Heart of the Treasure Valley: Hard times, faith and crocheting her way to optimism

September 22, 2013 

Her fingers take string — or yarn, it doesn’t matter — and fly in the rhythmic flow of an expert crochet-maker. Her hands know what to do without thinking and sweaters emerge, and baby booties, or scarves and dainty decorative flowers.

She says: “I love working with my hands and creating things. And I’ve been doing this since I was little. It never gets me tired.”

She’s already finished a pair of size 0.5 baby booties in pristine white thread, so now she turns them from beautiful to exquisite, with decorative pearls sewn along the edges, one pearl at a time. It’s a labor of love, truly, because these booties are a gift for a friend at church.

Not all of her booties are gifts. The next pair is more like baby ballet slippers made out of yarn. With nothing more than strands of pink and green yarn, a crochet hook and a minute or two, she creates a rose and leaf for decoration. She adds a ribbon and — voila. This pair will be for sale, and it could belong to a baby — well, anywhere in the world.

Finances have always been tight for Josie Jackson and her husband of 26 years, Richard. In 2010, Josie lost a job she loved (driving people with disabilities) when the company went out of business. Josie’s daughter suggested eBay for her crocheting.

“I thought, there’s so many — over 5,000 shoes on eBay, little baby shoes and booties. I thought, I’m not going to sell any. It was crazy. As soon as I put them on, I started selling everywhere. Then I haven’t stopped.”

It’s not a get-rich scheme by any stretch of the imagination. She might sell $1,000 a month, and she might only make several hundred dollars. And her per-hour wage — even for as fast as she is — is not much at all. But her booties have been worn on babies’ feet in 17 countries, 43 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. One buyer purchases a half-dozen pairs at a time to resell in Iraq. The income has helped at a time when Josie needed it most.

“You know what they say: When all the doors are closed, the Lord will open a window. That is so true.”

Her booties are the window.

Josie, 56, was born in Chile, the daughter of a colonel in the Army and a mother who knitted and sewed for her family and created a home-based business doing that for others.

Later, when Josie married, she had four children in four years and sewed for her own kids.

“Most of the time I stayed home and made their clothes. And I loved it. … I could always buy the stuff, but it’s not the same as making it by hand. It’s a keepsake. It’s different.”

Josie was raised Catholic, but an accidental conversation with a neighbor mechanic — her car broke down and he fixed it — was the beginning of her conversion to Mormonism.

“They had the happiness I admired, and it comes from inside. They’re so — so different than what Catholics were in Chile when I was growing up. That’s what made me want to be one. And then want to teach others to be one.”

Josie was among the first “sisters” — the first female missionaries — from Chile to go out of her country, which in turn was the beginning of a different story. At the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, she had a casual introduction to a man from Driggs. On Valentine’s Day, no less.

“I told him I didn’t speak English because I didn’t want to talk to anybody … ”

They went off to separate missions, both in Australia, but not together. They’d write, but she got lots of letters from fellow missionaries. After two years, she went home to Chile.

“I met a lot of people back in Chile, and I was almost engaged to one. I was thinking about getting married to an officer there, and I couldn’t forget about Richard because he was always really close to me in my mission.”

But she lost his address. Ever resourceful, she wrote a letter addressed with his name and phone number, which by some chance she still had, figuring, how big could the United States be, anyway? And he got the letter.

“We were talking every night on the phone. He wanted me to meet his family. He said, ‘I’m going to send you tickets so you can meet my family.’ When I came, when we got married, he got a bill for $5,500 in telephone calls. We started our marriage with the wrong foot, with bills.”

She went to Driggs in January. They dated by going to the temple and were married in March 1987.

“Life is wonderful. (We have) a lot of financial difficulties, which everybody else has, you know. My husband and I have never given that a priority. … We always work together towards everything, we never fight for money, ever. …

“I think when you live in a way that you get what you need, you’re not trying to get more, I think we’re both happy with whatever we have.”

Over the years, the family moved to Ontario. Richard was a seasonal worker as an oil operator at the sugar factory in Nyssa; she was a bilingual investigator for child abuse for the state of Oregon. But in 2006, their house was foreclosed.

“ … Like everybody else … ”

Richard was transferred to full-time work in Nampa, and they moved to Meridian. In between jobs and, more importantly, the accompanying health insurance, Josie got sick.

“I was one of the first ones to have swine flu. That was about $24,000 that completely broke us. …We had to go bankruptcy for that. We couldn’t keep up with bills. It’s hard — I think everybody, not just us.”

Then she lost the job driving people with disabilities and was struggling with health problems from life-long asthma. At the bleakest hour — that was when the window opened.

“When I wasn’t working, when I wasn’t making these (booties), I was really depressed. Very, very depressed. And then I started making these things and selling them. I’m busy all the time; I don’t have time to be depressed. … ”

Josie’s husband is an accomplished fudge-maker. They had a successful candy store in Ontario until they had to move, and an unsuccessful one in Karcher Mall during its remodel. That’s still a dream — a business where Richard can make his out-of-the-ordinary fudge and candies and Josie can sell her handwork and crocheting.

“You have the hope that you know something good is going to come up.”

Josie’s health is now under control, and she just had an exciting job interview. She alternates between optimism, faith and stern practicality.

“There are tests you have to have in life. We believe we come into this world to progress and grow, and if you don’t have difficulties in your life, you don’t grow. So every difficulty, we embrace them. … The way that we face them is what makes us stronger … ”

“Even if I get a job, (making booties) will always be my second income and hobby because I love it. It’s just a stress reliever and it makes me happy.

“I just love creating things.”

Know someone living “from the heart?” Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email kjones@idahostatesman.com.

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