Betty Golden initially set out to honor her late husband by knitting and donating 63 children’s caps, one for every year of their marriage. Rounded up, of course.
“I would say to my husband, ‘We’ve been married 62 years’ and he would always add ‘and a half,’” Golden recalls.
In November 2008, just four months shy of the Gold-ens’ 63rd wedding anniversary, Stan Golden collapsed and died.
Overwhelmed with grief, Betty Golden, who is now 84, turned to knitting as a way to ease her nervous energy and focus on something positive. She called her endeavor “The Project of Love in Memory of Stan.”
When she showed up at her synagogue a few months later to display some of the hats, other members asked to join the knitting project, which makes soft, nonallergenic hats for children undergoing chemotherapy, as well as thick, warm ones for children living in homeless shelters.
Some wanted to knit. Others donated balls of yarn. A Michael’s crafts store in Smyrna offered space for the knitters to gather on a weekly basis. As the project began snowballing, Betty decided to keep going, well beyond the 63rd cap.
After undergoing a knee replacement, Betty picked up her pace. In fact, she knit so much she began suffering carpal tunnel syndrome, requiring another surgery on her left arm. That’s slowed her down, but she remains the CEO of the project — supplying the yarn and patterns, organizing the dropoffs, and keeping the knitting humming.
The Project of Love is now up to 700 caps and counting. She’s making scarves now, too.
“She is here on a regular basis and the children love the hats and scarves,” said Leslee Samuelson, executive director of the Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children, recipient of about 100 hats. “These hats and scarves provide comfort, warmth and love. The children know these hats are very special.”
Inside her cozy, tiny and otherwise tidy one-bedroom apartment in Atlanta, her living room couch is blanketed in small hats — pale green berets with nonallergenic cotton fibers, brightly colored winter hats, some with stripes others in a rainbow of colors, many with intricate designs.
“It’s like that [Franklin D.] Roosevelt quote: ‘When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on,’ ” she said.
For Betty, knitting gave her something to hold onto: a tribute to a love affair stretching more than six decades.
A fateful move
For Stan Golden, moving with his family to Asheville, N.C., in 1941 as a high schooler meant changing schools for the 21st time; his father was a traveling businessman. But the 21st time was the charm. It was here where he met Betty Pollock, a teenage girl who had lived there her entire life.
They were part of the same circle of friends, and they were just pals enjoying music and movies and games together when Stan joined the Army in 1943.
While Stan was overseas, the two kept in touch through letters. The words they shared changed things. Soon they were no longer just friends.
“It went from ‘Dear Betty’ to ‘Dearest Betty’ to ‘My dearest Betty,’ ” she recalls.
By the time Stan returned home in 1946, they were already talking marriage. They didn’t hesitate. They got hitched 10 days after his return.
Before long, Betty Golden had knitted her husband a bright red sweater, and then another sweater, and yet another, until one day, he kindly told her he thought he had enough sweaters.
Always giving back
The Goldens, whose family would grow to include a son, Martin, and daughter, Sandra, moved from the Carolinas to Michigan, and eventually to Atlanta in the mid-1980s. Those sweaters, along with Betty Golden’s knitting needles, always went with them.
Stan was known for being quiet. He also loved working, and his various careers included owning a children’s clothing store and later working at a company conducting physical examinations for insurance companies. In fact, he worked full time into his 80s. Even then, he dressed in nice slacks, a plaid shirt — and sometimes a red sweater — every day, ready for an interview for a part-time job.
Betty was the gregarious one, often talking enough for the two of them. Both active in their synagogue, they also enjoyed going out for dim sum and sushi. Birthdays were always a big deal. Betty loved to surprise her husband every year, and once she had friends show up in their pajamas and sing “Happy Birthday” to him at the stroke of midnight.
Stan was equally keen in marking Betty’s birthdays in special ways, often telling her to pack her bags and surprising her with a trip to a nearby bed-and-breakfast.
They felt strongly about giving back. While they owned the children’s clothing store in Michigan, they provided new clothes for needy families every year at Christmastime.
‘The gift of people’
Nowadays, Betty Golden continues to give, one hat at a time.
She has returned to knitting every day, now working on a loom, which is easier on her hands and wrists.
With her stock of yarn and funds dwindling, she came up with another idea to keep the project going. She recently started making scarves for sale. The money she earns from the scarves goes to buy more yarn.
Betty has made many new friends through her knitting project. Though he’s gone, she said, Stan has given her the ultimate gift.
“He has given me the gift of people, because so many wonderful people have come into my life because of this,” she said.