Well, it’s been two years now. I guess on the bright side, when I woke up, it wasn’t the morning of the first snow. Maybe that’s not the bright side, because the first snow will probably make me cry just like this anniversary of your death does.
You taught me to swim there, and you know there’s nobody for generations in your family who doesn’t know exactly where this photo was taken. There are so many things I meant to ask you about that place. I thought there’d be more time. Why couldn’t there have been more time? Lots of people get more time with their moms. Yeah, I know, there are also people who don’t get as much. None of that is the point, though. It’s like when Ed was dying, and he said it wasn’t as tragic as if it was happening to a young mom with little kids, and I told him he was wrong, because whoever that person might be, and however sad that story might be, it wasn’t about my father. I don’t think he’d thought about it that way. But you had. He saw what I meant, but you already knew.
I want to have a tantrum, like a toddler, like a teenager. It’s not fair. I hate you being dead. Nothing I can say about it is really any more than that. I can say it lots of ways, with lots of words, but they all just mean the same thing.
I hate that you’re all gone. It’s all too soon. It’s all too sad. It’s all too hard. It makes me cry. I hate crying. You know that. Everybody knows that. So let’s just have a song instead and we can pretend it’s the song we’re crying about.
I know there are so many tragedies so much vaster, and that I am no orphaned baby daughter, but rather, a full-grown woman who oughta be bringing in the crops before they are left standing, rotted, in November. But man, that sure is a wide, muddy river, and if you were still here, we could talk for hours about rivers of tears in cross-cultural symbolism.
I miss you, Chris. Thank you for my life. For everything.
Have you been waiting to start learning to spin until you decide what kind of tool or equipment you want? Wait no longer! Now you can make yarn using just a pencil!
Or, you know, any kind of stick, really. Plus, it’s not really “now you can,” because people have been making yarn for at least 34,000 years, so it isn’t really news. I just thought that line sounded cute.
I’ve been seeing a thing going around lately that says: Happy Mother’s Day, including to dads who are playing the role. I get that the intent for folks who are sharing that is to be inclusive to all parents in a primary child-raising role, and I love that sentiment, but I have to say: this makes me sad for lots of reasons. The biggest is: so now we’re telling fathers that the only way they can interact parentally with their children is by “playing the role” of mother? That if they are nurturing or caring or take care of the household, now they’re mothers? By the way, what does this make mothers who work outside the home? I could go on and on, but frankly, it still shocks me how far we seem to have regressed in terms of perceived gender role stuff, just in my lifetime.
I’d like to give a shout out to my own mother. She never really went in for Mother’s Day. The year when I was 8, I decided I would make her breakfast in bed, and made sure I was up before either of my parents to do it myself. I was off to a pretty decent start, standing on a chair so I could easily reach the electric frying pan on the counter. Except… there I was cooking bacon when I must have bumped it or something because one of its feet was off the counter and it started to tip and fall. I caught it, and put it firmly back on the counter… then screamed, because in so doing, I burnt the heck out of my hand. My parents came running and ruined everything. They RUINED it! I was making Mother’s Day breakfast because I was going to do it, me, by myself, and then I make one little mistake and yell and they wouldn’t even let me finish. It was actually quite the little scene. And after that my mom always tried to make clear she didn’t wanna do anything for some Hallmark Holiday anyway.
My mom felt guilty. I could, I swear, *feel* it. At the time I thought that was stupid. But after I became a mom, I understood new things, viscerally. Like that she didn’t feel guilty that I burned my hand trying to cook bacon for her, she felt accountable and responsible for everything that ever happened to me or that I ever did. And then she spent the rest of her life dancing with that: stepping in, stepping out, turning her back, going around the outside, laughing and smiling more than anything else, until I finally broke free and ran off to be my own woman without her there to run cold water on my hand if I burned myself. And that morning, she could see that coming, and know she could never have stopped me from ever getting burnt, and all those things you think when your kid is hurt. And then there she was, feeling all of that, and I’m arguing with her that she should stop trying to run my hand under the cold water so I could finish breakfast, and she’s staying calm forcibly holding my blistered hand under cold running water and my dad says “Enough about the bacon! It’s fine.” I didn’t understand my mom as much before I was one. I couldn’t empathize with her. I didn’t get it. And I’m sorry. But I know she knew: I truly couldn’t have understood then.
After I became a mother, I would call my mother every year on this day, and apologize for something, like right now, when I’m apologizing for ever having thought, in my childhood and my teens, that she just wanted to control my life and ruin everything. I know she didn’t. She did the most amazing job ever of helping her daughter grow into the woman I am. I am ever in awe. There’s no sufficient gratitude.
There’s also no replacement, and sometimes, no solace for that.
I miss you, Chris. And thank you for all the times you said things to me just like what I said in the first paragraph. Thanks for always making me think. Thanks for encouraging me to just say things. Thanks for teaching me to argue, even if you might have wished I did it less. And thanks for teaching me my life didn’t have to be ruled by anyone else’s notions of what girls or boys, mothers or fathers, men or women, are supposed to do. The least I can do for you (on a day you never set much stock in) is to keep putting those questions out into the world.
40 years ago today, I was over at our great-grandmother’s house, and she had a few friends over sitting on the couch. I got to watch TV, and Planet of the Apes was on. You always hated when I told you that was something I remembered so vividly about the day, so, you know, as a big sister, I gotta make sure I don’t miss it in this letter.
The phone call came in the early afternoon; the little brother I’d been anticipating was a little girl who weighed 5 and a half pounds. “I wonder what her name is?” everyone started wondering, because clearly it wouldn’t be Little Raoul, which is what you’d been called when you were a bump in my mother’s belly. Everyone sitting around thought Grace sounded like the perfect name.
Ed came and got me, and told everyone your name was Molly Anne, and then he and I went to the hospital to see you. We had chocolate chip banana bread that Barbara had baked, wrapped in tinfoil, and when we got to the hospital, our mother came out and sat with us, but not you. “I don’t have a knife,” my father said, unwrapping the tinfoil package. He broke off pieces of chocolate chip banana bread for everyone. Mine was from the end, which I liked, but it was also shaped like a broken foot, which I didn’t like. I was about to bring this up when my mother said, “Here she comes!” and helped me stand on a chair to look through the window behind us.
A lady dressed in white wheeled up a cart to the window, and smiled. And that was the first time I saw you. You were tiny, and red, with fuzzy red hair, and you were crying. I felt bad about being upset about my weirdly-shaped banana bread. I thought maybe you would like a piece and might not cry anymore if you had some, but you were on the other side of a window, and even then, inside a cart. “She’s very small,” our mother said, “so she has to be in the incubator for a while.”
I was so proud of my new baby sister. It made me mad that you couldn’t come home and play right away. I just wanted you and me to get on with the lives I’d daydreamed for us as your much wiser, more mature, and more experienced sister (that’s right, I was three years old, and I knew STUFF).
Having a little sister was never like I expected it to be. Being a big sister wasn’t either. And you upstaged me at every turn. You were cuter, more charming, had better people skills. I’d make a friend who’d come over to visit me, and then they’d spend the whole visit playing with you and I’d have to give up and go read a book. I didn’t know, until later, that you always thought much the same, and struggled with things like that English teacher wondering why you didn’t want to read Kafka in seventh grade like your big sister. You always looked good in dresses, and in pictures, and I never did. But you always thought everyone could see how many times your nose had been broken and envied me for not being accident-prone.
I wish we knew where you were, today, when you should be having a party for your fortieth birthday. Forty years is no shit. I’m your big sister, so I know, because I got there first. Or, well, I guess maybe “at all.” It’s been more than 2 years since you disappeared, and with everything that went down, maybe I should be trying to just use phrases like “my sister was” more often. But it’s hard, because… somehow I can’t help thinking it’s all a mistake and I can’t possibly not have a baby sister anymore. Deep down I know you’re gone, because you would have moved heaven and earth to be here with the rest of us these past 2 years. But I can’t close the door on the idea that maybe, just maybe… well, I don’t know what to hope, sometimes, you know? I don’t hope you’re trapped in someone’s basement dungeon, but I also don’t hope you’re dead and never to be found, so maybe the basement dungeon would be better. Maybe I should hope you have amnesia and are having a wonderful time somewhere. But that sounds weird too. I guess I hope you’re at peace, and I wish you were here, and I wish I thought we’ll ever find out.
I miss you. I’m thinking of you a lot lately. Sometimes it sucks being the last one left here. Heck, mostly it does. I know I used to bitch constantly about how I just wanted you to go away and leave me alone, but I never meant it like this. I just wish so much that I could call you up and say happy birthday. I wish you were still around to piss me off, because that’s definitely a little sister’s job and I kinda got used to it after all.
Lots of us miss you.
Be well, whereever and however you may be. You are not forgotten. Especially not on your birthday.
Hi! I’m a double treadle 24″ Jensen “Space Saver” tall castle wheel with finials (sometimes called half-spokes). I was lovingly made by Jerry Jensen in 2001, from cherry wood with a walnut stain. I’m signed and numbered — JMJ No 5, 10/24/2001.
24″ drive wheel Space Saver,24″ x 16″ x 52″, orifice 25″ from floor, double drive and scotch tension, double treadle, ratios 9:1, 10:1, 11:1, 12:1, 14:1. I come with 2 bobbins, and can run double drive, Scotch tension, or Irish tension.
If you were looking for me new, I’d run $1750 and the wait would be 6-12 months from the date of order.
I have spent my life living with, and being maintained by, professional spinning teachers!
I can be yours for $1400 plus actual shipping via UPS (or you can pick me up in Lebanon, Ohio). Interested? Just email email@example.com.
Thinking about buying a used spinning wheel? Doing so can be a great way to save money, but alas, it isn’t always easy to find a used wheel in good condition. If the seller is a spinner, then your odds are pretty good, but sadly, people who don’t spin can’t necessarily even tell if something actually is a spinning wheel or not. So, if you’re looking for your first wheel, my usual recommendation is to not buy a used wheel from someone who isn’t a spinner.
Okay… but what if you really, really want to? That’s where today’s video comes into play. I’ll show you my family’s old great wheel, an antique flax wheel with some issues that aren’t dealbreakers, and a modern wheel in good condition.
It’s coming around again, as it has probably for time immemorial — the thing where someone who doesn’t knit discovers that there are people who do knit, and some of them are apparently under the age of 90, and then the next thing we know, someone is writing articles or spouting this line on TV or social media or something:
“This is not your grandmother’s knitting.”
Every time someone says this, picture the knitters of the developed world all crying out in unison as they slam their heads into their keyboards, tablets, smartphones, countertops covered in a newspaper, airplane tray tables beneath a magazine… you get the picture. Seriously. Just imagine us all casting our eyes upwards and beseeching the heavens for some sort of answer as to why THIS of all things is the line we’re saddled with hearing from the news media and our non-yarnish friends.
So I just thought I’d take a moment to say this:
Actually, this IS my grandmother’s knitting.
And these are some of her knitting needles. My uncle was kind enough to give them to me right away when my grandmother passed on last year.
My grandmother Rachel was a painter, potter, weaver, spinner, dyer, knitter, crocheter, sewer, embroiderer, cook, and countless other things. I cannot remember a time before she put yarn and yarn activities in my hands, and there was never a time growing up when I didn’t have plenty of clothes she made for me, in lots of ways. I have many of them to this day, and certainly, lots of household textiles that she made.
My grandmother was also a woman who spent most of her elder years living in Montana, part of the time fairly rurally. Letters from her often started with lines like “Today I saw a mountain lion and her cub out the kitchen window…” or “While I was gathering clay from the banks of the stream out in back of the house…” or “I had a few weaver friends over today, and we’ll spending next weekend at the mall demonstrating spinning and weaving! I hope we get to teach lots of new people!”
Right now, I’m also looking at what my mother told me had been my grandmother’s “summer house loom” — the small loom she kept for weaving with when spending summers on a remote island in the Great Lakes. She gave the loom to her new son-in-law, my father, in 1970, when he became interested in learning to weave. I should probably note the “small loom” is a floor loom with a 36″ weaving width.
Oh and by the way… the folded up pieces of paper in that photo? Among them are receipts for the interchangeable needle set and add-on parts ordered, and for $70 of yarn in 1983, with a note in her handwriting that says “Family heirloom.”
So yeah. I’m pretty sure that what I do today IS my grandma’s knitting. In lots of ways, in fact. And of course, it’s also my mother’s knitting.
Lots of things may not be obvious in this photo of my mother holding a 16th century icon, but the only stuff I really want to point out is that my mother sewed that dress (and had me practice embroidery on part of it), and she spun the yarn for the cabled sweater draped around her neck, which of course she knit. So yeah, it looks like this is also my mother’s knitting.
And actually, it’s my father’s knitting, too. It’s too sad for me to take a picture, but I have a small bag that I sometimes open and look at, and think about the contents. It was the bag in which he carried around his last knitting project, which he didn’t finish. They were gloves he was making for me when he succumbed to the cancer that killed him — colorwork gloves with a reinterpretation of one of my favourite Chinchero weaving patterns.
You know what else? It’s lots of people’s knitting all over the world. They look all kinds of ways and might be anybody. Like these gentlemen knitting while watching a presentation at the 2010 Tinkuy de Tejedores in Urubamba, Peru:
It’s also my great-grandmother’s knitting, by the way, as I was reminded when that same uncle passed on to me a pair of socks that were knit for him by my great-grandmother in the 1960s. And you know, that brings me to the next major point of peevishness about this whole “not your grandma’s knitting” shtick:
WHAT THE HECK IS THE MATTER WITH YOUR GRANDMA ANYWAY?
Seriously, I know a lot of grandmas, and lots of ’em are really quite cool. Some of my best friends are grandmas. And just yesterday I was thinking about my great-grandmother, who died while my mother was pregnant with me. I never met her, but I grew up on stories about her, and the ever-diminishing number of my relatives who did know her never seem to run out of those stories.
College educated, the eldest of 9 kids, a cigar-smoking, bloomer-wearing Suffragist, my great-grandmother is among the reasons I can do stuff today like “vote” and “own property and even a business in my own name,” things that she did AT THE SAME TIME AS SHE WAS KNITTING. Heck, you know what? My grandmother told me she remembered her mother taking her to see Red Sox games when she was a teenager… and both of them knitting on the T. That sure sounds like the knitting scene I know today.
So yeah. Not my grandma’s knitting? All I’ve got to say is, dude, you obviously know neither my grandma, nor her knitting. In fact, I’m willing to bet you don’t know anyone’s knitting, and the number one indicator that’s the case? It was when you said “this isn’t your grandma’s knitting.”
Next up, perhaps: I’m going to teach a yoga teacher to knit, so we can conclusively speak to the question of whether or not it’s “the new yoga.”