Doris Grossman is not one of those fluttery white-haired women who shy away from life's harsher truths.
"I don't know if it's empathy or anger because we're involved in two wars," she says, "but I feel this is the right thing to do."
For the last two years, around Christmas, Grossman has been knitting socks for war amputees. Yesterday, the 82-year-old former assistant manager for a senior-citizen complex in Ventnor, N.J., was working on an oatmeal-tweed one, her 12th in the latest batch destined for the Philadelphia veterans hospital.
"This is something our soldiers more than deserve," she said while comfortably ensconced in a damask couch in the sunny library of the Watermark at Logan Square. She moved to the Center City retirement community when her husband died seven years ago.
"The doctors and vets call them stump socks, but the ladies in our knitting group don't like that name, so I suggested calling them amputee socks. They still don't like that," she said with a shrug. "But a rose is a rose is a rose."
The widespread use of improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan has sent thousands of American soldiers home with missing limbs. In the last three months, there has been a sharp increase in amputees among the estimated 1,000 troops injured in Afghanistan.
Grossman's friend Lorraine Brown persuaded her to take on the project. Brown, 87, has long been politically engaged. In the 1960s, she marched against the war in Vietnam, she said. And she remained antiwar during the years she and her husband ran the Bordentown Register-News.
Shortly after she moved to the Watermark four years ago, she attended a presentation by the local activist group, the Granny Peace Brigade Philadelphia.
After the talk, she and her friend Florence Cohen, widow of City Councilman David Cohen, decided to form a group of their own, "not to go to rallies, but to write letters and make phone calls to our congressmen."
They held monthly meetings. Once, they hosted lawyers who represented Guantanamo detainees. Another time, they showed a film that Brown's granddaughter had sent from a group she belongs to in California, called Teach Peace.
Somehow, someone must have heard about the Watermark grandmothers, because Brown received a request for knitted stump socks for the troops. She can't remember who asked for her help, but she clearly recalls that the first person she thought of was Grossman.
"You are amazing," Brown told her friend yesterday.
"Oh, stop," Grossman said with a dismissive wave.
Grossman learned to knit when she was 14 and lived in Logan. "We had open porches, and I would watch my next-door neighbor, Richie Goldstein, knitting. She was the one who taught me."
When Grossman's three sons and eight grandchildren were growing up, she knitted them umpteen afghans and sweaters.
"But the knitting I've done since I came here is more intense," she said. A huggable woman who prides herself on blunt honesty, she was decked out on Christmas Eve in a Santa hat with silver glitter in the white fuzz, a red wool jacket embroidered with holly, and a Jewish star on a gold chain.
For years, Grossman has led the Watermark's knitting club. "Recently we'd lost a lot of members to arthritis and illness," she said. Then, a few months ago, a group of women from Roxborough arrived - all skilled knitters.
"Now," she said, "we're back in business."
The pattern for amputee socks is similar to the one she's used to knit hats for chemotherapy patients.
There are two sizes. "These are for the thigh," she said, patting a pile of plush beanie-shape caps. "And these are for the lower limbs," she said, picking up a narrower version.
"Most women in the knitting club find it too hard to think about what they'll be for," Brown said.
"It hurts me to do it," said Grossman. "But it's gratifying to know I'm doing something that's needed and appreciated."
With each sock, she slips in a note that says, "You are my American hero. Love, Mommom."
"This is quite a thing, kid," Brown said, patting her friend on the back. "Quite a thing."