January 26, 2010

Knitting Together

It never ceases to amaze me how something as simple and common as knitting can bring so many people together. Let me tell you about a very special project.

I met my boyfriend just over a year ago. We hit it off really well and we had tons in common. The dating turned into more and here we are, living together, parenting a small poodle, and weathering storms both literal and figurative (as I type it has been raining for the better part of 10 days).

When we met we shared a lot about ourselves as I think is usual. I told Keith about my weight loss, about my cranky dog, and about my knitting obsession. I even confessed to the plastic bag project which had taken over my life at the time.

Keith told me things about himself, and since they were shared with me and not this wide-open blog world, they will remain with me. Except one. He told me about his mother. She had passed away within the last year after a struggle with breast cancer. As you would expect, the story made me sad. What I didn’t expect was the way that sadness would change. 008

It went from a general sadness as the loss of another, to the concerned worry of a girlfriend wishing I could ease his pain, and recently to the very painful realization of what I have lost as well. Never getting to know her, to laugh together at silly childhood stories, the family history that only mother’s seem to know. The loss seems to grow bigger with every step, knowing that we have so far to go in our lives and each milestone will be missed by someone special.

I like when Keith talks about her, it lets me feel a little closer to someone I won’t get to know personally. It made me so happy to know that she was a knitter. It brought me an extra bit of closeness.

No one in my family knits. I am the lone carrier of this skill. Everyone always asks me how I learned to knit, and they wait expectantly for the story of how mother taught me. They seem a little puzzled and disappointed when I tell them I learned from the internet. I feel a little like that myself. But I don’t tell them the more complex version. My grandmother knit. Or I guess she must have at least learned. I never saw her knit. In fact, I never saw her do much in the way of anything crafty. She seemed to enjoy when my sister and I would be creative and encouraged us at every step – making messes, gardening, painting, etc. But I never saw her pick up a needle or a hook.

When my grandmother started to lose herself to dementia, I spent a great deal of time at her house, taking care of her, spending time, providing moral support for my mother. It was a rough time, but now seems very precious to me. I learned a lot about my grandmother, and even more about my mother and myself during that time.

One day while sorting through some things, we stumbled on my grandmother’s sewing basket, a disaster of thread and yarn and random things untouched in years. I pulled it out and went through it. I had just recently taught myself to knit, and I was eager to see what she had. I merged her collection of needles, stitch markers, and row counters with mine. In a strange twist, I knit her a small blankie out of old baby yarn; something soft to hold onto after she could no longer speak. So while she didn’t teach me, I still feel that my grandmother had a large part in my knitting. And I remember her every time I pick up her needles to knit something new.

This isn’t the sort of story you can cheerily volunteer when someone you just meet in line at the movie theater asks you how you learned to knit. It’s a bittersweet memory of loss and pain and love that I usually keep to myself.

So the stage was set for yet another way that knitting would bring people closer.

013 (2)Keith’s dad visited us last weekend as he sometimes does and we had a nice time cooking and eating and going out to eat (this is what dating a cook is like, you eat A LOT) and chatting. I could tell that Keith’s father was getting more comfortable around me. He’s an awkward man made more so by the lack of a woman to smooth things out for him, but he seemed genuinely at ease staying at our house on this last visit.

While we were all sitting on the couch, and I was (of course) knitting. He noticed and told me about a project that his wife had been working on before she passed away. He recounted how he had tried to get a family friend to finish it, how she had declined and brought it to yet another woman who also declined. He wondered if I would be up to the task of completing it.

I was a little shocked, but very honored that he had asked me. I agreed to take a look and see what I could do. He happened to have it in the car – a little puddle of bright blue on tiny needles and a cone of the same fine yarn tucked into a plastic bag. It was the start of a sweater for a close friend.

I nervously took it out and glanced at the pattern. Lord love her, she had copied the page from the book it was from and hi-lighted the stitch counts for the size she planned to make! It was like she had known. It only took a quick count and a little scrutiny to figure out where she had left off. I sighed in relief, I could do this. I could do this well.

There had been no pressure, but I felt the emotion behind the request. It was a moment when I realized I could do this seemingly small thing to aid in healing a much larger hurt.

Keith talks about his mom more and more (and like I said, I enjoy it). I feel like I know this woman a little, and I think it entirely in keeping with what I know that she has managed to bring me into a circle of her family and friends in this way. Knitting us together, if you will permit me the cheesy pun.

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