The Word Among Us

Marriage & Family Resources

Bead by Bead

For reasons I couldn’t explain, I wanted Granny’s rosary.

By: Caroline Pignat

I admit, I’m a sucker for nostalgia. And though my busy days seem to have me forgetting much more than I remember, there are indelible memories of my times in Ireland — particularly childhood days at Granny’s.

They’re separate moments really, like beads strung together in my mind: glimpses of us walking down the hill to the corner store for milk; the smell of wood fires; the way she could at any moment, like a magician, pull a tissue from her sleeve or make a five pound note disappear into my small fist before mom saw it. I remember swinging on her garden gate, riding Jim the sway-backed donkey, running with her dogs, nuzzling the kittens that lived in the tin-roofed shed, and avoiding that cantankerous old hen that refused to die or lay eggs anymore. I see a round loaf cooling in a linen towel on her counter; the particular fork, knife, and mug we always set on Grampa’s placemat; the candles we lit in flickering red cups after Mass; and I remember Granny praying. Morning. Grace before. Grace after. The Angelus. Evening prayer. It was knitted through her day.

I’d tiptoe to the doorway and watch her early in the morning as she kneeled at her bedside, hands clasped, elbows resting on the flowered bedspread, eyes closed as she murmured. The intensity of it always struck me. I remember the big, silver crucifix dangling from her hands as the string passed bead by bead through her thick-knuckled fingers. Yet she wove it with the ease of a knitter’s hands—another skill that mesmerized me—as she cast on her day’s prayers.

So when I heard that her rosary had broken and recently been replaced with a new one from my aunt’s visit to Lourdes, I wondered what became of the old one. If I knew Granny, she’d not be throwing that out—it being blessed by the priest and all. And for reasons I couldn’t explain, I wanted the rosary. Maybe I desired it for the same reason I wanted Nana’s rose-rimmed cup and saucer. As if by holding their everyday things, I could hold them closer, too.

I don’t know why I asked for the rosary, really. I have my own. A few of them, actually. And to be honest, I don’t even use them. Not like I used to. But I asked just the same. And Granny sent it.

Weeks later, it arrived in a small white box. It struck me how ordinary it looked. Tarnished. I remembered it being shinier. Sparklier. In her hands it seemed so precious.

I ran the broken strands through my fingertips: ten and one, ten and one all the way around, merging towards the cross. And I thought of how many thousands of Granny’s prayers these beads had witnessed on their travels through her hands. I knew without a doubt this was her lifeline when Grampa died. When she was diagnosed with cancer. And then Parkinson’s. Just as I knew that Granny had carried her daughters, granddaughters, and great-grandchildren around this rosary many times. Bead by bead, day by day, year by year, through decade after decade. Granny has prayed and lived through many mysteries.

And so, you ask, what did I do with Granny’s broken rosary?

Well, last week I took a class and learned how to make chaplet bracelets from some of the beads. I hope to make one for mom, my sister, my daughter and my niece. Because what better gift to make of the old rosary than to pray it? To bring it with us into the mystery of each day.

And to think of Granny when we do.

Rosary bracelet

Caroline Pignat is a teacher, speaker, and award-winning author ( She lives in Ottawa, Canada, with her husband, Tony, and their two children.