Sunday, June 29, 2008

Echoes of the Past

I've just returned from having lunch with my cousin Norah and her mom. Norah is one of my Canadian cousins, and although she lives in the area I don't get to see her as often as would like. When my family came here from Belfast, everyone except my grandfather went to Canada. My grandfather came to Chicago, and my grandmother brought my mom and uncle soon after to meet him here.

Norah's a little older than I am, and her mom, Lillian, is 96 and was my grandmother's niece. Lillian has the most wonderful stories about her "Aunt Mary" - my Grandma - and how much she loved her, and how she still remembers her. Today she told me that she could see her Aunt Mary in my profile - Lillian has macular degeneration, but she can still see some things quite accurately :-) And really, if you look at all of us together, you can tell we're all related somehow.

I've been looking forward to this lunch for weeks for a number of reasons - Lillian lives in Canada and isn't here all the time - but I had a particular question I wanted to ask her today. She's the only one left who really knew my Grandma.

I've been knitting since I was a little girl. My Grandma taught me, and she died when I was 9 - so I've been knitting for quite awhile (ahem). When I knit, I have always had to brace the right needle on my right leg to keep it stable, and I knit British style, throwing my yarn. I'm actually pretty fast at it, and having that one needle braced on my body makes it all possible.

For decades I was a "straights" knitter. I used straight needles only. I didn't knit with double-points because (A) my mother didn't have the patience to teach me, (B) Grandma was long gone, and (C), once I did learn I kept impaling my leg with them - I did learn to knit with double points, but I don't much care for it, and I didn't use circular needles for a very long time either until I actually learned how to brace them on my left leg.

I figured my trouble with double points and the reason I braced a needle on my leg was that I'm left-handed, and Grandma was right-handed, and that I somehow couldn't replicate whatever she was doing when I learned to knit. I have spent my entire life thinking that that was the reason why I knit with one needle braced on my leg - that somehow I must have had to do that because my left hand couldn't quite match up somehow with what I thought she must have been doing.

Anyway, it's only been in the last month that it occurred to me that maybe the reason I knit that way is because that's how Grandma actually taught me - i.e., that that was how she knit, too. I mean, there are as many styles of knitting as there are stars in the sky - plenty of European knitters brace a needle under their arm, some people knit with yarn around the back of their neck, some can hold up both needles and knit, some pick knit, some throw their yarn - the list could go on.

Today over lunch, Lillian confirmed that yes, she remembered that her Aunt Mary had knit all the time with one of the needles braced on her body or leg. And so a huge chunk of my knitting history just came into clear focus for me. I knit with one needle braced on my leg because that's how my Grandma did it. Forfrickinever I have thought that there was something wrong with it, that I must have done it trying to keep up somehow.

So how kewl is it that I have nothing to be ashamed of? And how proud am I that I carry a piece of my family history in both my hands, knitting in the style of my Irish grandmother? And how lucky am I to hear from Lillian that she sees her Aunt Mary in my face?

Lucky indeed. Very, very lucky :-)


Linda said...

Sounds like a lovely lunch today! So, are you disappointed at all that when you taught me to knit I didn't pick up that unique style?

A :-) said...

No - you have your own style, and that's how it should be :-)

The Knitted Squirrel said...

That's nice to find that there is a bit of history in your knitting style.
From what I can remember about my mother's knitting style, I knit EXACTLY like her and I find a bit of comfort in that as she is no longer with us.

Kris said...

Your very lucky indeed. I love discovering bits of family history.