Sandy Hoagland got a D in Sewing.
She was Sandy Richards then, an average student in the early 1960’s at Seaholm High School in Birmingham, Michigan. Like most speedbumps that she would encounter in life, the poor grade left her completely undaunted. She might not have known it consciously, but was always confident that tenacity and creativity would get her much further in life than technical skill.
After high school, she sprinted through college – finishing a four-year Bachelor’s degree from Oakland University in only two & a half years. This was due mostly to her extreme hurry to marry Eric Hoagland immediately after graduation, and if you’ve ever met him, you know why. His quick wit, quiet intelligence, and even-tempered patience were the perfect balance to her wild ideas and sense of adventure. With his support, their lives would be full of fun and excitement, and just the right dose of reality to keep them out of bankruptcy court, or jail.
They married in 1968, and in 1971 gave birth to a daughter, Jeannie (spoiler alert: that’s me). That D in Sewing became an ironic anecdote as Sandy created endless outfits for her little girl, often making the same dress for herself so they could match on family outings. At age 4, I found such fashion coordination to be absolutely delightful.
In the hopes of creating the same positive relationship Sandy enjoyed with her own brother Kent, five years her junior, she & Eric waited just over six years to expand their family again with a little boy, Clint. Because little boys are not nearly as tickled by homemade matching outfits, Sandy decided to learn how to make clothes for dolls.
The first porcelain doll she ever made was a gift for her daughter, whose favorite character in the book Little Women was the tomboy Jo. Jo was part of a complete Little Women doll kit, so Sandy made the rest of the set and gave the remaining dolls to nieces and daughters of friends. With that project completed, she now knew how to make doll clothes and the ideas were coming fast and furious. To keep the ever-growing collection of handmade porcelain dolls from taking over the whole neighborhood, Sandy’s best friend Genny offered to try selling them at local high-end boutiques, and Heirloom Dolls was born. The dolls were gorgeous, incredibly detailed, and highly collectible; you can still occasionally find them for sale on Ebay.
After a few years, fancy little dresses started to feel stagnant and Sandy wanted to make lots of other things – grapevine wreaths, quilts, pillows, rag dolls, and anything else that popped into her creative mind. So, Sandy and Genny used their doll money (and a generous bank loan) to open up a little strip mall store in Troy, Michigan: Heart’s Treasures offered all kinds of handmade country décor, gifts, stuffed animals, and of course, dolls. Her now-teenage daughter and a few other responsible young ladies worked at the store, learning how to provide excellent customer service, to use every spare moment to be creative and productive, and how to count out change manually without a cash register to tell you the correct amount.
After a few more years, the excitement of running a store gave way to a yearning for a new life out in the country. Sandy wanted to get away from the crowds and the pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” and find an old farmhouse with lots of acreage, where she could have trees and deer for neighbors and her beloved dogs could have room to run and play.
Her creativity found the next big challenge in a dilapidated, hundred-year-old farmhouse on the perfect piece of land: 50 acres of rolling hills and mature trees, just over an hour’s drive from her family and friends back in Troy. Over the next 15 years, she turned the crappy old eyesore into an adorable, cozy home full of whimsy and cheer – a life-size photo of a cow leading into the bathroom and a toy train circling the living room ceiling were just the tip of the iceberg, the place was hilariously fun. She and Eric raised pigs, chickens, geese, turkeys, and endless vegetables in the garden. They proudly saw both of their children enter into their own happy marriages, while still remaining close as a family. Sandy joined a meditation group, which eventually led to becoming an ordained minister and leader of the Metaphysical Church of Davison, where she helped and inspired more people than she had ever dreamed possible. She rescued as many dogs as she could, giving them a dog fantasy life full of biscuits, hugs, running through the forest and snuggling on the couch. After having overcome a horrible auto accident in the early 1980’s, she now had to beat cancer, heal a shattered elbow, and eventually fall into a long-term battle with congestive heart failure.
When the old farmhouse could no longer contain her massive creativity, she and Eric made plans to build their dream house. It would be on the same piece of land, tucked deep into the woods at the end of a winding, overgrown, borderline terrifying half-mile of dirt driveway. It would have a glorious great room with oak walls & floors, endless windows, and a warm fireplace made from hand-picked stones and topped with backlit stained glass. It would have secret passageways, a claw-foot tub, and a huge wraparound porch – everything they had ever dreamed of since childhood. As it was nearly completed, Sandy encountered yet another speedbump in the form of a massive stroke. True to form, she stubbornly refused to let it slow her down despite the damage to her brain’s speech center. She clawed her way back from this new health setback and kept going. A year or two later, you would never have known it happened if you didn’t notice that she couldn’t recall many words when she was tired.
Months after the stroke, my husband Bob and I moved back into the old farmhouse, still on the same piece of land. I was able to join Sandy and Eric on their regular visits to Lapeer for lunch and shopping, sometimes for clothes or groceries but often for nothing in particular. Over the years, I developed my own love of sewing and crafts, so we shared ideas, supplies, and cooperated on projects like making dozens of blankets for Project Linus. Sandy loved nothing more than a good celebration, so we continued with birthday cakes and balloons and epic Christmases, complete with seven decorated trees and mountains of presents, well into my late 30’s. For my 35th Christmas, she directed my dad to build me a custom Barbie house and decorated every room with battery operated furniture – glowing fireplace, flushing toilet and running water in the little Barbie bathtub. No, I don’t have kids. I just like Barbies, and she knew it.
Even after Bob & I moved back to the Detroit suburbs, I still saw my mom nearly every week. We lunched, shopped, and best of all, saw every horror movie ever released, right from the front row of the Lapeer Cinema with a huge bucket of fresh buttered popcorn to share. I was so proud to have finally started my own crafting business, Planet Pinup, and ran to her constantly for both advice and applause. She was particularly thrilled by the popularity of my snoods, and on most visits I would be greeted by a new bag of yarn she had found on sale and wanted to see how it would look in snood form.
At 1:45am on my 41st birthday, my cellphone rang and just for a moment in my sleepy haze, I thought my crazy, festive mother was calling early to sing Happy Birthday. Instead, it was my dad, calling to say that Mom was having a heart attack. Bob drove me to the hospital faster than I thought our little car could go, but it was already too late. On November 9th, 2012, the world lost an incredibly positive, creative, generous force; a being that overflowed with energy and joy in the face of seemingly endless health setbacks had finally lost the fight. Her light burned so brightly that I don’t know if our eyes will ever quite adjust to the darkness she left behind.
I am what my mother made me, good and bad, and will carry on, yet never be quite the same without her. Planet Pinup won’t be the same without her advice, guidance, and especially her cheerleading. With a brand new year right around the corner, I hope to keep it growing and evolving into something that would have made her proud. I’m sure it will involve lots of snoods.