In early December, I decided I wanted to knit again. Sure it might be a turn off to men. Sure it's the gateway drug to owning ten cats and becoming a whiskery old hag. It was a risk I was willing to take. Because a few years ago I knitted myself a scarf, a woolen streamer that has garnered me unsolicited praise and ridiculous awe when I say I made it. And nothing quite tops the way it feels flaunting my needle skills.
“PJ, I think you should knock out a few rows before we leave,” my mom suggested as I headed for the door of the yarn shop in Sarasota.
“Here,” the saleswoman offered before taking back my recently purchased knitting paraphernalia and guiding me over to the communal table.
I hesitantly followed, my mom resting her hand on my back to push me in a forward motion. The three of us pulled up chairs on a corner directly opposite a ten year old boy who was needling an afghan. I peered over the edge at his exquisite creation and I started to feel a little more amateur than I wanted.
“Cast on,” the saleswoman ordered as she relinquished the needles.
I began my loops. Wrap, twist, drop. Wrap, twist, drop.
She gasped. She gasped the way I do when I witness a near collision on a bustling highway or when I realize I accidentally sent an incriminating email to a client. Then she snatched the needles out of my hands.
“That is not casting on,” she scolded.
I turned my squinted eyes toward my mom, the woman responsible for teaching me to knit. She shrugged and then looked away feigning interest in a pattern book resting in the middle of the table.
“How big do you want the scarf?” the woman asked as she halted her casting on.
“Fifty-two stitches? Forty-two stitches?”
I curled my lower lip over my bottom teeth and bit down to stop it from quivering. How the heck did I know how many stitches I needed to make a scarf? And more importantly why the fuck did the number of stitches have to end with two? I felt like I'd showed up to play tennis, donning all white and waving a racket, only to learn I was expected to swim. I turned to my mom who, anticipating my puppy dog plea for help, was engrossed in a sweater pattern. One she'd never make and most definitely never wear in public.
“Right, okay. I’m making all decisions for you from here on out,” the woman offered as she finished her complicated version of casting on. “Forty-two stitches. You’ll do this pattern. It’s easy enough to follow and different enough to look good.”
The little boy looked up, his hands still scissoring the needles and swooping the yarn, and I swear I heard him snicker a little in my direction. Fucker. Laugh all you want because you little man, you with your granny knitting needles and nubby skeins of yarn, you are way more fucked than I. I'd rather be an old maid children mock than a sissy boy kids beat up.
“PJ?” my mom interrupted, her head nodding toward the needles extended before me. The saleswoman had completed the first three rows and was suggesting I take over. So I did. Knit one, purl one. Repeat six times and then move marker. Knit four, purl four. Repeat and repeat and repeat until I collide with the second marker. Knit one, purl one. Repeat six times. Then hold up the stub of knitted material to admire my efforts.
As I set out on the fifth row, cautiously confident I knew what I was doing, I lost count. Shit, was it four or six stitches a piece in the middle part? I glanced at the 1/10 of an inch I'd completed and saw nothing more than knotted yarn. It lacked definition and there was no way to tell what stitches belonged where. So I turned to my mom and asked her if she remembered, keeping my voice quiet out of fear of reprimand from the saleswoman.
“Four,” my mom whispered in my direction.
“Fuck. I did six this row. You sure it isn't six?”
“It's four. Just pull it out,” my mom suggested on the sly. “Or leave it in. That's what I used to do. Adds character.”
I'm all about character. So I left it in. I grabbed the skeins of yarn, smirked at the little boy, thanked the saleswoman and shuffled my mom out to the car. Over the next few weeks, I dabbled in knitting my scarf. Because of the pattern, it involved focus and concentration. Which meant I couldn't watch television while knitting. Fine, I couldn't even carry on a conversation. In fact, I know for a fact I stopped breathing on more than one occasion. I'd be sitting on the sofa swooping the yarn and suddenly gasp for air the way I used to back at camp when we'd see who could swim the furthest without surfacing.
I was back in Florida when my two skeins were knitted fully. I binded off and then I walked through the house debuting my creation.
“It's pretty,” my mom fibbed without even trying to make her compliment believable.
“It looks retarded knotted like that. Sorta like a huge bow-tie made of yarn,” Leslie offered with a giggle.
“I hate it,” I confessed as I meandered into the den where my dad was working on the computer.
I didn't say anything. I merely stood on the periphery and waited for him to notice his younger daughter sporting shorts, a t-shirt and a silly looking woolen scarf.
“Where'd you get that?” he asked while nodding in the direction of my neck.
“I made it,” I answered with a sigh.
“Well if you don't want it, I'll take it. Would go perfectly with my beige coat.”
“Really?” I asked with disbelief, certain his compliment was meant only to save me further grief.
“Of course. Just finish it up and leave it at the house in Philly when you get back.”
I wandered out to the lanai where Leslie was playing with the kids and sipping some coffee. I tugged at the knot, removed the scarf and with a silly grin shared my recent chat. To be honest, I'm not sure if my dad truly wants the scarf. He's sometimes a hard read with regard to questioning his genuineness. As in, he always comes across as genuine. But man oh man, I felt like a million bucks knowing someone in this world wanted my scarf, character and all.