4,000 hats later, Bradshaw's fingers still

Staff Photo by Brenna E. Chapman<br> Behind the register at the Bargain Counter, Juanita Bradshaw crochets a hat for a one-year-old between customers. In just a year and a half Bradshaw has crocheted over 3,000 items, which she then brings to her church on Sunday.

Juanita Bradshaw is anything but ordinary.

One part Pollyanna and one part pure grit, Bradshaw was born in a tent. She weathered the Great Depression as girl, found love more than once as a grown woman and raised six children, all birthed at home, to adulthood.

Through it all, Bradshaw has found relaxation in the art of crocheting. These days, her hobby helps her deal with the loneliness that descended upon her when her husband of 30 years - James Thomas (Tom) Bradshaw - died of lung cancer in October.

The Pendleton woman crochets five hours or so each day.

"I keep my hands going all the time," she said this week as she sat crocheting at the Community Bargain Counter, where she volunteers. Between customers she crocheted, her fingers flying, seemingly of their own accord.

Bradshaw, 81, has crocheted all her life, but she kicked it up a notch when Tom, her third husband, became bedridden with lung cancer.

"My husband was sick a long, long, long time before he died," Bradshaw said. "I was at home a lot - I started crocheting hats."

The hats go to Salt Lake City for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' humanitarian effort. So far, Bradshaw has completed almost 4,000 head coverings. The tiniest of her creations fit heads about the size of an orange - they're for premature babies in hospital wards.

Many of her larger hats went to Hurricane Katrina victims.

When Tom died in October, Bradshaw started crocheting even more, sitting in her tan recliner, watching Wheel of Fortune or listening to the radio.

"I'm home by myself - that's a lonely, lonely feeling," she said. "I get to thinking."

Tom, who retired after 25 years with the Oregon Army National Guard, liked to take his bride into the Great Outdoors. Together, they hunted mushrooms, hiked for miles on trails, walked on the beach and camped. They teamed as park rangers at Tollbridge Park near Hood River and spent days at a time at their Meacham cabin.

"I miss him immensely," Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw, who grew up in Oklahoma, is no stranger to hard times, though she smiles at the memories of her parents making a go of it during the Depression.

"We had biscuits three times a day," she said. "My dad made 25 cents an hour working at a saw mill."

Bradshaw, the oldest of nine, was born at home, as were the rest of her siblings.

"I was born in a tent," she said. "I think that's why I like camping."

At the time, the family lived in a camp full of sawmill employees just down the road from the mill. The family eventually moved to Sweet Home for another sawmill job. First chance they got, they got their first glimpse of the ocean.

"It was awesome," Bradshaw said. "I cried. It was a little bit scary to see that much water."

Bradshaw grew up and married three times and became a mom many times over. Kim Wilson, Bradshaw's youngest daughter, said her mother was a strict disciplinarian. No spanking was necessary.

"Mama would just give me the eye," Wilson said.

About 1996, her crocheting took a back seat to a new hobby, genealogy, after her husband and children bought her a computer. She worked for hours, tracing one side of her Irish family back to the 1500s.

"Man, did I go crazy," Bradshaw said. "I went absolutely berserk."

Bradshaw also has a legendary green thumb and performs magic in the kitchen, creating such things as chocolate gravy over biscuits.

With all her other pursuits, however, Bradshaw kept on crocheting. She needs no patterns to produce her hats.

"She can sit and watch a movie and make three hats without even looking," Wilson said.

Each Sunday, Bradshaw totes a grocery bag filled with hats to church. Conie Wilson, a friend, takes them off Bradshaw's hands and puts them with other items made by church members. The hats, Wilson said, go to people in crisis.

"It could be a tsunami; it could be a hurricane," she said. "It could be a flood."

Wilson describes Bradshaw as "always happy" and the most productive donator to the LDS humanitarian effort in Pendleton - by a long shot.

Bradshaw just smiles at that and said she'd love to see a photo of one of her hats on a child's head someday, though she realizes she probably never will.

"That doesn't bother me," she said. "I know they're keeping some little kid's head warm."

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