Across the Universe

This essay aired on NPR affiliate WVPE-FM in March 2009.

One day, six or seven, maybe even eight years ago, three large, yarn-filled cardboard boxes arrived at my front door, sent to me by my beloved mother-in-law in Oregon.  When I called her to thank her, she told me that she did not want to die and have people find all that yarn in her house and think she was crazy.  I informed her that everyone already knew that she was crazy, but loved her all the more for it.

There were many beautiful and expensive yarns in the box, some in skeins, some in partially knit projects long ago abandoned.  This collection doubled my already respectable stash and seemed to me an embarrassment of riches.  Many of the colors were not to my taste: where I prefer rich tones, my mother-in-law preferred pastels.  She also had a weakness for mohair, a yarn that drives me berserk.

Last week I finally found a pattern for a pair of fingerless gloves I wanted to make for myself: simple in design with an eyelet pattern at the end giving it a sweet, interesting touch.   The only problem was that the pattern called for a yarn in a size (weight, in knitting terms) that I have not worked in.  I just was not up to doing the math to figure how to use the yarns I had on hand, when I thought that I should dive into my stash to see if there was anything in there I could use.

I will confess to you, dear listener, the vast extent of my stash: I have two cedar chests, a basket in my living room, and six tote bags full, as well as a new collection that I will tell you about shortly.  I used to think of myself as a fiber slut, but I realized when I absolutely had to turn my car around and go back to the yarn shop in Valparaiso that I had just spent three hours in so that I could buy the Mistletoe-colored sock yarn for my youngest child, that I was instead a color slut.  When I confessed this epiphany to the talented and prolific knitter who was ringing me up again, she looked at me knowingly, almost painfully, and said, “I know.  It’s almost as if they are calling you.”

No one else in my house knits, but they all exclaim with delight when they see the cedar chests full of yarn thrown open like treasure chests full of sparkling jewels.  I adore my family for responding that way.

Sure enough, in one of the cedar chests there was a bag of DK yarn from my mother-in-law, an abandoned pair of matching children’s sweaters.  She must have put it down for too long, forgetting how quickly very small children grow, and when she picked it up again, there was barely enough yarn for a sweater for one child.  Much to my delight, I found in that bag a few balls of a deep, reddish purple of which I am particularly fond, and a couple of balls of a deep dusty-purply- rosy pink that provided a gorgeous complimentary contrasting color.

My dear, dear friend April was over for a visit that day, and I began the project as we chatted away an early afternoon.  After she left, I looked at the couple of inches I had completed and thought, “I can make something prettier.”  I pulled out my Vogue Knitting where I found an intriguing stitch pattern for the body of the glove, tracked down a pattern for the gusset from an Interweave Knits magazine, used the original pattern’s eyelet ending, and bound it off with technique from my Vogue Knitting that I had never used before.  I felt such a sense of pleasure and accomplishment as my eyes danced up the deep reddish-purple crossed-diagonal rib to the dusty-purply-rosy pink eyelet finale with the spot-on perfect bind off.

I visited my mother-in-law for the last time exactly a year ago this week.  Her always plump, tireless body was now delicate and frail, rapidly losing the battle to cancer.  A lifelong sufferer of ADHD, she lamented to me in private how torturous it was for her to have to sit in a chair day in and day out in the house her parents built over eighty years ago on the farm whose daily chores had given her ADHD an outlet.   The third round of chemotherapy had adversely affected her brain and she asked me to teach her to knit again so that she would have a pleasing activity to help pass the time.  She was barely able to grasp the needles and was completely unable to grasp the motion of pulling one loop through another to create a knitted fabric.

To see this woman who so delighted in yarn and knitting, who taught herself how to knit while struggling through the lessons of AA some 30 years ago,  unable to tap into the pleasure and solace that the colors and rhythms of knitting gave her, absolutely broke my heart .  She was stoical about her inability to reclaim her beloved craft and gave me her collection of needles to take home with me.

A few weeks ago, two immense, yarn-filled cardboard boxes arrived on my doorstep, sent to me by my beloved brother-in-law a few weeks after the funeral.  My mother-in-law had died with a house full of yarn, this time increasing my stash by at least 25%.  But this time when I opened the boxes, the colors and textures of the yarns danced from Lois to me across the universe as I laid them out in my living room.  I don’t know where she is now, but with these needles and this vast quantity of yarn, she remains in my hands and in my heart, lifting my spirits and soothing my soul.

2 Responses to “Across the Universe”

  1. Jennifer Delanty Says:

    Beautiful. What a marvelous tribute to your mother-in-law; I was also blessed with a fantastic mother-in-law, whose beautiful soul is now singing with the angels. I am sharing this essay with a friend who is a knitting fanatic. Thank you, Elizabeth!

  2. Elizabeth Van Jacob Says:

    Thanks so much, Jennifer. I am especially missing Lois these days.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: