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Weaving Memories, One Stitch at a Time

Life lessons while knitting with Grandma

"These needles are the first ones I owned - not my mother's or sister's but mine," my husband's grandmother announced. "I used wool from Herb's parents' sheep, but we couldn't afford needles. Herb, rest his soul, made these for me out of old metal spokes he found in the barn."

Life lessons learnedLife lessons learnedI turned the crudely welded rods over in my hands. They were bent, thin veins of rust stretched out from the base and I could feel the way her hands had shaped them through the years. "You use the new ones," she said as she quickly took them back and handed me a pair still in the package.

She pulled a brown, nubbly ball of wool from her bag and wound it around her bent and twisted fingers. Then she told me to open the basket and choose a color. I lifted her offering onto my lap and felt as though I'd been thrown into paradise. On my lap I held a cornucopia of brightly coloured yarns punctuated by tiny balls of muted colours - every colour, texture and thickness imaginable. She laughed at my excitement and watched with interest as I pulled a cranberry red angora from its nest and paired it with a deep plum wool.

"Those'll be fancy socks," she said. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather have the blue? No, well that's fine then."

I ducked my head to hide my smile. Friends and family continually buy her wool, needles and new pattern books, but Grandma prefers the familiar. We're really not that different. My husband laughs that my idea of redecorating is painting the room a different colour, altering a fabric or two and then arranging everything exactly as it had been before. But isn't that the point? Grandma creates something consistent and endearing as her love, shaping her family with an unassailable, accepting and simply beautiful bond.

As we knitted together Grandma told me about her childhood on the farm. She laughed like a girl as she waltzed me through barn dances, washing days that began before sun-up and finished with crickets orchestrating a visual feast in the sky and why quilts are better than any store-bought blanket. She threw her hands into the air and laughed her deep belly laugh when I asked how she'd met the love of her life. It was nothing as romantic as a movie, she said, but it felt right from the moment she first laid eyes on him.

"He walked miles to come to the farm one day, and had no way home that night. My father drove him, but he wasn't happy with neither one of us. Best we get married, he told me, so he didn't have to drive at night anymore."

I watched quietly, trying to absorb every nuance, every cock of her head for when I'd want to tell someone not yet born about this woman. My mother calls me a watcher, a human recorder of all that happens around me, and as I sat beside Grandma, her stories enfolding me like one of her quilts, I knew, for the first time in my life, the truth of that label. A part of me wanted to learn how to knit, but another part wanted to tuck her essence away in my heart for safekeeping. With each stitch I attempted and re-attempted, I wove a part of her into me.

knitted treasuresknitted treasuresMonths later, when we returned for another short visit, she crowed with delight when I showed her my finished pair of socks. I soon progressed to knitting hand-designed sweaters and bags. And a year later. when Grandma saw my creations, she marvelled at my audacity to step outside the lines and invent my own patterns. She didn't know I lied awake at night, mentally wandering through patterns I wanted make. When making dinner, I closed my eyes to rearrange colours or to run my fingers through different yarns while I stirred a pot of spaghetti. I planned stitches while sitting up with a sick child, rocking and singing while visions of the finished project floated through my mind.

"I only knew one other person who could knit like you," Grandma said one day while she cradled one of my babies in her arms. "My grandmother could pick up a stitch from anywhere in the pattern and knit it in without unravelling a single row. She could shape a garment just by the way it felt in her hands, and she never watched her needles neither - just like you."

made with lovemade with loveGrandma shared her skills with me, guiding me and teaching me when I asked, but I'm sure she never guessed at the yearning she unleashed. More than something to fill my time or mark one day different from the next (yesterday I did the left sleeve and today I'll do the neck), knitting became my release, a way to express myself at a time in my life I needed something all my own. I suppose anything could have filled that void, but learning to use my own resources to heal myself was the real lesson. And using those resources to bind me to the people I love with something real, something tangible that I could look at later and know I created was the brass ring that saved me.

Instead of chasing toddlers I now spend my days at a keyboard, verifying my output by words typed or retyped. I no longer rush to make dinner while a toddler sleeps or sit on a park bench waiting patiently for attention spans to thin. There's a part of me that connects me to a time when people understood the value of skills passed down from one generation to the next. When life was lived in kitchens or backyards or over tea and fresh-baked apple pie instead of in front of computer screens. I may not preserve three bushels of peaches for my winter pantry any longer, but I'll never tire of winding my fingers through warm wool at the end of the day.

As I welcome new children and spouses to my growing family, whether through birth or marriage, I'll offer a gift that only I can give. My love and unconditional welcome are important, but something created in my heart, says something words can't. I have a feeling most of this "something" will be lost in the here and now - a sweater or pair of socks is still just the need it fulfills. But when the sweater is unfolded from a cedar chest years from now, I'm hoping all the memories woven into the wearing of it will win over in the end.

Maybe they'll even remember who knitted the sweater. And who knitted it with a love even the knitter doesn't fully understand.

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Wow, That was wonderful, I wish I could have had the chance to learn from her. I hope I keep that skill you taught me. I remember those sweaters, wearing them out in the ice cold. It always kept me warm. Or the stockings for christmas, I wonder what she'd think of those huge socks, would she laugh? Would she give more advice? She'd be proud. Knowing you still keep her knowledge alive.

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