WILTON – Fastening his gaze on the minute point of his needle through two sets of glasses, Larry Wilbur pulled a stitch through, adding another square of gray to the garden on the fabric before him.

Then he leaned back in his chair, hands on his knees, and smiled through a fluffy white beard. “This is a piece of cake,” he said.

At 83, Wilbur has had an eventful life. He fought his way through Europe in World War II, worked as a Bass shoemaker for so long he was sent around the world to demonstrate the craft, fathered three daughters, and has been married for nearly 65 years. He makes clocks, belongs to the fraternal Oddfellows organization, knows his carpentry, and remembers going on safari in South Africa.

But cross-stitch?

Not exactly the type of hobby you would expect an 83-year-old man to take to.

“I’ve had friends ask me why I don’t take up a more masculine hobby – why I don’t carve birds, like my brother does,” Wilbur said last week, gazing at the finished pieces lining his walls.

“But I can’t carve. I can’t draw. I can’t do nothing – but I can stitch pretty good. I like it,” he said.

“To me it don’t make no nevermind – I can spend hours,” he said. “I like that I’ve got something to do – I’ve always got something to do. I’m never bored,” he added.

Wilbur, a Wilton native, took up stitching nearly 20 years ago, after he’d retired from Bass. He started with stitching a tiny Santa Claus, then moved on to flowers, cottage scenes and portraits. Like most stitchers, he works from patterns. He’s partial to stitching red roses, which hang all over the house he shares with his wife, Hazel.

“It’s unbelievable how pretty this stuff is,” Wilbur said, gesturing to the floss flowers and cottages on his walls.

Wilbur belongs to several online cross-stitch forums. He loves the Internet.

“A guy at the hospital said I’m the most wired guy in Franklin County,” Wilbur said, laughing. “I just love all that stuff. I’m connected to everybody in the world.”

Years ago, Wilbur joined instant messaging services like AIM and ICQ, and now has friends from all over the world online. One woman, who lives in Belgium and loves to cross-stitch, stitched half the cottage garden piece he’s working on. At the same time, Wilbur worked on the same design on another piece of fabric, and then they swapped. Wilbur said he’s learning a lot from looking at his Belgian friend’s stitches.

Hazel Wilbur, his wife, said she wasn’t surprised when he suddenly took up the hobby in the 1980s. “He’s always dabbling in things,” she said. “I like it. It keeps him out of my hair.”

She laughed, and then picked up a pendant he stitched for her soon after he learned how. It’s a tiny, quarter-sized cross-stitch of a rose, set in a silvery frame.

After nearly 65 years of marriage, Wilbur said he’s had a happy life with Hazel. His advice? “You’ve gotta be flexible, you’ve gotta be ready to compromise. Every morning, you get up like it’s a new day,” he said.

“And be true to yourself, and everything else will fall in line.”


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