How do you acknowledge 100 years of life? The invitation clearly said “no gifts” but my fingers itched to make something to celebrate my grandmother-in-law’s birthday. I wanted to make something soft, useful, bright and bold because she loves red and purple as all 100 year-olds should.
Nothing in my stash seemed right, so I was off to my local yarn shop. Not only did they have this amazing purple alpaca yarn with bright pink highlights, but they recommended the perfect pattern, Trillian and even had a sample so I could see and hold it: an asymmetrical narrow shawl that could be worn several ways. It would be pretty, soft, elegant and functional. Thank goodness for real world yarn shops.
I had never knit a shawl before or anything this big on size 3 needles, and time and birthdays wait for no knitter. It didn’t take me long to realize this was a more involved project than I had anticipated. The knitting began to take over every moment of my free time and several moments of my not free time. Soccer practices, conference calls, long drives, and parties all became opportunities to knit. My husband drove everywhere so I could knit. I became a public knitter out of desperation. At the end I used my plane trip to Austin to knit for 2 hours non-stop each way.
Deadlines are motivating and two days before the big party I cast off my last stitch and wove in the ends. Blocking opened the lace edge and hid the little snare from my cat’s attempt to drive me absolutely crazy with her disrespect of the knitting. The day of the party I wrapped up the finished object in tissue and set it in the gift bag. 10,570 stitches to celebrate her life. It seemed like a big present. Maybe too big.
Truthfully, I had never knit anything for her before. My in-laws aren’t crafters, so I had not made things for them, because I never knew if they would be appreciated. I set my lone gift bag next to a basket overflowing with cards. Everyone else had followed the rules. I was so nervous that my hand-cramping gift would be frowned upon that I didn’t ask her to open it. After she danced, ate, and celebrated with a room full of friends and family I said, “I made you something” as I told her goodbye. Desperate that my little gift bag not be thrown away or misplaced I also told my father-in-law, and his sister. I was worried that she wouldn’t like it, but terrified that she’s never see it.
When the phone rang the next evening with her number displayed on the caller id my stomach flipped as I answered the phone. “Johanna,” she said in her creaky voice, “I love my shawl. Thank you so much for thinking of me.” She loved it. She loved the color. She said, “I wish it was cold so I could wear it now.” And just like her grandson – my husband – the thank yous were done and we were off the phone in under five minutes. Who knew brevity was an inherited trait?
Tomorrow it’s supposed to dip into the 40s. I hope she wears the shawl. I like to picture her playing bridge, at choir practice, or doing crosswords at home wrapped up in warm softness made by my hands. She is 100 in age, but still lives in her own house, does laundry in her basement, and leads an independent life even after being widowed the day I was born. In the end, my 10,570 stitches are nothing compared to her 36,525 days on this Earth.