March 17, 2012

There Was an Old Lady from Dagobah--the one that started it all

I originallly started the blog, in part, to practice--and just enjoy--writing. Of course, the blog has taken on a life of its own for me--as all such very personal projects seem to do. Here was my first entry. It tells the story of how and why I started knitting. Sometimes very strange doors open to very wonderful hallways. Read on. You might just relate...

Why knitting?

It had never even crossed my mind. Well, that's not entirely true. My grandmother--like so many grandmothers before her--tried to entice me into knitting with a pair of green, warped size 8 plastic Boyle knitting needles and a family heirloom slipper pattern. But it was not to be. As an 8 year old, I--like so many 8 year olds before me--became quickly frustrated as the yarn repeatedly slipped off the needles as I tried to work it, dropping my stitches and ultimately culminating in nothing more than a pile of tangled acrylic yarn on the bedroom floor. No slippers for me. At least not from my own needles.

Flash forward 30 years...

Entering our annual church bazaar, we knew what we would find--everyone does. There were handmade candles, ornaments, cookies, quilts--so many knitted and crocheted items. Dozens of them. My husband and I made it a point to attend this event every year faithfully. We wanted to support local craftswomen and men who spent so much time and effort to bring us such affordable and beautiful creations--many of which are sold to raise money for good causes.

As the familiar old-church-fellowship-hall smell--now mingling with holiday bayberry and pumpkin spices--enveloped us upon entering, we began to wander around the crowded tables, most of them practically overflowing with colorful items crowded together and stacked high. Browsing was an incredibly slow process as shoppers would crowd and thin, ebb and flow around each banquet table and slender aisle. There was a lot of standing and waiting to get to each display. I was glad we didn't have a stroller with us....yet.

I was about five and a half months pregnant with our sixth child--Amy Rose to be, our sixth of "yours, mine and ours." I was not new to pregnancy, but because she was the sixth, I was also not so young, either. We had planned on staying as long as we could, but since I had been pretty sick and uncomfortable through the whole thing, I had mentally planned on being ok with leaving the bazaar a little earlier than usual--just this one time. Then we wandered into one of the outlying rooms, new to the event this year.

The church hall, with its narrow space and long, low ceiling lined in multi-colored fluorescent lights, was not quite large enough any more for all of the vendors in attendance. The once small country church had an ever-growing population from within and from without. This year, the bazaar planners decided to use some of the classrooms outside the main hall for booths. They contained, of course, more of the same bazaar fair. But they also contained something unexpected.

As we wandered into the first, then second classroom, we started talking about leaving soon. We had purchased a few candles, some organic soaps from a local farm, and a handmade quilt from the Catholic daughters with flannel bears and lovely stitching. We had almost run out of hands for carrying things. That's when we heard Mona.

It was a distinctive voice coming from the third classroom. I listened to the voice getting louder as we approached it, dense and German, high and pitchy. Elderly?

Behind a table on the left wall was a strong, short, thickening woman with hair straight out of a red bottle of dimestore dye. Her red lips were thin and bright, threatening to leave their feathery boundaries and any moment. Her small, brilliant blue eyes shone from behind trendy purple metallic bifocals. Or were they trifocals? I judged her to be at least 75, probably more--she was clearly well kept.

She stood silently for a moment, hands neatly behind her back. She gazed at no one in particular. She just stood.

As my husband and I neared her table, she barely smiled. She just maintained a pleasant expression and I wasn't sure if she even saw us. But I saw her. And I saw the lovely things behind her, hanging on her wall.

On display, there was a darling layette: hat, booties, sweater, clearly handmade. The yarn was probably acrylic with little pink sparkles. I didn't recognize the stitches then, but now I can report that the fabric had an interesting grid texture that stood out from its background. It was a result of cleverly alternated knits and purls, exacting in their clarity.

Not meaning to say it out loud, I breathed out, "I could never make something like that..." I just couldn't hide my awe.

Suddenly, a hand reached up and snatched my left wrist. It was her. The red lip lady. Her eyes were brighter than ever, if that were possible.

"You can do this."

I stared at her for a moment, stunned. "I don't know. It's so beautiful..." I was at a loss for words.

"Yes, you can!" She still held my arm. I squeezed the quilt in my right arm closer. She was so certain, almost severe. I began to wonder what was happening.

"You go to JoAnn's Fabrics, you buy the book, you buy the yarn and you do it."

She was insistent. She was sure. She seemed to be trying to transfer secret knowledge from herself to me through squeezing my arm. Was there an electricity forming between us? Some secret knitting bond?

"When I was a child in Germany, I used two pencils and learned to knit. I knitted scarves, socks, sweaters. And lace. They don't make patterns for lace like they used to."

What did this all mean? Was I supposed to be knitting? Was I ever going to get my arm back? Did the baby just kick? Was this turning into some Jedi-Yoda moment? Was she going to call me "grasshopper" next?

A vacuum was forming, a tunnel. I lost all peripheral vision. I expected at any moment that she was going to blindfold me, give me a pair of knitting needles and hurl yarn balls at me, commanding me to use my mind to deflect them.

By this time, the red lady had stopped talking, I got her name--Mona--and that she had been knitting for about 175 years. Rough estimate. She just kept staring at me, as if she was waiting for me to understand something. Something really, really important.

I stared back.


Then, she suddenly relaxed--as if all the necessary information had been transferred from her to me. I looked at her. I didn't buy the layette.

I stiffly told her it was nice to meet her. My husband and I left. Then, wandering as if in a dream, we went to JoAnn's and bought the commanded book. My husband picked out the yarn. We didn't know how to figure out how much to buy, so we just sort of eyeballed it and bought a few skeins of brown and pink verigated Red Heart Sport acrylic. Probably too much.

I was in a trance, a glorious, blissful trance. Something had happened, something wonderful. Was it so big and life altering that it would surpass my love for my husband, family and friends? Even God? Of course not. But meaning can be found in so many places--it may even poke you with a light saber. Sometimes things happen that can only add to your deepest contentments. Enrich you in ways you never realized.

Joseph Campbell, American philosopher said, "To find your own way is to follow your bliss. This involves watching yourself and seeing where real deep bliss is--not the quick little excitement, but the real deep, life-filling bliss."

Sometimes we just need a little help to get there.

Watch for it. Find your bliss. You never know where it might be. Or if you are missing it all along.

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