Once upon a time I knitted. With emphasis on once.
I was 19. My grandmother knitted up a storm. She always had knitting needles, crochet hooks, or needle and thread in her hands. She hand stitched blouses right up until her death at 99.
So, when I was 19, I decided to knit. To make a scarf for my then boyfriend. This was a brief era when we (whoever “we” were) were trying to get back to the time before household appliances, TV dinners, and other labor-saving devices and products were introduced to make women feel okay about being sent back to housewifery after their “Rosie the Riveter” experience.
My grandmother showed me how to get started, but we never got around to the “casting off” part. I knew how to knit, but not how to stop. So I just stopped. I don’t know when the half-finished (if that) scarf with knitting needles attached disappeared—it just did.
Once upon a time, I almost experienced a tornado.
It was 2009, thirty years after I started my knitting “project.” I was in Iowa City for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. The sirens started wailing on a Sunday evening as I walked to the first meeting for my class. The Mid Westerners strolled casually, while a woman from Seattle and I ran to the door of the first building, only to find it locked.
“The entrance is on the side,” someone said. Seattle woman and I trotted to the side of the building. I don’t know about her, but I was replaying all the disaster movies I had ever seen where those who can’t get in the locked door are doomed to be eaten by the monster, killed by the psycho, or swept away by the tornado.
That didn’t happen. Instead, I spent my first class meeting writing in the belowground floor of the natural sciences building, surrounded by glass-encased images of a giant grasshopper, the torso of an ape, and bird dioramas. An Iowa City resident tracked the oncoming tornado on her smart phone.
For an instant, hot air pressed in with a vise-like grip. A light film of sweat covered me. Then just as suddenly, it released its grip and cool air blew and the light film of sweat cooled me off.
The tornado had touched down a few miles away.
I remembered seeing my Great Aunt Neet’s Blackwell, Oklahoma, house after it got struck by a tornado in 1955. I was five. She was my grandmother’s younger sister. Her husband had grabbed her and their daughter and a mattress, carried them with his will to the bathtub in the inner bathroom and pulled the mattress over them. As the tornado raged above them, my great aunt and her daughter prayed while my great uncle cursed. Apparently that covered all their bases. They survived intact, but I believe their roof ended up miles away.
Knitting was on my mind this past week. Along with the tornado in Oklahoma.
The week before I had gone to Sequim, our new home, to make sure we had an actual home to which our movers could deliver our belongings. On Thursday, I was treated once again to an evening with my friend’s knitting group.
They meet once a week to eat, drink wine, share their lives, and knit. It’s an excuse to get together, so not everyone knits each week. But they do eat, drink wine, and share their lives. Sometimes, they knit at a local restaurant or wine bar. Once they met at the bowling alley. All so they support local establishments. Sometimes, they leave knitted balls to let them know they have been knit-bombed.
For the first time, I understood the mindfulness of knitting. I understood that where I see a ball of yarn (or is it a skein?), those who knit see how it can be transformed—into a blanket, booties, a sweater, or a scarf. That was the missing piece for me—the transformation of yarn into three dimensions.
And underneath the transformation of yarn, was the knitting of relationships. Plans were made to form a work party to tend the yard of a woman who was absent because her husband was in the hospital. Compliments passed around for the homemade soup served by the hostess, the asparagus grown and fresh picked by a retired corporate executive, the rhubarb-blueberry crumble made from fresh-picked rhubarb. And so on.
It’s what I have come to refer to as “womaning up”—embracing what I thought of as things of the home—and transforming them into a three-dimensional world. Creating community. Being free of destructive female competition.
My grandmother never really freed herself from that competition. In part because she excelled at those things of the home. She made sure she did. But, because it was a competition, it left no room for things outside the home—like being concerned for those outside one’s extended family.
So for years, I thought I had to eschew things of the home.
Those teachers in Oklahoma who threw themselves on top of their students to protect them—they womaned up. As did those teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
I said in an earlier post that I think it’s time to woman up. I think that womaning up—fusing things of the home with things outside of the home—holds the promise for our future as a nation, as a world.
Perhaps, in my new home, I will learn how to transform balls (or is it skeins?) of yarn into a scarf.