Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Over My Head: My Mother, Knitting

My mother has been sitting in chairs on the porch, in the kitchen, knitting. It is August and we are in a beach house and she is knitting--thick, cable-knit, gradually narrowing and cinching. It is bright red, almost unnaturally red, something out of a children's book, the one that is all sepia tones and this single red thing. It is history and symbol and other things bigger than itself, the pattering scrape of wooden needles singing a song over and through it.

She has not said the words, but I knew before I saw its shape that it was a hat. I knew before she tossed it across the table, halfway-done, to check the sizing, that it was for me. It is soft and the yarn is thick and she says it's acrylic so it won't bleed or shrink.

What hangs like humidity over our heads is what this hat is for. Winter holds no real mysteries for us, and Alaskan-born and Maine-living, the snows and winds don't frighten me anymore. But I am not acrylic. A different season, less defined and not to be easily outsmarted, hangs before us. Now, it is still summer, and this perfect place meant for vacating our troubles has tried to protect us as it has before, but real life is not escaped so easily as it was when I was a child. I still let out the usual sigh as we crossed the Cape Cod Canal, but some burdens refuse to be left at the bridge. Summer soon fades, and there will be pills and infusions, poisons meant to save me, plots of myths and fairy tales twisted in on themselves. And in an effort not to lose my life, I will bleed and shrink, and I will lose my hair.

And here in this vacation place of history and rest, in this small way my mother does what she can to save me in all this unknown. This is no knit hat but a helmet straight from those myths and stories I love, surged and bound in the burning forge-heart of a woman whose child is out past her in the storm. It is prayer and love, each ring of knits and purls its own hedge of protection rounded in soft bright red.

I am sweating from the heat of the kitchen when she puts it in my hand, complete, a blessing in cabled cord. But it is too hot, and I hold it and press it to the table, at first unable to contemplate more layers but also in acknowledgment that this season isn't here yet. In months, maybe weeks, my head will be shiny and smooth and vulnerable, and I will slide this unnaturally vibrant guard over my ears and let it hold me together. It will cover scars and evidences, and will force the cold and pain and weakness that waits for me to stand off just a little more because This Is a Woman Whose Mother Loves Her, and she will not be easily taken. 

"God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble.
Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles
and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its turmoil. Selah...
'Stop your fighting—and know that I am God,
exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.'
Yahweh of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah."
Psalm 46:1-3, 10-11


  1. Wow. I'm blessed to be in a family with both You and the Woman Who Loves You. You both inspire me, and this is the most wonderful, meaningful, tight piece of writing on an amazingly profound, messy, uncertainty-laden topic.
    Also, I think this essay is calling your name: http://www.realsimple.com/magazine-more/inside-website/contests-sweepstakes/life-lessons-essay-contest-rules
    (it's due sept. 4 so there is still time!!!)
    love you!
    when you wrote
    " It is bright red, almost unnaturally red, something out of a children's book, the one that is all sepia tones and this single red thing. "
    Immediately thought of Ezra Jack Keats' book "The Snowy Day" :)

    1. Thanks so much, sweet sister! And I will definitely check out that little contest.
      And The Snowy Day is EXACTLY the book I was thinking of. A+. :)