My knitting is sticking to my fingers. As I write this, it's
ninety-four balmy degrees outside the workroom. The plants in the
window box are rioting--I abandoned judicious pruning in
mid-July--and just below so is a gaggle of inebriated baseball
fans, lurching homeward en masse after an afternoon game
at nearby Wrigley Field. Sure signs of high summer in my Chicago
neighborhood: heat, weeds, and another loss for the Cubs.
A change of season seems impossible. It is hot, it always has
been hot, it always will be hot. But through the ceiling comes the
first whisper, shortly to become a roar, heralding the approach of
autumn. There has been a shopping trip, and the neighbor's
children are trying on back-to-school clothes.
They are not happy.
A muffled voice is protesting a sweater that itches. The pounding
of stiff new shoes is shaking the walls. This collar is too tight.
These pants are too long. "You'll grow into them!" says their
She is happy.
Although I do hope they will stop kicking before the ceiling
comes down, I'm with the kids. Decades after my final escape from
pencil boxes and textbooks the words "back to school" still shoot
a shiver down my spine, and in my head "September" will forever be
personified by a skeleton in a hooded black gown, carrying a
scythe in one hand and a Trapper Keeper in the other.
It took me years to realize that what I hated so much about
school was the regimentation. Go here, wear this, do this, don't
do that, read this, write that, stop poking that with a stick or
it will attack you, etcetera.
The actual learning, though–that I enjoyed. I
started reading most textbooks the way some people start detective
novels: from the back. I'd pore in secret over incomprehensible
diagrams and alien vocabulary with genuine excitement. "You don't
understand this now," I'd think, "but you will. You will."
In our time, unfortunately, learning for the sheer joy of it
isn't much encouraged. Learning is what you do in order to pass
the test. If it's not on the test, you need not learn it. After
you pass the test, you are free to stop learning altogether.
I much prefer the attitude of the Victorians, who (in theory, at
least) believed in personal improvement through constant industry.
My grandmother, who isn't technically a Victorian, nonetheless
echoed them with her constant reminders (usually as she approached
me with a potato peeler) that "Busy hands are happy hands."
And one of the reasons I've stuck with knitting long after
abandoning countless other diversions is that it's broad and deep
enough to keep my hands not merely happy, but giddy. Downright
hysterical, at times. There's always something new to savor, even
if you're an expert (and who, really, ever is?) in a given
technique. A person could knit from cradle to grave and never try
all the variations of everything, although perhaps June Hemmons
Hiatt (author of the titanic The Principles of Knitting)
ought to get some sort of medallion, sash, or tiara for giving it
the old college try.
So every fall, as the children are mournfully sitting down to
spelling lists and math problems, I find myself pondering
self-imposed needlework challenges for the next year. Afghans?
I've never knit an afghan. We could use an afghan. Perhaps this
will be my Year of the Afghan. Entrelac? Possibly entrelac. Have
barely nibbled at it, like the looks of it, and it offers the
bonus of learning to knit backwards.
Wait a minute. Entrelac…afghan?
What about you? What will send you back to school?