GROTON -- Fay McLean likes to keep busy.

"You have to do something that gives you joy," the 86-year-old said.

She is housebound, but that does not stop her from making other people happy.

"I'm not sick. I'm on oxygen. No big deal," McLean said. "These are just conditions."

She practices an art she perfected when her husband was sick, the children were young and the family could not afford expensive presents.

McLean crochets. And it's not your granny's afghans she creates.

She makes octopuses and snowballs of all colors. Her creations are in demand. McLean is pleased to give them away.

Her skill was born of necessity. As a young mother, she crocheted things the kids asked for, like a spider or an ant, but the octopus is what clicked for her.

Fay McLean has been crocheting toys for 60 years. She doesn’t get out of the house, but she makes them with love to give to folks. The sea creatures
Fay McLean has been crocheting toys for 60 years. She doesn't get out of the house, but she makes them with love to give to folks. The sea creatures are a big hit with residents at Rivercourt. She gives snowballs of all colors and sizes to the Seven Hills Foundation so children can play with them inside. COURTESY PHOTO/GAIL CHALMERS

"I've been making these 60 years," McLean said.

The most recent batch of the eight-legged creatures are destined for the people living in the memory unit at Rivercourt Residences, an assisted-living facility in West Groton.

"She's the one who actually gave me this work," McLean said of Gail Chalmers.

"They love stuff like that," Chalmers said of the residents. She plans to create Easter baskets for each resident she works with at Rivercourt.

It works out well. McLean shows her love through the animals, and the recipients love her for making them, Chalmers said.

Chalmers and McLean come from the same area of New Hampshire. They have friends and even a favorite place in common, Calif's Country Store in Barrington.


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"They have the best cheese you ever tasted," McLean said.

Chalmers favors the honeycomb candy. "It actually melts in your mouth," she said.

The two New Hampshire natives met recently.

It took the observant eye of a "Meals on Wheels" driver who spotted the octopus breeding ground to bring the two women together.

George Faircloth told Chalmers, a fellow driver, about the critters. McLean made him an orange octopus to go with his vintage orange VW Beetle.

Chalmers knew the people in the memory unit would like the yarn creations.

The octopuses end up on television sets and bureaus, Chalmers said.

And the best thing?

"They go right in the washer machine," McLean said.

Her output is down recently, but she can still make an octopus a day.

"My favorite thing is kids," she said.

Along with her own eight children, one of whom died as a youth, McLean took in foster children.

Over the years, the three-room home she and her husband bought for $7,000 in 1948 grew with additions. She nurtured 100 children and says she taught the skills they needed.

She is still in the house in the Carkin's Corner neighborhood and plans to stay there.

"They'll take me out feet first," McLean said.

She said she told her doctor, "You've got to fix me. I've got a lot of living to do."

The crafter greets visitors from her chair in the corner of the front room. She is surrounded by bags of colored yarn: variegated, single colors and even camouflage. A camouflage octopus is destined for a veteran.

One of her foster daughters now works with children at Seven Hills Foundation. She called on McLean's help to keep the kids busy.

That's where the snowballs of all colors come in.

McLean can make them in all sizes, from baseball-sized to soccer-ball-sized. Her foster daughter told her the kids scream with laughter as they throw them around inside.

"I'm a very private person, and I don't do it for any hoopla," McLean said of her donations. "It's been a joy."

She just likes to know the crazy little things she crochets make people happy.

Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.