Monday, March 05, 2007
Love that you wear
The first morning we were in Ottawa when we went home for Christmas mom gave Keenan his first sweater that she had made especially for him. It’s kind of a light sky blue with blue buttons. I mentioned in a previous post that we woke up to mom playing with Keenan on the dining room table. Shortly after we got out of bed mom told me to go into her room and get the gift box off the shelf in her bookcase. In the box was the sweater, 2 pairs of her famous baby booties whose pattern has been in our family for a few generations at least, a couple of toques and a pair of mittens she bought. While Keenan sat square in the middle of the table we dressed him in his new sweater. It looked great and was just big enough that he would have room to grow and would be able to wear it until the chill left Hokkaido’s spring air. Mom was so pleased with herself and beamed with pride.
I had asked mom to make Keenan this sweater sometime late in the summer of last year. All I requested was that it be blue and a cardigan style as Keenan hates having things pulled over his big square head! Mom picked the color and pattern and started it when it became cool enough to sit with knitting in her lap. I knew from the start that asking mom to do this was a big deal. She hadn’t done much knitting or crocheting in recent years as her patience, eyesight and fingers were all conspiring against her. But like any best mom in the world she would do just about anything her kids, grandkids or great grandkids asked. She called me shortly before we were to leave to tell me the sweater was done. She had also started on a matching pair of pants but she was going to save them until we were there so she could measure his long legs and make sure she made the pants big enough to last as long as the sweater.
The pants are what I found the morning we were collecting things for the visitation. We stopped by mom’s to pick up a few things I had in storage in mom’s basement and some photo’s as well. It was the first time I had been in my mom’s place since she had died. It was so shocking to think that just a week and a half earlier we had woken up in this very house and hastily got ready for our early morning flight back to Japan. I can still see Mom holding and playing with Keenan as we got ready and she was very much alive. This time around we were once again short on time and basically just stormed the place and tried to get in and out as quickly as possible. I picked up moms knitting bag on the way out thinking there would be some things in there we could put up at the funeral home. Keenan’s half finished little blue pants were in there. Everything slowed down at that point. Seeing those pants on the knitting needles hit me with such a sense of finality. I hadn’t been to the funeral home yet, we had sped thru mom’s place and I barely had time to look at anything and I was still in a state of disbelief that mom was gone. Such a small thing made me still and delivered me tears. I thought about my mom and how she was so particular about making sure everything was taken care of or completed. She rarely started anything she knew she couldn’t finish. The pants were just another indicator of how suddenly she had left us.
We took the knitting bag with us to funeral home and set up her handiwork on a chair. She would have been proud to see those things there. Lots of people commented on how lovely they were and I think we all felt a sense of pride for our mother’s work.
It’s safe to say that my mom has knit almost all her life. She could remember knitting or crocheting as far back as her memory could take her. She learned to knit in grade school, before World War II. Like most girls of that time she attended a Catholic school that was run by nuns. At the beginning of grade one they were given a “dolly” as mom would call it, two knitting needles and a crochet hook. The nuns showed the girls how to knit and then they would all sit for a couple of hours each day and knit all the while chanting the directions in Dutch. I know for a fact that my mom remembered that chant up until at least the week before she died as she recited it for me. I’m sorry I didn’t write it down. By the time the girls finished grade 2 they could fully dress their dolly with either knitted or crocheted clothes. Take your pick. Hats, dresses, sweaters, pants, socks, underwear, booties, mittens, blankets, you name it. This has amazed me to no end for years. What an unbelievable skill to have from such a young age. Seems to be a hell of a lot more useful than cutting & pasting. Though considering the time my mother went to school, this would have simply been practical. “Once you know how to dress a dolly you can dress a baby,” she would tell me. Mom didn’t knit too much during her “teenage” years mostly because there was a war going on but also because she loved to sew. Not only could she knit or crochet any garment known to humankind she could also sew them. She made many of our clothes when we were kids. She made skirts for me out of my sister’s jeans way before it was “hip” to do so. Jose and I were talking about mom’s sewing skills when I was back home for the funeral and she revealed to me that she can remember when she got her first pair of store bought jeans, I believe they were bright yellow. Not many 46-year-old women can lay claim to that memory! Once babies came back in to mom’s life so did knitting and crocheting. She made things for her babies in the 50’s and 60’s, Charlie’s boys in the 70’s, Jose’s boys in the 80’s, Keenan in 2006 and any other babies that came along in between that needed something special. Her knitted baby booties are legendary and Keenan has grown out of his first pair already. Thankfully he has two more pairs to grow into. They match his blue sweater and the unfinished pants too.
I personally never really considered myself the knitting type. But for some reason I bought a book about knitting at Chapters when we were home for Christmas. It is filled with all sorts of “modern” patterns as my mom pointed out, but most importantly it has easy instructions for getting started. My mom would try to teach me how to knit when I was a kid and I would always have to get her to cast on or start the first few rows for me as I could never pick it up from her showing me. I'm sure at that point she probably felt cutting and pasting was a huge waste of her daughters time too! I’m a read and learn kind of person (some would label me a “manual reader” and you know who you are!) and this book had awesome casting on instructions and it was cheap so I bought it. I brought the book to mom’s place to show her and I proclaimed with a big grin on my face that I wanted her to show me how to knit. I was really excited and her excitement level was well, waaaaay below mine. She gave me that cool “Why would you buy a book to teach you how to knit and then ask me to show you?” She glanced through the book and basically told to me “just keep trying, you’ll figure it out, you’ll see”. This wasn’t exactly turning into the warm fuzzy mother/daughter event I had hoped it would. Did I keep the receipt? Frig. Then mom looks at me and says “I’ll make sure Jose knows that you’re supposed to get all my knitting needles and crochet hooks, don’t worry you can do it, just keep trying”. Well shit. Now I’m committed. Committed, pleased and deep inside girlishly excited.
Little did I know that within a month my mom would pass away, we would return to Canada for her funeral and then back in Japan again I’d be opening that book in the wee hours of the morning while sitting up with a 9 month old both of us trying to recover from jet lag. Those first few nights home in Obihiro were pretty confusing for Keenan. He’d get up at 2 am and think it was time to play. So I’d get up, bring some toys to him in his crib and I’d sit in the rocking chair watching him play and babble himself to sleepiness. At one point I figured “I may as well get that knitting book out and see if I can’t figure out how to get started”. Sometime between the Canada trips I had bought a ball of light blue baby wool and a pair of size 8 bamboo knitting needles so I had all I needed. That’s how it started for me. Sitting up between 2 and 5 am watching over my babbling babe trying to turn a ball of yarn and a slipknot into something called the “first row” with two bamboo sticks. I may be a manual reader but I couldn’t make the aforementioned ingredients look anything like what was being shown in the pictures. “What the hell is wrong with me?”, I thought. My own mother was knitting a full set of clothing for her dolly by the time she was 7 and here I am a grown woman with my own child and I still can’t loop a friggin piece of yarn around a stick! Good grief! So I have to admit that I looked at the LAST picture in the instructions, what I was supposed to end up with, put the book away and struck out on my own. After many failed attempts and downright shitty looking loopy tension issues I, Nancy, 36 years old, mother of 1 figured out how to cast on! Then I knit the first row and the second one and it looked just like my knitting when I was a kid but it was beautiful to me. I have both my mom and believe or not my dad to thank for this. My dad could figure out how to make anything from looking at the finished product and my mom…well it may be premature to say but I think she may have passed on some of her knitting DNA to me.
So there I sat knitting away, stopping every now and then to pull the lot out and start again. After getting over the initial rush and amusement of having figured the whole thing out I realized that I was actually enjoying myself. I could knit and think at the same time! How novel! It was a wonderful combination of being productive, relaxing, creative and escapist all rolled into the same ball of yarn. I started to think of what I was going to make given my limited talents. Naturally I envisioned cozy, chunky sweaters and toasty full sized blankets. But, I figured a scarf for Keenan would be best (even though he has no neck and I wasn’t sure I could finish it before the birds began sitting on their nests). Then I started thinking about my mom. All the years she sat amongst us quietly watching us and knitting away much like I was doing with Keenan and I was struck by a something I’ve never felt before. The feeling that I am making something long lasting for someone I love. It’s different than cooking. Not only was I going to make a scarf to keep Keenan warm but, it would be a physical and permanent manifestation of my love for him. I thought of how my mom looked so happy when the sweater she made fit so well and looked so good on him. And I remembered back over the years all the jeans, mittens, blankets, hats, sweaters, booties, skirts and even wedding dresses she created. She did it because she loved what she was doing and she loved us. I am so lucky to have all those great baby things that mom made for Jose’s boys. Even though mom only knit a few things for Keenan she indirectly made him all those other things as well. Her love will to continue warm whoever gets to wear her creations.
Now what of the half finished blue pants my mom started? I guess in hindsight I’m sad that I left them behind in Canada. At that point the last thing I could think about was having enough time, energy, emotional fortitude and brain cells to take on the task of completing them. Now I’m pretty sure I could do it but it’s too late. If there’s enough wool left for me to make them to fit him next year then I might consider pulling them out and making them bigger for next fall. If not, maybe I’ll pull them out and knit them into something else. Or maybe I’ll just leave them as they are, on the needles, forever a work in progress so I can pick them up once in a while and imagine my mom sitting there in her chair with a smile on her face peacefully knitting her love into warmth for us stitch by stitch.
Posted by Nancy O