I was not a knitter. I knew about knitting because people in my family did it. My mother, I know, and perhaps my grandmother, my great aunts.
I learned to knit the way little kids in families like mine learn to knit – something to put into my hands to keep me quiet while the grownups did something, something I horned in on trying to be a part of what the grown ups were doing. Over the years I picked up an awkward knit cast on, knit and purl stitches. Endless yards of scrap yarn got consumed in small square swatches of stockinette stitch that I abandoned because they wanted to curl up like cocoons. I started pink scarf in scratchy acrylic in k2,p2 ribbing, never finished because I left the skein up against the radiator one night and the heat transformed scratchy pale pink into scratchy pale pink and scorched yellow. I dimly recall that there was a matching hat in the same ribbing, finished (oh the pride of wearing something I made myself!) but long since lost to time and travelling.
And then I was grown. I went to make my own home and my own life and I left behind the idea of knitting along with the needles and yarn – it wasn’t mine, just a borrowed thing.
Ungentle life after a time forced me back to my mothers home. I had been unhappy being there before, but returning in failure after freedom was agonal. Whether it was the weather (dying winter before spring is sprung) or the welcome or my own sorrow is hard to say now, but I was cold all the time.
There are times in a life when only poetry can save you, and times when poetry must give way to pragmatism. Out of my sorrow and endless chill arose a single bubbling inspiration.
I needed something warm to wear.
Wool to make it warm, bright colors to make it cheerful. My mother wasn’t knitting, her needles were unused, so there was space for my own ideas – for my own knitting. I sketched triangles on graph paper, figured out how to knit with several strands of yarn, how to change colors. It occupied my mind, it occupied my hands. When it was done, it kept me warm.
I left the shawl behind when I left my mothers house again. My private winter ended, and I moved on. I did not quite forget my shawl , but I never remembered it enough to bring it home either. My mother moved and moved again, and I saw the shawl once when I helped her move – a poor tangled rats nest of yarn and animal hair, looking moth eaten and cat mangled. I mourned it briefly and left it – I was busy with the kitchen and the books, while laundry and basement were for another to deal with.
Much later on , when I was starting to knit again, I told this story to the woman at the yarn store as I browsed for yarn to make another shawl. She was sympathetic and horrified – moths! cats!
At this point I need to say something about my brother. I’ve never mentioned him on this blog before, because we don’t see much of each other. He was born when I was ten, and as awful as the rest of every part of life in that home was, my brother was a joy. We loved and love each other dearly. My relationship with him is as rocky as any other little brother/older sister relationship, but it is built on a sustaining and surprising depth of caring that I am astounded could ever come out of where it did.
So when my shawl came back to me, it is utterly and completely and wholly appropriate for it to be heralded only by a casual aside from my brother as we talked Halloween plans and ate cookies.
“Oh, hey – I’ve got something of yours.”
And here it is – laundered along with my little brothers laundry, thrown in a sack of his clothes, carried by him over two moves, to be finally recalled and returned to me over a year after it’s last bedraggled appearance. It’s a bit the worse for wear – slightly fulled, a little shrunken, and some of that felted fiber on it is probably cat hair.
But the colors are still pretty bright, and I’m wearing it as I type this, and it is keeping me warm.
My first shawl. My first own knitting.