Well, maybe earlier than the green yarn. My grandma taught me to knit and crochet on January 1, 2004. She told me that she had so much yarn left over from her years of both that I was welcome to all her scraps in the attic – leftovers too small to make anything major out of, but impossible to throw away. Over the years I made a significant dent in her yarn stash – baby blankets for charity, hats and scarves, an ill advised multicolored coat, you know. It must have been fall of 2006 when we were up in the room where she keeps her yarn that I turned up a partial skein of that green yarn.
“Ardis [her sister] and I knitted matching dresses out of that sometime just after I got married.” I asked if she still had it – yes, it was kept in the cedar chest that also happened to be in her yarn room. I helped her get all the piles of blankets and boxes off of the chest so we could open it, and after a moment of digging she pulled out this… ugly dress. I mean, I like sweater dresses, I think they can be fantastic if done right, and I thought I generally liked 1950s fashion. It’s sleeveless, about knee length, with an elastic waist and this huge collar.
Made of acrylic, it will survive the apocalypse. And still no one will want to wear it.
Anyway, the point of this story isn’t the dress – if anything, the dress is something I’m not at all nostalgic about. The cedar chest and the other things in it – those are much more interesting to me. Apparently, when my grandparents got engaged in the 40s, it was expected that the man would buy his future wife a cedar chest as an engagement gift. She could start filling it with linens and bedding in anticipation of managing her own household once they got married. The cedar acted like mothballs,but it’s a much more pleasant scent. That chest had moved around the country with my grandparents as my grampa took jobs in California, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan.
Grandma starting pulling other things out of it, including a heavy crocheted bedspread done in cotton thread. “Aunt Ida* made this as a wedding present.” “Did you ever use it?” “Oh no, it’s much too heavy.” At that point, I really wasn’t that good at crocheting, and even now the prospect of making an entire bedspread with a tiny hook and thread is terrifying. My grandma picked up two balls of the same cream colored thread as the bedspread – “These were left over. I’ll never use them. You can have them if you like.” The cotton smelled strongly of cedar for months afterward.
There’s a lot my grandmother and I don’t understand about each other and there’s a lot of distance between our ways of living. Things like the cedar chest fascinate me – its place in the prescribed set of activities associated with getting married that were expected 60 years ago. And then further back, a woman like my grandmother’s aunt Ida, born in the late 1890s or early 1900s, who must have spent months making tiny motifs out of this thread and then stitching them together. I just don’t have that patience. I tried – you can see the necklace I made out of a small bit of this yarn, soon after it was given to me. It’s not particular good crocheting, compounded by the fact that I’d only worked with worsted weight yarn before this.
I wore the necklace at Christmas one year and told my mom about the thread’s provenance – this really excited her, and she wanted me to show grandma. Grandma wasn’t all that excited. She gave me better advice about how to get it to lie flat (which I still haven’t gotten around to doing, as you can see) and that was it. To her, she gave me some old leftover thread. To me, she gave me a connection to women who lived with expectations very remote from my own.
I’m her only granddaughter and I didn’t even really see her much growing up. This is something I admire her for: she taught my boy cousins to do needlepoint and do some basic knitting, not just me. And I’m the only one it really stuck with. Even her daughters – my aunt can knit blankets, and has recently advanced to baby sweaters. My mom can knit the plainest stitch in a straight line. So Grandma and now I connect through crocheting – when we chat, she asks me what I’m working on. Sometimes I get patterns in the mail from her. This past spring, we made a lap blanket together.
What am I going to do with this thread? There’s not a lot of it. Unlike my grandmother, I don’t have a china cabinet full of wedding china with a doily hanging form each shelf. I might make lace edging out of it eventually, but it would have to be for something pretty special – both because this is important to me, and because making anything that small is a serious time commitment. But just having it right now is enough – this thread – and that lime green yarn.
*I’m pretty sure this wasn’t her name and I’m getting her confused with another of my grandmother’s aunts, but I really can’t remember what else it might be.