AROUND THE KITCHEN TABLE
By Maureen Weber
Autumn: end-time reminders and wooly consolation
Not everyone needs consolation at this time of year. I envy gardeners who reap the harvest with satisfaction, crafters who look forward to a winter of projects, teachers who can make a fresh start with new faces, anyone who can roll with the seasons and take what comes.
My resistance to fall began when my children entered school and I had to give them over to the wider world. I can remember Janice’s first day in Grade 1. Leigh, not quite three years old at the time, and I walked her to school. The girls had matching hand-knit sweaters in a butter-yellow shade that reminded me of corn on the cob. I put on a brave face as Janice found her desk and hung up her sweater. We left (or fled) and I cried all the way home. As each successive child started school, outward acceptance became easier, but the feeling of being torn in two was mostly the same every fall.
Last year I tried to embrace fall by starting something new — taking up knitting after a 30-year hiatus. Lately there has been a resurgence in the popularity of knitting, with claims that it can relieve stress and depression, that the repetitive motion can bring one to a meditative state which can reduce blood pressure and heart rate, resulting in feelings of calm and well-being. I’ve read that knitting is useful in preventing anxiety attacks, it has been used as a tool to lose weight or quit smoking, knitting has been said to boost confidence and self-esteem and even control chronic pain.
It seemed perfect. I imagined being surrounded by skeins of lush fall colours and feeling serene as I looked forward to the warmth of the sweater I would create. Book I: The Knit Stitch recommended starting with something easier, however, so a scarf it was, albeit a triangular shaped scarf for added challenge.
The one-day beginner class went very well and, having seemingly gotten past the worst of the design, I was certain that by Christmas not only would I have my own new scarf, but scarves for my four children.
At home on cozy dark evenings I would knit. Knit. Knit. Rip. Knit. Rip. Perdy, one of my two cats, would sit on the yarn, catch it with her claws and break it. Undaunted, I would reattach and knit again. The ball of wool I’d chosen was a variegated mix of plum, navy, midnight blue, denim blue, earthen greens and shades of brown — it reminded me of an autumn sky and the land at dusk. After ripping out the scarf six times, the plum colour was beginning to get thin.
(Photo by M. Weber)
Frustrated and annoyed, I abandoned the triangular design and switched to a basic oblong scarf. I sat in front of endless online videos in an attempt to remember how to cast on, feeling my blood pressure rise as the imperious woman with a British accent told me how simple it was. Normally a late-night person, my evenings stretched to midnight marathons ending in weakened resolve and bleary-eyed mornings.
When I finally had a goodly amount knit on a new scarf, I realized I would have to buy a couple of more skeins and make it 10 feet for it to actually be oblong. I’d cast on too many stitches. Conceding defeat, I put the knitting bag into the deepest recesses of my closet, wondering where the research on the miracles of knitting could possibly have been carried out.
It’s fall again. As I write, I’m anticipating the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen, Sept. 17th, the day my mother died 11 years ago. I miss Mom these days, maybe because the start to this season feels more melancholy than usual, the goodbyes after a rich summer more difficult. Three of my four children were born in fall and Mom got me through so many tough transitions. After our first, Janice, was born in October almost 30 years ago, I wasn’t coping well. One cool day Mom arrived at the door with a gift: a beautiful thick hooded wool sweater in marled shades of grey. She knew it wouldn’t make the transition any less difficult, but somehow putting it on sparked the hope that had gone cold inside.
Late one night last week I was listening to the opening monologue of Janice’s weekly radio show, the pop rocket. “It’s time to get into sweater music,” she said, “ . . . warmer, rounder sounds — horn sections, maybe strings, acoustic guitars and organs . . .” Her voice within the dark chamber of my headphones was more than familiar — it sounded like my mother’s voice. Unexpected consolation. Janice spoke of the coming cold and how hard it is to get used to, but how we will, “because it happens every year. In the dead of winter when your nerve endings are numb and you’re all covered up to protect that pilot light that’s still on deep inside.”
It might take an extra sweater, maybe even a scarf (purchased, of course), but my pilot light will not go out.
*In memory of one of the “pilot lights” of my life, my dad, whose birthday would have been today.