Saturday, March 03, 2012

A Tale of Two Sweaters

This post was originally written for Chapelwood's Prayer Shawl Ministry - a group of Men and Women who knit prayer shawls and other items and donate them to people in need.

I have 2 sweaters in my closet that I seldom wear. One was worn in my childhood and no longer fits, and the other was a Christmas present from a few years ago. Though they are just taking up space I don’t intend to get rid of either.

My mother was especially gifted at 2 tasks, growing roses and knitting. When she found time to get away from the daily chores of housework and caring for a family, she could be found in one of two places. In good weather she was in her garden, dressed in her brown work pants and gardening gloves. She would wield her secateurs on her beloved roses, moving round the bushes with her floral patterned padded plastic kneeler with her. Somehow she had lovingly persuaded her different rosebushes to bloom in sequence so that there were roses in flower all throughout the summer months. When she wasn’t gardening she would knit. Much of our family TV. viewing was punctuated by the repetitive click of her needles and the rustling of her knitting pattern. I spent much of my childhood in homemade sweaters to fend off the British winter weather. One of the earliest sweaters I remember was a complex cable knit pattern of plaits and loops all worked in a delicate cream color.

Mother would also take graph paper and work out her own complex sweater patterns. When I was a young teenager there was a fashion for sweaters with music symbols knitted into them. The store bought ones irritated me as the music incorporated into the design was never musically correct. In my mind these sweaters were as wrong as seeing 2+2=5 knitted somewhere. Mom offered to knit me a musicla sweater herself. The front and back of the sweater was knitted as plain music paper. Mom knitted into the sweater the vertical and horizontal beams of the music and then hand embroidered every note into place. The melody started on the front and continued on the back finishing the melodic phrase perfectly. The sleeves and also the ribbing around the neck and base were in a rather lurid green color. The sweater looked great and also contained a musical pun that only those able to read the music would get. What was the melody? Well here in the U.S. it is most familiarly known as the melody of the Christmas Carol ‘What Child Is This?’, but in the U.K. the tune is known by its original name Greensleeves.

I loved wearing that sweater, especially to orchestra rehearsals where various instrumentalists would play the melody and then groan at the joke.
After my mom passed away my brother and I were sorting through the house before it was sold. In a plastic bag at the back of the closet I found the Greensleeves sweater. I do not know why mom chose to keep it when so many of my other hand knitted clothes were passed on or thrown out, but I willingly brought it back to the U.S. with me.

About a year before my mom passed away, I was home visiting while she was working on the finishing touches of a sweater for my young nephew. It was a cream cable knit sweater in the same pattern and style that she had knitted for me decades before. I really have no need for a sweater living in Houston, but the warm memories from seeing that pattern again were so great that I asked her if she could enlarge the pattern and knit an adult sized one for me.

The following Christmas I flew home again because mom had just gotten out of hospital after treatment for ovarian cancer. Her cancer was in remission and Mom chose to not have chemotherapy because of her age. The doctor told us that she would have about 5 to 10 good months before the cancer returned. I spent that trip driving mom around to some of her favorite places in the U.K. We laughed and joked and remembered old times. On Christmas morning she presented me with the cable knit sweater.

This was the last Christmas present I ever received from her. I only wear it once a year. Every time I put it on it feels like getting a large mom hug. Mom passed away 6 months after giving me that sweater. Every Christmas Eve I wear the sweater for a few moments and feel her love for me.

The Greensleeves sweater is a reminder of how I was loved as a child, the cable knit, a reminder of how I am loved now. My mom has passed away, but her love remains.

Knitting is so much more than just the ability to knot wool together into complex shapes. A sweater (or a prayer blanket) can communicate the love of its maker for the recipient and the love of God for us all.


Becca said...

Peter, this was wonderful. I love the relationship with your mother you describe. What special memories you share!

Tricia Sue said...

Thanks Peter. That's a wonderful story. It makes me happy and brings tears to my eyes.

JWebb said...

Thanks for telling your story and your mother's story, Peter. I was moved by your sharing.