Monday, March 10, 2008

Balls of Yarn

My husband and I enjoy few little pleasures in life, as it seems we are constantly trying to make up for lost time. We are late bloomers because we were early parents. We jumped right into the military, marriage, and babies, in that order, when we were but 20 years old. Now we are working hard to become who we wanted to be, or as close to it as possible. One of the pleasures we have is our coffee dates.

When we moved up to Maryland from North Carolina, we did so to join a group of friends who had also relocated to work for the same company. On Wednesday nights we would all go to the local Borders and sit in the cafe, sipping expensive coffee and venting about the people we dealt with on the site. It was then that my stress level first began to really soar. I was learning a lot of things on the job, things I had absolutely no interest in, and it was a job I did simply for the money. I've remained in the IT field, writing about it now, though I still don't enjoy it. Those Wednesday nights, though, they were the best. I know we used to annoy a couple of the "regulars" there, particularly one slightly senile old woman who came in to drink all the coffee refills she could get while reading out loud to herself occasionally.

Eventually we all moved on to other jobs and stopped meeting every week for coffee. We do get together now and then, though, for old times' sake. My husband and I do so much more regularly.

Sometimes we'll just go get a silent cup of coffee and sit while we sip, staring into space and smiling at each other now and then. We have been together long enough to know when silence is golden. Other times, we'll grab a paper and read it or we'll vent to each other about something going on at home or work. Sometimes we'll people watch and play Stacy and Clinton, critiquing the clothing of others (like we have room to talk!)

Now and then, we'll see something really interesting.

Right after our daughter moved in, we went out for a coffee date at Barnes & Noble. I think it was remarkable that I didn't even feel like buying a book that night. I just wanted to get a hot cocoa and sit. He was feeling so crabby that he got a double-chocolate cheesecake slice to go along with his latte. We sat at a little table in the back, near a large group of women and girls who had pulled several tables and chairs together.

The age range was from about 15 to about 70; the hair color ranged from chestnut to silver. All of these women had one thing in common--they were knitting. There weren't necessarily talking about knitting or sharing patterns or any of that. They would simply pull a length of thread from the bag or basket next to them and continue on with a row of stitches, all the while discussing a book they'd read, last night's soccer game, or what happened at church on Sunday. I was taken back to the many hours I'd sat talking to my mom while she worked on a lace doily with starched roses or on an afghan for a friend.

My job was to take the skeins of yarn and unfurl them from the inside, rolling them into a ball. Mom hated to work from the skein. I don't know that anyone works from it, because it can tangle and stop your flow of stitches while you deal with the snarl. We had many conversations over those balls of yarn. She told me about learning to crochet from one of her schoolteachers. She tried to teach me, but I could only manage the single and double crochet stitches, which never amounted to much more than a scarf for Barbie. If I tried to knit, which I did...with circular became one long tube. I could never get to the point at which I changed stitches or thread, or at which I decided what I was making, because I never used a pattern. Meanwhile, Mom would turn out amazing things: snowflake ornaments, bells, baskets, ponchos, scarves, and so on.

My craft was crewel embroidery, and my mother thought I was incredibly patient to be able to do such neat and varied stitches. I simply followed the pattern. Maybe that's what Mom did, too. I had a creative streak, but it was imitative. I could follow the pattern for doll clothes on the sewing machine. I could follow the pattern for a crewel embroidery kit. I could do paint-by-numbers, sight-read sheet music for the piano, and draw sketches of photographs. None of it was original. I wanted to be original.

Seeing the circle of women in the bookstore warmed some part of me that was long forgotten. I suddenly missed my mom terribly. I wanted to ask her to show me again how to do those crochet stitches. I wanted to unfurl a skein of yarn for her, listening to her tell another story about some woman from her past. Like the long chains of double-crochet I would attempt, each woman my mother had encountered had linked to her in some way and reappeared in her mind as she made each tiny stitch. It's so easy to forget how deeply we are connected, and yet we are.

Those young women, learning at the sides of the older ones, had the utmost respect on their faces. They were truly listening, and when they thought they had something to say, they would jump in. They were so different from the ones who get rowdy in the movie theater or who run over every other person in the mall. This knitting circle was a fabulous link to my past, and if I'd thought of it, I would have snapped a picture with my camera phone to post here.

On second thought, no. I wouldn't have wanted to break their reverie by asking to snap a cell phone picture. What they had was too precious and rare. With each stitch, they knitted themselves together as a community and left indelible memories in each other's minds, and mine.

Perhaps I'll see them again. I may sit longer on my coffee date, if so, just listening to their banter and gentle laughter. It will be as soothing to me as my mother's voice.

Peace - D


david mcmahon said...

Love the idea of coffee dates.

Coffee afficionados are not just `sips' that pass in the night.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Oh. Wow. That's such a cool idea. Knit, drink, socialize. I wish I could get a bunch of cross-stitchers together for the same thing. Hell, I don't even know any other cross-stitchers.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

Awww. That is awesome. What a great way to get together. Maybe you should join them? Sounds like you could use the diversion nowadays.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

For CMGD (and you too, Poet) have you seen this site? It is too funny!

Helena said...

Great idea!

Here from David's btw..

I loved your post!

Daryl E said...

Maybe next time you can join them .. there's a yarn store near me that had knitting nights.. I bet they serve coffee .. gotta check.

Good post!

David sent me

aims said...

Anything wool has my attention!

You made me cry - because I miss my mom too! She taught me so many things and just to hear her voice again and answer all those questions would be so wonderful!

Thank you for this post. Thank you so much!

btw - David sent me.

Don Mills Diva said...

What a lovely post and a lovely group - you should start one yourself...

Momma said...

David: Thanks so much for including me in the Post of the Day! And I'm glad you liked the post.

CMGD: If you lived closer, we could fumble through together. I need to get back into doing some kind of craft. It's very relaxing (though the cats try to steal my threads!)

NATUI: I love the link you sent. Now my daughter wants the WTF cross-stitch kit, of course!

Helena: Welcome, and I'm glad you liked the post. Please visit again soon.

Daryl E: Welcome back to the site! I would actually need to learn to knit before I could join a circle. Knowing me, I would simply listen in and maybe grab an audio tape of the whole thing for later use.

aims: Welcome back to the site! So glad you enjoyed the post. Today is the anniversary of my mom's death, so it's been bittersweet to think about these moments with her.

DMD: As I said to Daryl, I would have to learn to knit and to use the patterns. I'm sure I could, and it would be relaxing.

(P.S. - the picture of the knitting circle in the post is not the actual knitting circle I encountered. It is a "reasonable facsimile thereof.")

CrazyCath said...

What a thought provoking post! I feel at the level of unfurling the skeins of yarn with your mum - same with me (and my grandmother). My mother is a fantastic knitter - I could never knit. Even now she will sew things for me as I am totally useless in that area. But I can crochet (squares and circles - nothing fancy!) and mum can't.

It is just great that all these women could be together and enjoy.

On another level, I love your idea of the coffee dates. My husband and I met when I already had children and we cherish those snatched moments when we are just a couple, not a family, much as we love them. We sometimes have impromptu lunch dates...

Thanks for the memories. David sent me btw.

Maggie May said...

I really enjoyed this post & came via David M. I have always enjoyed knitting & your skeins of wool took me back to my youth!

quilly said...

This is a very poignant post. Your descriptions took me back to my own childhood and sitting with my grandmother and chatting while she'd knit. One of my favorite memories is of Gram sitting in her chair with a sunbeam slanting through the window shining on her bent head as she half-dozed -- with her crochet hook working away.

Jeni said...

Your post transported me back in time too as I could see my grandmother, who always had her hands busy in the evening. She was an expert seamstress, did quilts for our house as well as numerous ones for each of her six children and a couple lucky older grandkids got one when they married too. She also did crochet -beautiful doilies and such and we had a tablecloth she had crocheted to until it finally fell apart from age and use about 10-15 years ago. I've been playing with knitting and crochet, some embroidery and sewing too -for the past 35 years or better but I am still a novice at much of it. That doesn't stop me from trying though to improve my ability at those crafts. Great post!