Weddings and funerals gather us all together, knit us in the fabric of a shared experience, creating a thing of beauty. They feature regularly in movies because they seem larger than life, momentous, and also fragile with emotion and expectations. Then, too, there are smaller, routine stitches: crisp, white wine at a patio bar with a friend, Tiki torches burning around a deck, burgers on the grill. This is my summer, strands of yarn poised between two needles, spring and fall, the body of the scarf dangling and completed, a bit still raw and waiting.
The package broke open when my father-in-law died this spring, just as days were getting long and trees were more green than brown. A man used to controlling his destiny, his death was quiet, dignified and orderly, as if he were able to select the design. The lake home owned by my husband’s parents was a testimony to their ability to style a life of friendships and interconnections, a chain woven over fifty years. While there was peace in the closure, the pattern of summer shifted.
My mother-in-law, strong and brave, picked up the yarn and transferred it over. She went up, missing her husband and her female best friend, who had died just a few weeks later, and opened the house. Knit one, purl two. My nephews lived and worked there over the summer, young people coming and going, subtly shaping her new life.
By July, celebration was in order. Pick up a row. At a Chicago gem opened back in 1910, almost two hundred people entered into plastered elegance cast by previous generations: Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Rudolph Valentino. While the tables glittered with candles, flowers, silver, and the dance floor reverberated with modern music, many toasts were offered to the couple – now stitched into a new family – to their present and their future. Some of us danced on the window seats as pedestrians strolled below on Millennium Park’s darkened paths, our party dresses framed by the brick and terracotta exterior and the sparkle of the candelabra within.
More knitting. How long a scarf? What if you knit consistently for fifty years? Back to Chicago Bill and I traveled, summer party destination extraordinaire, for the golden anniversary of two very special friends, come from Scotland to our shores to be enfolded in our lives and to connect us to their homeland. You cannot escape their Scottish accent. If you’re called “lass” once, you’ll not forget it. This couple began a project and kept at it, long after over fifty-percent of married couples quit. High above the windy city, we collected in tribute to their persistence and their love.
My niece and nephew came, a stitch within and outside of time, as we traveled, with Anne, to The Henry Ford Museum. Unlike the days when I would’ve read the placards and pushed them into exhibits, faces and postures surly, as adults they engaged in each one, sitting on the Rosa Parks bus, pushing the video button for Heroes of the Sky, looking somberly at the chair in which Lincoln was shot and killed, laughing over the time capsule of rooms that featured toys from their – gasp – childhoods.
A dropped stitch, needles crossing, and I’m missing a wedding. Actually, two. I feel the slip, the miss. Like unrequited love, you can have unrequited celebration. Like the well-thought-out breakup, the mutual (mis)understanding, one still senses the hole. You’re aware that people are carrying on with the project, but not with you. Whatever mark you might’ve made, whatever style you might’ve brought to the fabric of people’s lives will not be experienced. The object, itself, will be whole without you.
When Anne was in elementary school, my friend, Joy, taught her how to make a woolly scarf. Sitting at my kitchen island, Joy would count the stitches and tell her when to turn. Every now and then, the yarn would run short and Anne would yell, “Slack!” This was an almost belligerent cue for more yarn, for decreased tension, for continuance.
Slack! Unroll. Feed out. Loosen up.
There is still work left, a visit or two to a hospital, another trip to the lake, a birthday. Earlier, I had thought that this blog would be filled with photos of vintage recipes I had completed and pithy commentaries covering each individual moment. Instead, I am looking back on a woven fabric, a piece of work with handcrafted beauty, and a few mistakes to ensure its authenticity.
If, like me, you had thought to accomplish more, see more, travel more, cook more, relax more, allow me to stridently yell, “Slack!” We’ve been sold too many mass-produced products in the marketplace. Let’s allow the thing to unravel, just a bit, and see if we’re not more pleased with the results.
[Disclaimer: I do not knit. At all. I just like the concept of joining yarn with needles. And a lot of talent.]