We extend a warm welcome to new MDK contributor Martha Gershun. Martha is a nonprofit consultant, community volunteer, and writer; she is also a devoted “rectangle knitter.” Her story of spending time with Marjorie’s yarn resonated with us, and we hope it will resonate with you, too.
—Ann and Kay
There is something deeply intimate about knitting with another woman’s yarn. A special bond is created when you work the very material that she chose to work herself. There are revelations: she liked browns and greens; she bought on sale. And there are unanswered questions: what was the plan for the dozen twists of forest green? Was she planning a special gift—or did these yarns just strike her fancy?
And when that woman is dead, intimacy becomes infused with added mystery. For the past nine months I have been knitting with Marjorie’s yarn. Marjorie was my dear friend Rick’s mother, grandmother to his adult son Josh who is also my friend. I only met her once, five years ago at her adult daughter’s funeral. We spoke for a few minutes; knitting did not come up.
But I learned about Marjorie from Rick. She had been a nurse back before women routinely worked outside the home. She was devoted to her husband, packing up and moving their family six times without complaint each time he had an opportunity for career advancement. She was Germanic and Nordic in both ancestry and character, Rick told me. She didn’t hug her children, and she never tucked them in at night. She took care of their needs in a functionally maternal way, and they were left to figure the rest out for themselves. And she was an accomplished knitter.
That last trait, the most important from my point of view, was casually divulged. One day I complimented Rick on a particularly nice sweater—green, soft, cable knit. “My mother made it,” he said. Up until that very moment, I had no idea that his mother knitted, let alone knitted well.
Then this past Christmas I got a surprise—a garbage bag filled with Marjorie’s yarn. She hadn’t been able to knit in years; fibromyalgia had inflamed her hands, making it too painful to hold needles. Josh came across the stash in a closet and asked her if he could share it, and one cold December night he handed the yarn to me.
I accepted that first distribution greedily. Browns and greens and variegated skeins with deep purple strands mixed in. What a treasure!
For weeks Rick had been reporting that Marjorie, now 88, was failing fast. I sent a handwritten note to this woman I had only met once, thanking her for the generous gift and promising to be a good steward of her yarn. In a frantic race against time, I knitted like a madwoman—a scarf of muted browns for Rick, another from those skeins with the purple for Josh. I wanted Marjorie to see something beautiful created from her yarn one more time before she died. I wanted this woman I barely knew to see that her yarn could represent just a little bit of immortality.
I don’t know if that deeper meaning got through, but Rick reported back that his mother liked the scarves a great deal. The urge to rush had been prescient; by April both Marjorie and her 87-year-old husband were dead.
Tackling the monumental task of clearing out his parents’ stuff, Rick discovered two more bags filled with yarn—more than double that first stash. Now the rest of Marjorie’s yarn is mine.
For the past two months I have been knitting squares of brown and green and beige, each worked in a different stitch: the easy mistake-stitch rib that is my go-to, the cable stitch I found in a knitting magazine I also inherited from Marjorie, and a tuck stitch I had never tried before—because I felt it was important to try something new with this old yarn.
This whole time I have been knitting with Marjorie’s yarn I have been thinking about her. What was it like to be a woman of her generation, when pursuing higher education and seeking a career were the exception and not the norm? What does it mean to never hug your children, while devoting night after night making beautiful garments to keep them warm? Was she lonely, packing up and moving, leaving friends and community to follow her husband, year after year after year? Is that why she knit?
When I finish this blanket, I will give it to Rick. He is living in his parents’ home now, and I like to think of this blanket living there, too—his mother’s gift to his best friend given back to him. I like to think Marjorie and I will both be keeping him warm.
Like all of us, Marjorie expected to live long enough to use every skein herself. I have been honored and blessed to share the textures and colors and weights that called to this fellow knitter, and to work her memory into the pieces I made for my friends, her son and grandson. I hope, when my time comes, someone will do the same for me.