Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Knit, Purl, Knit, Purl

I remember very well learning to knit as a child.  I hated it!  My mother, who was a fantastic knitter taught me to knit when I was about 8, and many an evening I would sit with needles in hand, bawling my face off because I just couldn't do it.  Then I joined a girls' group called Explorers, it was the younger girls group prior to CGIT in the United Church. 
As luck would have it ( or not) my mother was one of the leaders of this group.  To earn one of the badges we had to learn to knit... I thought she had rigged it just to get even with me, but in later years when I too became a leader - there it was in the group manual!
Anyway, I along with all the other girls in my group stuck with it, each learning to knit squares (corner to corner).  You can't imagine how quickly one learns, when her little friends are actually doing better than her! By the end of the year we had knit enough squares for 4 blankets which were donated to a local woman's shelter... 
Mom knit the "Continental" way - and I did learn to master knit and purl, but because it was not something I really wanted to do, I shut my brain and hands down there.
Years later, after Mom was gone, I got the urge to knit a sweater.  I found a simple pattern and made my first garment.  Then I did another, and another, and pretty soon I discovered that the grown me really enjoyed to knit.
I have kicked myself many times for not being a better student, because there are so many knitting stitches that I have had to teach myself, that would no doubt have been much easier to learn with a visual from my Mom.  
Who knew the www. would come along some day, with a handy thing called YouTube -  where one could learn just about anything... and to my delight... Continental-style knitting! Knitting has never been as much fun as it is now...

Emilie is getting ready to teach knitting to the children... all of them, and it really was not unusual for males to knit back then.  Several of my uncles were knitters, and learned as children.  One uncle was particularly good at socks, a talent that made him very popular with his fellow soldiers while serving in WW11 overseas.

So lets see how Emilie's knitting class goes....

Winter reared its ugly head in earnest two weeks after Christmas when the temperatures plunged to thirty-five below freezing and the snow fell in blinding sheets of white for well over a week.  Road travel became impossible as the narrow country roads drifted closed with packed snow and ice, effectively cutting the residents of Karl’s home off from the rest of the community.  The snow blew into every crack and cranny it could find.  Doors and windows covered over with snow became walls of nature, which blocked, concealed and detained every human strong enough to try to remove them.  
Emilie thought she had experienced the worst that a Manitoba winter could offer the night that they were stranded in the storm before Christmas, but this was much worse.  To her, the noise of the wind was especially disturbing - it howled like a lone male wolf calling to its mate, and it knocked at the doors and windows like an intruder demanding entrance.  The massive oak and elm trees in Karl’s yard, bent and twisted with the wind, like giant dancing figures moving to some unheard music.  She watched the dancing trees from windows that were covered with packed snow and ice, and wondered with each passing day, how much longer the bitter cold would remain.
No one, except Karl and George ventured out into the blizzard conditions, and had it not been for the animals that needed his care, Karl too would have remained securely indoors.  The small one-room school that the older children should have been attending had temporarily closed due to the severe weather.  No parent in the community was willing to subject their child to the risk of frostbite, or even death, if an accident would occur while out in the severe cold.  
The children grew restless, cooped up in the house as they were day in and day out.  Arguments erupted, and tempers flared between the siblings and friends that normally would have had an abundance of tolerance for each other.  
Karl, who battled the inclement weather each morning as he set out to feed and care for his livestock, grew moody as the days stretched onward without a break in the weather.  He worried about everything.  He worried that the red-hot stovepipes which kept his family warm would cause a chimney fire leaving them homeless like his neighbor, Charles Bell.  He worried that his most treasured possession, his small herd of livestock, would suffer or even perish without proper shelter, food and water.  He worried that the constant heavy snowfall would cause spring flooding that would prevent him from planting the necessary crops that would sustain them all for another year.  He could not tell Emilie his fears, because she too was his responsibility, and although it hurt him to admit it, he feared that she might just be better off returning to her homeland after all, like her uncle wanted her to do.
The days were endlessly long, and she tried to amuse the children as best she could.  There were after all, only so many stories of her homeland to tell, and more and more she noticed that her cherished memories, related to them in what she thought was interesting ways, no longer had the appeal she desired.  As well as the children’s unrest was the increasing feeling that Karl was in some way disappointed with her.  She spent hours trying to figure out what she had done to change the behavior of the man she had begun to consider her best friend.  There was no mistaking Karl’s change of disposition when it came to his dealings with her.  He was detached, abrupt, and sometimes just plain rude, so unlike the man she had come to care about.  He never talked to her anymore, and for the life of her, she could not understand what she had done this time, to turn him away from her so completely.  As the days moved on, his behavior became more abrupt, until once again they were returned back to their original feelings for one another.  She was his housekeeper, and he her employer and all the wishing that it were not so, could not change it.
Each day George spent time teaching the children lessons from the school books their teacher had provided.  His efforts were met with complaints and stubbornness the likes of which Emilie had never before witnessed in these children.  She knew a diversion was in order so she called the children into the kitchen and ordered them all to sit at their places at the table.
“Now, I am tired of all the long faces, so today I am going to teach you all something new.”  She walked the floor behind their chairs like a drill sergeant and one by one reached over each child and plunked a set of knitting needles on the table before them.
“What’s this for?”  Charles Jr.’s voice broke in its adolescent way.
“Yeah, what’s this for?”  Raymond mimicked the older boy.
“This is for learning to knit.”  Emily continued her way around the table.
“No way am I learning to knit,”  This time George piped in obvious displeasure.  “Knitting’s for girls.”
“No it’s not.  In my country there are many men who know how to knit, and so I will teach you.”
Emily retrieved her sack of scrap yarn and started to circle the table again.  She offered no smile of encouragement, and no opportunity for further discussion.
“Now – pick up one needle with this hand the wool with the other. First we have to cast on to the needles.  You will all make a new scarf for yourself.”  She picked up her needle and demonstrated how to cast the yarn on the needle.  
The room became quiet, as her students attempted to duplicate her actions.  Sue and Richard got the motion right away and long before the others had even one stitch on their needles they were ready to learn the next step.
“This is dumb.”  Charles Jr.  threw his needle and tangled wool onto the table with disgust.
“Charles Jr., you will pick up that needle and get it right, or you will go to bed without supper tonight!”
Raymond bent his head back down over his work and renewed his efforts with new purpose.
She made them stick with it for more than an hour and by the end of their first lesson everyone could cast on stitches, and Sue and Richard had knit several rows.
Knitting became their afternoon past-time during the inclement weather.  After the first week Sue had knit two scarves and was learning to knit socks; Richard had completed his first scarf and was started on a second, and the rest of the group continued to labor with their first project.
Emilie allowed no excuses to halt their progress, every day right after the noon meal, she demanded her class form at the kitchen table and no one dared question her right to do so.  
Karl watched in fascination as she bullied the children, especially the older boys to learn a task that they’d likely never use.  He’d considered stepping in on their behalf until he realized that they were actually accomplishing what she asked.  So he remained quiet, but many times he had to turn away so they could not see the smile that lingered on his face.

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