Saturday, October 23, 2010
Once a year in autumn, my thoughts turn back to a small town I once lived in and my life there. It is true, the town was not my heart's desire and my time there ended sadly and abruptly.
Still, when I catch a tall pine piercing a cobalt sky and the weather gauge hovers between temperate and crisp, a slight catch forms in my throat. For a brief time, the town was mine, too.
Autumn begins its work on the gum trees. Their tips turn gold as if they were artists' brushes swept across a child's open paintbox. Soon after, the oaks at the town center, the ones framing the churchyard, began burnishing followed up by the maples and poplar.
I could always hear the branches rustling from my bedroom window at dusk especially after the wind picked up in the afternoon. The trees scraped against the house and each other. They creaked too. An owl sometimes hooted, a lonesome sound, reminding me of how far away from the city I had come. These were beautiful but poignant days as my child and I were newly and unexpectedly made into a smaller family. They were also sweater days of the finest order and we often spent them in hand knits I had made on the hot summer afternoons my daughter splashed in the local pool. If I was ambivalent about this place, I hated it in summer because it was much too hot for a spot so far above sea level, and its thunderstorms were always muted and unsatisfying.
But the town in fall was different when we climbed the expansive incline of the village green that led up to the old library; a booming brick building with an arched doorway that four men could enter shoulder to shoulder. Once inside, the tiny wooden chairs and the scent of ancient books told of a special children's hour. We spent most of our fall afternoons there lost in books and puzzles, singalongs and little friends.
We took advantage of these high weather days and after the library and a visit to the tiny market, we wandered outdoors, our cheeks becoming warm from exercise. My daughter's fine hair whipped around even inside the red hood I knit for her. The scent of burning leaves penetrated the stitches of our sweaters which I could still smell hours later as I folded them and put them away.
We left forever in spring. A friend shot a final picture of us on the front steps of our home waving goodbye. We have never been back. Don't care to. But every fall, I allow for one imaginary visit where I again feel my child's small hand in mine and the trees light our path to the library in burnished red and gold.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I learned to knit at my grandmother’s knee. She handed me thick white wooden needles with red tops and began teaching me the knit stitch. Knit's cousin, the purl stitch, would come much later in my lessons.
To teach someone to knit is not easy. The teacher must be patient and kind and most importantly, approving and reassuring about all the mistakes a young student will invariably make. I have been both a student and a teacher.
On winter afternoons, just after lunch, the knitting hour began. My grandmother would switch on her transistor radio to opera and this would signify the slowing down of our day and our shoulder-to-shoulder quiet work would begin. Soon, our breathing would be in sync and although I would see her quick stitch movement out of the corner of my eye, I knew that my slow steady stitches would evoke the praise from her that I so craved.
I made scarves and blankets for my dolls while Nana worked on intarsia sweaters for my brothers or mohair cardigans for my sister and I. The winds would whip around the edges of her large Boston apartment, rattling the massive old fashioned sash windows of clear glass. The snow flit down continuously, but we two were our own little snowglobe, snuggly encased in crystal and floating in serenity.
“Keep a rhythm going,” Nana would say. “Don’t hold on so tightly.” “Remember, this is supposed to be fun.”
Today, I still listen to opera whenever I knit alone on Saturday afternoons in the winter and although Nana’s life has long ceased to overlap mine, I still feel her presence whenever I pick up my needles. I have yet to find the special knitting companion I had in her but, through the years, have met and knit with many women.
One group of knitters and I gathered every Thursday night for eight years. Newborns who were brought in small baskets grew into toddlers and the knits we made for them were passed on and on again. Knitting friends can be found whenever a woman pulls out her needles and yarn, whether it is at hospital bedside, a waiting room, or on a train. A knitting woman is a magnet that garners comments such as “My aunt use to knit,” “I still have a sweater my grandmother knit me,” or “I wish I could learn.... (Oh, but you can!).
Knitting is a woman’s pastime, as to knit a garment is an act of love and hope. Love for the person one knits for and hope for the future. Each stitch is a blessing, a wish that the loved one will wear the hand-knit in health and happiness long into the future. A bonus gift of immortality for the knitter too, if the item is passed down through the years, as so many of my grandmother's knits were.
I wish more women knit. It’s good for one’s health, as the steady rhythm is calming, encouraging a healthy heart. I wore a Holter monitor once (a device that monitors heart rhythms) and the next week the cardiologist asked what I was doing for the hour I was knitting. He said my heart rate was perfect during that time.
Knitting is not always as economical as it used to be. Yarns are dear now, but the creations that can be made are immensely more stylish than in my grandmother’s time. Almost all the large fashion houses have knitwear designs now and the garments are very contemporary. In fact, the knit world will often usher in a new style first, as it did a few years ago with a swinging cable knit jacket that later appeared on several runways.
Knits will always be in style because they are so practical and warm. As comfortable and dry as microfibers have become, babies always look cutest in a lovingly made hand-knit.
I have passed along my love of knitting to my daughter, who when she knits, does finer work than I. I hope she passes the skill down to her daughter and hopefully, on and on. I saved her first scarf, a holey affair with curved edges that drop off in points. Whenever I hold it, I am reminded of our own private snowglobe on winter afternoons, when the opera played softly in the background and I heard my grandmother somewhere over my shoulder, telling us to keep a rhythm going and not hold on so tight.... And it was fun, more fun than I can ever tell it here.