“Did you see the sample?” Joan asked, writing the price of the pattern on a carbon copy receipt book. She showed me a beautiful, geranium red hat with delicate cables that she had knitted from the pattern to show the finished product. It was made of thin, fine yarn; cashmere and alpaca, and had the most beautiful pom pom I’d ever seen.
With her encouragement, I slipped the hat over my ears. Joan applauded gleefully, then turned me by the shoulders to face the woman on the sofa who looked up long enough to nod enthusiastically. “Yes,” she said, and went back to her rhythmic knitting.
Joan added the hat to my little pile on the counter. “We’ll knit another sample,” she winked. “That one’s for you.”
Before she slid the bag with my purchases across the counter, Joan mentioned she’d never seen me before. She asked with genuine curiosity where I was from, and what brought me to Brainerd.
I couldn’t stop myself from telling her everything. Beginning with the story of the sweater, I made my way to my dad, visibly emotional. Joan silently indicated the sitting area where her knitting friend was now rhythmically chewing gum. On my way over to the couch, I bumped into the low table, causing coffee to slosh over the rim of a cup. I looked around nervously, apologetic, as Joan ripped a piece of paper towel from a roll that magically appeared, throwing it over the spill.
The knitter patted the seat next to her on the couch. “Sit,” she said with the kindest imaginable authority, barely looking up from her work.
As words poured out of me, the paper towel absorbed the coffee, a milky brown stain spreading across the whiteness. Joan picked up her knitting project from the table, and the two sat listening closely, knitting needles clicking away. The sound was soothing, almost meditative; a percussive appeal that seemed to be summoning help from a higher place.
Joan acknowledged that, sometimes, despite our best intentions, there are complications that restrict our ability to allow loved ones to age in place.
“You’re doing your best,” Joan said, setting down her needles, placing a warm hand on mine. “We all go through some version of this if we’re lucky enough to have parents who live into old age.”
The friend nodded in agreement. “Trust me,” she cracked her gum, glancing up at me over bright turquoise glasses frames. “I made it through, and so will you.”
She was knitting so fast I imagined the yarn being sucked up into the needles like a spaghetti noodle into a cartoon character’s mouth. After a pause, she added, “I just hope if my mind goes kaput, I’ll be so far gone I won’t know the difference.” Creases like cat whiskers sprouted at the corners of her eyes. My guess is that if her mind did go, her ability to knit would remain.
Joan nudged a candy dish across the cluttered tabletop. I reached for a gold-wrapped peanut butter cup, slowly unwrapped it as if to preserve the foil, or perhaps the moment, and sank deeper into the couch. For a while I just sat, watching them knit. I shuddered to think how I almost ordered the yarn online. This kind of support is not available in those little chat popup windows on websites.
Over the course of an hour, I sat in the embrace of Joan and her friend, knitting away. Other people bobbed in and out of the store, including a teacher I’d had some 40 years ago who still remembered me, and I remembered her.
When I reluctantly rose to leave, noting the time on the wall clock, Joan encouraged me to come back anytime I wanted to talk. “Think of is of this as your sanctuary,” she said, and I promised I’d return.
As best laid plans go, I never did make it back.
A week later, I was back home in Montana, though I had not completely committed to the arrival. My bags sat in a corner of my bedroom for a week, as if I would have to leave again on short notice.
When I finally did unpack, I unearthed the red hat with its soft, delicate cables. I dug deeper for the familiar gray sweater, running my hands over the front to detect where I’d made the repairs. Finally, in the right light, I saw it; the silver thread running through the charcoal yarn. I pulled the sweater on over my head, and then the hat. I could hear Joan’s words. “Think of this as your sanctuary.”
It wasn’t the same as sinking into that couch, the click clack of knitting needles assuring me everything would be okay, but the sweater with its glints of silver, and the hat pulled down over my ears felt like a close second.
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