Knitter’s Notebook: Warm Hats and Good Friends
I have written about Genie and Ed McCliment before—long ago for a knitting newsletter, and later, in my book, A Knitter’s Home Companion. This is my farewell piece to them.
They were good friends and good neighbors. Genie died almost a decade ago, in 2011, and Ed, just recently, on June 1, 2020. During the years we knew them, we shared meals, stories, a bat mitzvah, three graduations, and in Genie’s case, her recipe for killer deviled eggs.
They were newly retired when we met them, and I suppose the shape of their leisurely days was still evolving. I am not sure how Genie spent her mornings, likely reading in her favorite chair by the fireplace. She loved novels, poems, and a roaring fire.
I do know what Ed did. For years on end, every morning, no matter what the weather dished us, he would walk with Sophie, their yellow lab. Their destination never varied—Dan’s Short Stop. Ed and Sophie were creatures of habit.
At Dan’s, Sophie got a treat. Ed did, too—a cup of coffee and the New York Times. Often on my morning walk, I would see Ed making his way home, coffee cup in one hand, New York Times in the other. I have no idea how he managed Sophie’s leash. We would stop and chat about our families, politics, watercolors, and once, Iowa football. Genie and Ed were Hawkeye fans and held season tickets.
One fiercely bitter day, Ed asked if I might make him a hat to keep his ears warm on his walks. At the time, I was a world-class winterizer. Before moving back to Iowa City, we lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the winters there taught me a great deal about knitting robust warmth.
Overnight, I whipped up a simple bulky watch cap. It was a success, although sometimes Ed didn’t wear it in the way I had intended, with thick cuff rolled down for doubled warmth.
Through the years, I would knit him other hats, including one in the Hawkeyes’ team colors, gold and black, but none as warm as the first. I also knit a more dapper, lighter hat for Genie. After she died, Ed gave me her yarn and a monogrammed case that held her knitting needles. Tucked inside a pocket of the case, I found patterns I had written and given to her, including the one for Ed’s Hat.
“They are together now.”
That was the text I received from Ed’s next-door neighbor, Ken, who played Big Ten basketball for Iowa in the late 1960s. The day before Ken had let me know that Ed was losing the Covid battle.
“What do you mean, ‘they are together now’?” I wrote back. Knowing full well what he meant.
“5pm,” Ken replied.
The time was an odd comfort and I was grateful Ken took care to include it. The time gave me a place to stop the news and the constant worries, and instead reflect on our friend and neighbor. I thought about the first hat I made Ed and how knitting can solve everyday problems, like cold ears.
Knitting can bring forth wonders: dishrags that do the job in beauty and style, socks that cradle even the smallest of feet in woolly comfort, and shawls that drape shoulders with an airy elegance. And yet, on some days of our great unease, I can’t help but wish my knitting was more. A superpower, maybe. A truth, though, is a very good thing hold onto in hard times, and this I know to be true: a warm hat is always welcomed on winter’s day.
Illustrations by Michelle Edwards
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