Love in stitches: Mayor uses hobby to help cancer patients

NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell has a special hobby perhaps few people know about. In his spare time, Grennell crochets beanies for cancer patients.

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Each beanie takes Grennell between two and three hours to make, Grennell said, adding he usually makes two or three beanies every week to take to the Natchez Oncology Clinic on Jeff Davis Boulevard.

"I'll put on a movie and just about when the movie is over the beanie is almost complete," Grennell said, "or I'll sit up at night and work on one until I get sleepy. . If I'm stressed I won't work on one or if I'm upset I won't work on one. My mission is to put positive energy into these beanies because they are going to cancer patients. When I start one, I whisper a prayer asking God to bless the wearer of the beanie."

Once the beanie is finished, Grennell said he attaches a handwritten note to the recipient.

"This beanie is made with love," Grennell wrote. "May God bless the wearer."

On the back, the letter says how many stitches went into the beanie, the color and how to wash and take care of it.

"One thousand two hundred and twenty-nine stitches went into this beanie," Grennell said, holding up a yellow and black beanie he had just finished.

"There are only certain stitches I have to count at the beginning. Once I get the crown done, I don't have to count anymore. . The first ring has 11 stitches, the second has 22 and the next has 44. . I know how many stitches I'm doing per segment, so I'm able to extrapolate the exact number without having to count each one."

Since he started making the beanies approximately three months ago, Grennell said he learned that school colors and pink beanies were in popular demand and crochets them accordingly — pink for breast cancer awareness, black and yellow for the University of Southern Mississippi, blue and red for Ole Miss and purple and gold for Alcorn and Louisiana State University.

Grennell said he has probably made between 25 and 30 beanies over the past few months.

He first learned to knit after visiting a booth at the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race seven years ago, Grennell said.

"Carrie (Lambert) had these items on display that I thought were knitted," Grennell said. "She had these ladies scarves, sweaters and vests. I told her I wanted to learn to do that."

Grennell said Lambert probably didn't expect him to follow through when she told him she was hosting knitting classes at her home.

However, a week later he knocked on her door with a check for his tuition and sat among a group of ladies in her class learning the trade.

"The biggest challenge was learning to tie a slip knot," Grennell said. "That's the first step. . After that, it was learning to relax because if you don't the stitches are very tight. . You should never be stressed when you're working, and if it's a stressful job you shouldn't be doing it."

By Christmas, Grennell said he had crocheted matching scarves and beanies for his entire family, surprising all of them with his newfound skill.

Scarves and hats are not the only things Grennell can make.

Grennell also learned to crochet squares and hexagons and whip stitch them together to make quilts, he said, one of which he gifted to a friend's granddaughter whose mother died of colon cancer.

"I made sure that no two of the hexagons were the same," Grennell said.

Tanya Biglane said she started taking her friend Bettina Coffey to the clinic for chemotherapy a few months ago.

On their first visit, Biglane said Coffey noticed two beanies there and was hesitant to take one.

"I told her to take it because that is what they're there for you," Biglane said. "I told Darryl what happened and said now there is only one left."

Since then, Biglane said it has been her weekly mission to drop off Grennell's beanies at the clinic.

"It has been such a nice thing for him to do," she said. "They're all in a basket up there, free for the taking. . It's beautiful work that he does and he uses this very soft yarn that is cool to touch. . He is just the kindest soul to be so compassionate and do what he does."

Grennell said he continues the hobby not only to make other's happy but because it makes him smile. Grennell said he notices with pride when he spots someone wearing the familiar pattern of stitches he uses for all of his projects — one solid color with his signature stripe around the middle in a different color.

"It puts a smile on my face to complete a project," he said. "It puts a smile on my face when I can make someone happy."

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Information from: The Natchez Democrat, http://www.natchezdemocrat.com/