Yarn and Sympathy

(To listen to Yarn and Sympathy click here.)

A small ball of acid-green wool yarn skewered on a crochet hook perches atop a votive candle holder just five inches from my left hand on my 1977 Sears and Roebuck desk. I want to pick up this lovely fiber and crochet a long green worm. I really do. I crocheted the ribbons for my Christmas presents earlier this month. I knit a slouchy beanie with a pony tail hole for my sister’s birthday present, in which she looks quite fetching, and a purple wool vocal chord warmer for my friend E. As much as I want to write you this note, I am struggling to keep my hands off that crochet hook. My hands fly to my current knitting project as to a lover and I suddenly understand the compulsion to yarn-bomb phone booths and knit lap blankets for unsuspecting veterans. It’s love and it is in my blood.

”I learned to knit and crochet and sew by sitting quietly at my mother’s elbow and watching her work,” said Mom pointedly when I asked her to teach me to knit.

”Neat,” I said.

”So, can you get me started?” I asked.

She cleared her throat and looked at me.

She sighed for some reason, then selected a set of #10 needles, cast on 40 stitches of red wool yarn for a scarf for Dad and then patiently coached me through the first few rows of stitches while I crabbed and scowled. And then I’m sure I threw in a little extra huffiness because I hate it when people are patient with me.

From then on, our arrangement was: Mom would cast on the stitches of each new project and I would go home and come back for help around the corners, decreasing, increasing and then when I finished, I would come to her and she would cast off. To the uninitiated, this means I didn’t know how to start knitting or stop knitting and needed supervision in between.

In 2012, I splurged on some orange cashmere yarn at the Common Ground Fair. I was planning to make something useful, but I couldn’t wait to get that soft dreamy stuff slipping through my fingers so I decided I’d just crank out another scarf. I left my needles and yarn with Mom so she could cast on for me. Two days later, she delivered the yarn, all knit into a lovely long scarf. You really can’t trust anyone.

The next fall I bought white angora yarn at the Fair and Mom coached me through my first pair of socks. Four needles! Or was it three? I’m a little hazy now. Anyway, at the time I felt pretty smug to have such a complicated looking project in my knitting basket. Socks, as you might guess, required a lot more supervisory meetings with Mom, but we made it though the toes and turns and we were both pleased as punch (I feel I should add this phrase to my lexicon now that I’m a crafter.) We were pleased as punch I say to fondle those cloud-like bed socks.

Christmas found the whole family: my mom, dad, sister and husband and I camped out at our home in a weeks long power outage brought on by ice storms. With a wood stove, a stream, a gas stove, and an extraordinarily handy man of the house, we were well equipped for roughing it. We gathered round the Christmas tree and made merry and hoped no-one else got much early Christmas shopping done either. Mom was recovering from her first surgery. She’d managed to collect the ingredients for peanut butter balls and tied them up with a promise to make them for me as soon as the electricity came on and she felt up to the task.

As I handed Mom a carefully wrapped present, I could see her brow furrow a little. I could see her thinking,”Oh that brat went out and shopped.”

She peeled back the tissue paper and her face lit up with laughter. I’d given her the angora socks that she’d painstakingly led me through all fall.

“Oh, Vivi!” she said and clutched them to her chest.

This fall I bought some acid-green wool yarn at the Fair. I told my sister I’d knit her a hat if she picked out the yarn. I found a pattern. I took some #10 needles out of the long wooden decoupage knitting needle box my grandfather had made Mom. I sat in my beat up old recliner in front of the fire and tried to cast on 70 stitches. Well, I tried to cast on one stitch. I thought of all the knitters I know who’d be overjoyed to cast on for me.

A Jimmy Stewart line from an old movie popped into my head. (He was a lonesome soldier far from home, sitting at a lunch counter, refusing apple pie to go with his coffee).

”I figured”, said Jimmy, “if I couldn’t have my mother’s apple pie, well, I guess I just didn’t want any pie at all.”

I wanted to knit and I wanted my mother.

I love yarn like my Mom loved yarn. I read, I tried, I failed, I watched YouTube tutorials, I tried some more. I looked at that acid-green yarn and needles every day for several weeks. And then I cast on 70 stitches, just like Mom used to do.

Originally posted December 2015

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