KNIT ONE, PURL TWO AND YOU’RE FREE

Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit,
and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either.
Elizabeth Zimmerman

I was a nervous child. I was terrified of the horrible dangers that lurked around every corner. If I talked to strangers because they would abduct me; I must never argue with my mother or she would give me back to the Indians. I couldn’t cross a street without risking my life; if I dared to boil water, the steam would blind me. Touching the pan would cost a finger. Boys with nasty leers jumped out behind bushes at little girls like me, and teachers got angry for no reason at all.
Reality was too much for me to absorb. My nerves were jangled and my nails bitten to the quick. I jumped at an unexpected sound; I screamed when a light flashed; I hid under the couch when someone slammed the door.
My mother was a redhead with an attitude. She was afraid of nothing. Danger actually thrilled her and she met it head on with eyes flashing and acid repartee that quelled the bravest among us.
And it was she who made me quiver and shake at the thought of facing another day with all its pitfalls. It was she who reminded me that I might trip if I ran too fast; I might break that dish I was wiping; or jam the brush into my eye when I brushed my hair. She couldn’t stand the fidgeting, the nail biting, and the twitches. “This kid is driving me crazy,” she told my Aunt Hazel. “She is a nervous wreck.”
My Aunt Hazel was a pragmatist. When she didn’t get enough meat for dinner, she left home. When she couldn’t earn enough money to support herself she married a bootlegger. She was one of the first in that generation to think outside the box. “Teach her to knit,” she told my mother.
“Are you crazy?” said my mother. “She jiggles so much she’ll poke her eyes out with a knitting needled. “
“Well that’s one way to calm her down,” said Aunt Hazel.
So it was that my aunt took me with her to the Stitch In Time Knitting shop filled with yarn in every color and an oval table piled high with pattern books. Several ladies sat around that table drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes (this was 1943) chatting about the war effort and knitting scarves, mittens and caps for our servicemen. Their needles clicked and they smiled and laughed as they worked. As I watched these women moving those needles at the speed of light, I saw to my amazement that they were creating all kinds of garments: sweaters with lace sleeves, block patterns and colors, plaids and stripes and polka dots.
“I want to do that,” I told my aunt.
“I thought you would,” she said. “What would you like to make?”
My aunt took me home that afternoon and told my mother, ”She’s knitting a scarf. That will keep her in line.”
That was back in 1943, but my aunt’s wisdom holds truth even today. In fact, a maximum-security prison in Brazil came to the same conclusion. They have decided that if their inmates knit something for three days, it is worth one day off their sentence. They know what my aunt figured out so many years ago. Knitters don’t have time to get in trouble. They might drop a stitch.