I believe in yarn. A few Decembers ago, my older daughter, age eight at the time, asked me to teach her to knit. I had only knit twice, two decades before. But in my hands, I could still feel the looping and scooping of knit and purl. So I said yes.
Later that month, in front of the fireplace in my parents’ living room, I knit in a crowd: my mother, who had taught me, my sister Julie, whom I was reteaching, my daughters, and their cousins–three generations of calm business. I kept knitting. I made lots of mistakes, like a series of mittens which I proudly gave to all the kids in the family before finding I’d knit each mitten with a size extra-large thumb. I made stuff up—asymmetrical scarves, close-fitting caps, purses for my girls with their names knit right in. I have knit for hours on a cold day, grateful for something to sit still with and pore over, for colors to hold in my hands.
At the school where I teach English, some kids come to my room after lunch to make hats for newborns in need. These knitters laugh. They drop stitches. I say, “Just keep knitting.” They start and finish things. They combine colors and invent embellishments–pom-poms, flowers, joker-cap crowns. The chatter winds around with the wool; the hats heap up in a basket.
This past fall, my father, then 81 and a still-practicing physician, was hospitalized several times in one month with virulent post-surgical infections. My mother spent weeks of twelve-hour day shifts by his side at the hospital and short nights of broken sleep in an empty house. While she waited in a straight-backed chair in my father’s room at the VA, she worked camel-colored cashmere into a scarf for him to wear back at home. So I brought my knitting bag to the hospital, too. We knit away some minutes, some hours and some days. My father came home, where my mother learned to give him IV antibiotics through a PIC line. She is good with her hands. He is back at work.
I don’t know who taught my oldest sister Sally to crochet. Thirty-four years ago, when I was eight and she was almost nineteen, Sally crocheted a blue and green striped scarf for me that I still have. We lost Sally suddenly, a few months after she gave me the scarf. I wish I could ask her how she made such tidy edges. I wish she could show me how she made our sister Tisha’s pale blue shawl—shell shapes radiating at least six different ways. With yarn in my hands, I work a thought through my fingers about Sally, my mother, my grandmother, and my daughters: her hands have done this, too. Our hands make this together.
The works of our hands connect us. I believe in yarn winding in and out, around and back, moving color through our fingers into things.
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