. No, these happily-hooking, selfless women forever put the lie to that old tripe.
For the past several years, a circle of selfless women at the BOE have used their every spare moment to hook for our troops. They gather in the break room, using their nimble hands to produce genuine products of service. They come together from many departments, the Technology Services Division, Editorial Services Section, Sales and Use Tax, Investigations, and some retirees even donated time and yarn. These scarves and hats that they stitch pile up in cozy mounds through the year, warming their own hearts as they prepare to warm cold necks and heads in harm’s way.
Then, the women gather to package the fruits of their labors, attaching a note to each lovingly hooked garment, so every soldier who gets one will know it was made with real homemade care:
You fight for us…
For someone you don’t know.
We made this scarf for you in
hopes it will let you know that we
are proud of you. Protect and bless
the soldier reading this message.
The Happy Hookers, Sacramento, California
Handmade by: (Name of your happy hooker)
Linda Gross, one of the BOE’s Happy Hookers, spoke with me about her inspiration for this project. An unassuming, 60 year-old, empty-nested mother of 2, working tirelessly still, Linda tears up with the mere mention of a lonely soldier, far from home, toiling on our nation’s behalf.
In 2004, Linda befriended a single-mom co-worker whose son had just been deployed to Iraq. Knowing the family had even fewer means than members, Linda decided to “adopt” her friend’s son and start sending him “we care” packages. That one “adoption” led to many more troop “adoptions” for Linda and her husband, as they struggled in solitude to do “a little something” for a few.
Oh, what to send to a soldier in a war zone far from home? Linda was at a loss.
Until she “met” Sharon Howard through the Operation Gratitude website. Sharon emailed Linda a list of things to send, as well as things not to send, and later on, suggested her own hooker’s crusade for our troops. Well, Linda didn’t even know how to knit or crochet! But she learned. And so did many of her co-workers.
The Happy Hookers at the BOE in Sacramento have as many personal stories as hands.
Supervisor Kathy Ceccato touched my heart in a special way with her own happy-hooking story. Kathy is a mother of five grown children, one of whom is now one of America’s Wounded Warriors. Shortly after 9/11, one of Kathy’s sons enlisted and was later deployed to Iraq.
Knitting the scarves and hats then took on special significance for this mom anxiously awaiting news every day. And she says that her knitting was the very best therapy as her son wrote notes from the war zone, writing that the “handmade scarves help me stay warm and the beanie hat fits right under my helmet and reminds me and my unit that we are not forgotten by the American people at home.”
Kathy’s son was wounded while on his second tour in Iraq and spent time at Walter Reed. Many operations and much convalescence later finds him just finishing grad school at Penn State and now married, but he still stays in touch with his warrior buddies and they, too, send packages to troops now in the field.
This kind of love just keeps giving and giving and giving. I shall never think of tax collectors in the same way after meeting these wonderful women and their heroic families.
Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude
This one, tiny woman, a “simple” homemaker, started my favorite troop-support organization from her humble living room in Encino, California. To date, Operation Gratitude has mailed nearly 750,000 individually addressed care packages to our troops in the war zones.
Truly, it is amazing what this 5-foot-5-inch dynamo has done for our home-front war effort. Carolyn Blashek is living proof that even lawyers have hearts, but I am utterly convinced that hers remains intact since she never actually practiced law.
Before starting Operation Gratitude in 2003, Carolyn was a stay-at-home mom raising two teenagers. Now Carolyn’s son is a United States Marine and her mission has become more personal than ever.
Carolyn was always sending me email about her encounters with our soldiers’ families — meetings with mothers, dads, wives, husbands, children, brothers, sisters and best friends. She would cry every single time and write about their silent, heroic sacrifices for our country, keeping all of them on her shoulders whenever she traipsed off to the OpGrat headquarters at the National Guard armory to pack more packages. She carried our soldiers and their families in her heart in a way that touched everyone she met, which is how she built an army of tens of thousands of volunteers.
But then it happened.
Carolyn’s son had watched as a young teen while his mom went off to the USO to bid farewell to deploying soldiers and had seen her come home with the heartfelt burden of these young warriors on her shoulders. Carolyn’s son had observed while she went around to all the local stores, buying up things she thought the soldiers could use and filling their living room and dining room and every other room with the stuff, and all the boxes she would somehow mail to the war zones. He saw her calling everyone she knew for the names and addresses of soldiers they knew.
He watched as his mom’s mission grew and grew and grew to the ceiling and out of the house. He and his sister gave up much of their free time in high school to pack packages with their mom. The son saw his dad touched too. Carolyn’s mission just roiled and waved over all of them, and as the army of volunteers grew and the operation moved into an armory and all the letters of thanks came flooding back from the war zone, the son was changed.
He still went off to college, to Princeton, where he was supposed to prepare for a future in medicine or law. But before the ink on his diploma was dry he was accepted to Officer Candidate School of the United States Marine Corps. Semper fi, folks.
Now, Carolyn Blashek has learned to crochet. And she says it is the miracle that keeps her going. As she enters the strange world of happy hooking for our troops, she takes strength into herself with the knowledge that one of these scarves will be worn by her son, and the others will be cuddling his platoon.
All I can say is that this is the best of use of a Columbia law degree that has ever been imagined.
From a very special place in heaven, Sharon Howard is smiling. Angels are singing. Thousands upon thousands of our soldiers and Marines know we love them because an army of happy hookers don’t keep their patriotic hands over their hearts. Instead they put those hands to work and say “thank you” in a most cherished way.
Don’t you ever tell me that America isn’t one hell of an exceptional nation. Only a truly exceptional nation could produce such a real-life story as this.
If you want to say “thank you” to our troops, Operation Gratitude is a tax exempt organization and welcomes monetary donations to pay for the postage/packing expenses required – about $15 per package this year. Holiday Drive is underway.
And, the more happy hookers the better! Get hooking/knitting instructions here.
Check out Kyle-Anne’s previous articles:
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