Recently I met my friend Shaye for coffee and she gave me a gift of earrings made from pieces of aluminum knitting needles. The old-fashioned kind of needles which were long and straight and came in blue, green, red and a golden yellow. The size was marked on a flat disc on the end of the needle and when you knitted next to someone (like on the train) you would continually jab them with the end or they would poke holes through your knitting bag.
I am lucky enough to have all of my grandmother’s knitting needles. She has two large atrocious-looking Sixties-era fabric cases which hold jumbled sets of needles and crochet hooks. I don’t actually use them much because I prefer wooden circular needles, but I treasure having them all the same. They bring back many happy memories of time spent with my grandmother, some of my fondest memories of my early childhood.
My grandmother lived in a big, old, angular Victorian house. She lived in a small city in Central Illinois on the shores of the Fox River. It is a place where time seems to flow along the river’s banks with a smooth and easy current.
In my grandmother’s front hall stood an ornately carved foot-pumped upright organ. It wheezed and groaned and thumped, but made a powerful, wailing noise which filled the house. My grandmother was a musician and throughout my childhood played the organ at the local Methodist Church. At an age when “no” was a common word, I was allowed to play it even though my feel could not fully reach the pedals. The front stairway to the second floor was lit by two large leaded-glass windows. On sunny afternoons their prisms threw rainbow waves across the stairs. In the colorful lights, dust motes danced in the air. The house was suffused with a pleasant musty smell. My grandparents had raised their family, including my mother, in this house and had been in this place for a long time. It smelled safe and warm and impervious to change.
Early each morning my grandmother awoke and padded in her slippers down the stairs to the kitchen. There she sat on an upholstered bench in the eating nook. The sky was still dark, but she was in position quietly smoking a cigarette playing solitaire or, when I visited, knitting. The kitchen was an island of light in the darkened, quiet house. It was our world and ours alone.
My grandmother taught me to knit and, sitting together, hour followed hour as I painstakingly knit row after row of garter stitch on my most recent scarf. We chatted about the worldly concerns shared by a small girl and her grandmother. My grandmother’s fingers were long, the fingers of a pianist and organist, but gnarled and twisted with arthritis. They looked like well-used and very capable hands. With her sure touch, she guided me through the process and patiently picked up dropped stitches and set me right to going again.
Time ticked by very slowly in those hours. My grandmother’s old, black Seth Thomas wall clocks marked each moment’s passing. Now as I sit knitting, I can remember back many, many years ago when I was a small girl. Spending time with my grandmother was very special and our connection through knitting bridged decades of time and generations. I can feel the smooth flow of time as I hold my needles and stitch follows stitch. Each stitch and each row marks the continuity. They flow together, forming the fabric of time.