I didn't come to knitting naturally. When I was little, my Grandma Ieronemo crocheted and didn't knit, my other grandma partied at the country club, my mom occasionally crocheted and didn't knit, none of my other relatives or neighbors or friends' moms knit (that I knew of, at least). In college, my roommate Ann's mom knit her a sweater. It was her special sweater. A brown wool turtleneck. I asked to borrow it all the time. My boobs were about four times as big as Ann's. She let me borrow the sweater frequently and must have wanted to punch me in the face every day for stretching it out. I didn't get it.
Ann tried to teach me to knit one New Year's Eve. I was living in Missoula with Andy but I was home visiting my parents for the holidays. Andy had had to stay in Missoula to work. Ann was still living in Chicago then and came over to spend the day with me. I remember that day we had been driving around way out in the western suburbs (in Chicago the suburbs stretch out for hours), looking for something at some specialty store somewhere that we never found. I can't imagine what it was. She had a maroon Toyota Corolla. It was getting late and I was supposed to babysit that night. She was going to come to babysitting with me. Somehow we suddenly got a bee in our bonnets for me to learn how to knit, but we had no supplies. We switched our quest and starting looking for yarn. The stores were starting to close — it was around dinnertime on New Year's Eve — and we were pretty far from home. This was long before the iTouch. We went careening into a Wal-Mart (one of two times I've been in a Wal-Mart) and found some hideous acrylic yarn and big plastic needles. We raced back to River Forest, and the O'Hallorans' house. We played with the kids, then watched Saturday Night Live and my friend Andy Greer was an extra on that episode (it was either him or his twin brother, Mike — I can't remember). It was pretty awesome to see someone I knew on TV. After the O'Hallorans came home, we left and slowly drove back across River Forest to my street, looking at the Christmas lights and the houses. It had started to snow. The houses in River Forest are the prettiest houses you'll ever see in your life, especially in the snow. It was so beautiful there. You aren't allowed to park on the street past a certain time of night, so the streets are all wide and empty. That night was so ink-dark and quiet, everything sparkling and muffled in the snow.
Back at my house, my parents were still having a party. It was about 1:30 in the morning. My sisters weren't home yet. It is so classic that I would be sitting in my room with Ann, learning to knit with a party going on downstairs. We were so close back then. I remember that she told me that when she was a little girl and first learned to knit, she wouldn't stop doing it for anything. No matter what else she did during a day, she only wanted to be knitting, and would stay up long past her bedtime, knitting under the covers. I thought that was such a sweet image, little Ann with little fingers flying. She tried to teach me. I couldn't learn. We eventually fell asleep, and forgot about it the next day.
I went back to Missoula, finished grad school, and got a job in the marketing-and-publications department of a managed-care company. I hated this job with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns. I had two bosses and they despised each other, and made my life truly miserable. The company was remodeling the corporate office and they moved our department (of four) to a crappy satellite building across town, far from all my work friends. The building smelled so bad. The two marketing people were on the road all the time. I sat in my office alone every day with my one boss, who never spoke. To anyone. Andy and I were engaged then. I walked to JoAnn Fabrics on my lunch hour one day and got a pattern for the simple, pretty wedding dress I was going to make for myself. I showed it to my boss. She was nonplussed. I said, "You don't like it?" She said, "I just don't like dresses very much." I wanted to punch her in the face. I went back to my office and listened to wedding music on a compilation CD of wedding music. You were supposed to pick songs for different parts of the ceremony. I had no idea what I was doing, and I was far from home. I signed up for a knitting class. I sort of learned how to knit and purl; I could do it if the teacher was watching, but I got messed up when she walked away. I took the bus to and from work and would try to knit on the bus, and get so confused I wanted to cry. I couldn't do it. Everyone said it was so simple and I was bewildered and lost. The other people in the class had half of their sweaters finished, but I'd had to start over, and I was still on the ribbing. One time I was at the coffee shop and I saw one of my knitting classmates, happily knitting on her circular needles. I knew that she, like me, had never knit before the class, and there she was — laughing with a friend — and already halfway up the body without a care in the world. I couldn't believe she was laughing. When I knit, my brow winched up as if it had just been put through the pleater, and was ready for its smocking. My diastolic blood pressure neared triple digits. I found it completely mind-boggling that anyone actually found knitting "relaxing."
I got married and moved to Portland. I remember looking in the Yellow Pages to try and find a yarn store. Andy and I drove to it (we had no idea where we were going [which seems so hilarious now, since it was about a mile away] ) and it was no longer there. I found another one in the Yellow Pages on the opposite side of town near my new office (this job I adored). I walked there on my lunch hour one day — and it was no longer there. This was in 1997. It must have been just before the knitting boom. In 1999, the year after my accident, the Yarn Garden opened in Portland, just a few blocks from our apartment. I couldn't believe it — right in our very own neighborhood. I went on the first or second day they opened. I asked if I could have a private lesson, and Heather became my teacher. I think she was in her seventies, and I always thought it was so cool that someone who was seventy years old would be named Heather. Heather taught me to knit. She had learned from her stepmother when she was a little girl. Knitting was no big deal to her. It was like talking. She said I could pick any pattern I wanted, and any yarn I wanted, and she would teach me. We sat in the sunny room at the wooden table on my days off. And she taught me. I made a little sweater for my new niece, Arden. I think it was mint green with little candy-tuft colored sprinkles. I remember that my dad saw the sweater — I think I gave it to Arden for her first birthday — and he was actually impressed. He said, "Each one of these loops is an individual stitch?" I said yes. He said, "But you did each one of these loops one by one?" And I said yes. And he said, "Wow." I think it was the only thing I ever did in my entire life that my dad was actually impressed by. He gave very few compliments, but I got one for that sweater, and I still remember thinking, "Huh. I think that was a compliment."
In a strange way, I love knitting more than any of the other crafts I do. Its stitches have been harder won, and are somehow more precious to me. The fact that my dad might have thought it was cool is precious to me. I never do it for "work," the way I do sewing or crochet or embroidery designs; knitting is only for me, and only ever will be. I still don't really understand how it works, from a mechanical perspective. I mean, I sort of do, but if I make a mistake? Oh no. If a stitch falls off the needles or the count gets off somewhere? I cannot rip it out, because I'll never get it back on the needles. Ever. I just fudge right through. Mistakes don't bother me unless they've somehow entirely messed up the pattern, and then I must frog (rip out) the whole thing and ball up the yarn and try something else. I don't know how to "fix" anything. If I get the right gauge it seems like pure luck, and I rejoice with gusto. If I'm getting too many stitches per inch, I start twitching, and then I have to sit and think forever about what that means. Go up a needle size? Go down? Go down. No, wait — go up. Yeah, up. Wait. No. Yes. Right. Is that right? (and this "conversation" with myself takes five minutes, not five seconds, as my brain locks up and tries to budge itself again).
None of that bothers me. Now (because I'm so old and wise) I love it. I love picking the project and the yarn (this can take all day), watching the yarn get wound before I begin. I love that clicking of the wooden needles, and how the rhythm feels fluid and smooth, how the fabric comes off all drapey and beautiful, how it starts to become something from nothing, how that's still a mystery to me, one I don't think I'll ever really solve. I even love how long it takes, how many thousands of stitches you have to do. How many chances you have, over and over, to get it right.