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Bonzer Words!: Dropped Stitches

A stroll through the Christmas aisles of a fabric store brought back memories of knitted mittens, and two of the most important people in Helen Polaski's life.

Helen writes for Bonzer! magazine. For more good reading visit www.bonzer.org.au

Growing up in a big family has its merits. I learned early on that necessity is in fact the mother of invention. My mother could make a meal out of nothing for me and my 15 siblings. She could whip up four bridesmaids' dresses in one week, cut any style of hairdo for any age kid or adult, and make splints out of popsicle sticks for a baby bunny with a broken leg quicker than I could slurp up a second popsicle.

My mother could do anything.

As a woodsman, my father wasn't around much. Don't get me wrong, he could do a lot of things, too, but he worked from dark to dark, so Mom was the one we went to whenever we needed help or an answer. So, naturally, when I saw the UPS man deliver a box filled with yarn, I went searching for my answer-giver. Mom rummaged through the box and looked at me with that quick grin of hers and said it was for whatever she wanted to use it for. I smiled. I asked if it was for anyone else to use. She said that depended. Anyone else would have to ask first.

Over the years, yarn was used for many things in our house. Baby dolls had colored yarn keeping their blankets from falling off, Christmas presents were tied with multicolored red and green yarn, and yarn made great headbands in times of need. Yarn also worked great as kite string. Heck, everything from cutting Velveeta cheese to playing Cat's Cradle came to pass at our house without a hitch because of yarn.

When I noticed Mom used it to tie the bottom cupboard door handles together in order to keep the baby from getting into something he shouldn't get into, my understanding of yarn grew accordingly. Not only was yarn great as an accessory to a toy or outfit, but it was a preventative, as well.

My older sisters used yarn to keep their boyfriends' rings from falling off their fingers. My younger sisters made jumping ropes out of braided yarn and I made pompoms for everyone's ice skates.

Every year Grandma knitted a wide variety of colored mittens for each of us. There were orange and purple mittens, pink and brown mittens and yellow, green and blue mittens. I vowed to do the same when I grew up. But a life-altering mistake occurred when I was 18 years old that put a damper on knitting.

I was living away from home for the first time and learning to knit mittens for the first time. Grandma had passed on some years ago, and since she was the only person in the world I'd known who knitted mittens, I was at a loss when I dropped a stitch. Naturally, I turned to my mother, the person who could do everything.

"You'll have to ask someone else," Mom answered impatiently. "I don't know how to knit."

I'm sure I stood there for fifteen minutes with my jaw resting on the floor. I bugged her incessantly, I even became quite angry, but the reality was: she really didn't know how to knit! I asked why she'd never learned and she said it was Grandma's job.

I was shocked. My mother couldn't do everything. She really wasn't some kind of super hero. I know it was childish of me, but it left me feeling vulnerable and somehow different. Every time I looked at my knitting needles it was like being hit with a big, huge reality check. My mother wasn't infallible. Silly as it sounds, that scared me.

I put my needles away, never finished the mittens I'd started, and never knitted again.

Years later, I told Mom of my tragic moment and we shared a good laugh. She said she had been too busy making dinner, mending torn trouser knees and cleaning to worry about making mittens—that was why Grandma knitted all the mittens. She said maybe when she got older she'd learn to knit and she'd make mittens for her grandchildren. I said it looked relaxing and Lord but she could use some relaxation time! We had another chuckle. But, Mom didn't get to hang around until she was older. She died from cancer when she was 65 years old.

As I strolled through the Christmas aisles of a local fabric store the other day, I thought about Mom, Grandma and the upcoming holidays. As Christmas Past exploded in my mind I realized how different the holiday seemed now that two of the most important people from my childhood were no longer with us.

It got me thinking about mittens and how Christmas just didn't seem the same anymore. It got me thinking about knitting needles and how good they'd felt in my hands for those few brief weeks when I'd managed to almost finish a pair of bright yellow mittens—dropped stitches and all.

I picked up several multicolored skeins of yarn and dropped them into my shopping cart. My mind whirled. How many mittens could I knit before Christmas?

As I rounded the corner and headed toward an intriguing wall covered with various sizes and types of knitting needles, I couldn't help the smile that tugged at the corners of my mouth. It all suddenly made sense. Perhaps it was time I picked up my dropped stitches and carried on a tradition that should never have ended.


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