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Gesture for the Future

My husband was at work, my three daughters had left for school, and I was in the basement of our old house on Mount Curve Boulevard in Saint Paul, Minnesota, ironing and listening to Minnesota Public Radio’s morning show with Bob Potter. Outside it was a beautiful fall day, I could see the sun shining through the small basement windows as I watched wrinkles disappear under the warm iron.

Finally. Alone in my house after a busy summer with kids, alone with my own adult thoughts. This was a luxury: killing time ironing what easily could have been left un-ironed, allowing my mind to shift gears from summer parenting concerns back into my work as a children’s book writer and illustrator.

Pausing a moment, I looked up at the dusty, exposed pipes in our basement. Should I clean them? Somewhere in the middle of my mindless mediations, Bob Potter’s calm, steady voice acquired a nervous edge. "I have just received a report," his new voice said. “A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.”

So-Soft Preemie Hat
So-Soft Preemie Hat

The pipes never got cleaned and I gave up ironing, folding the rest of the laundry into sturdy, neat piles. Quietly. Not wanting to miss a word of the news, I moved my hands soundlessly, and listened.

“It is September 11, 2001,” Bob Potter repeated as he broadcasted the latest reports: the second plane, the third plane, the Pentagon, the fourth plane, the crash. I headed upstairs and called everyone I knew.

“Turn on your radio,” I said. “Terrible things are happening.”

Thinking they might need an extra adult that day, I called my youngest daughter’s school and volunteered to come right over.

“Not necessary, the principal told me, “The kids don’t know anything yet.”

Could he be right about that? I thought it was in the air. The world was now a different place. The kids were sure to feel that.

“Could you come tomorrow?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said with false confidence. Who knew what tomorrow would be like?

I wasn’t sure what to do next. It was clear that no matter what had happened, my kids would be in school all day. That part of our life was going to stay the same. My husband was still at work, busy cancelling all the trips and meetings he had planned for that week, listening to news there, checking on colleagues and friends scattered over the country. Planes were not flying. Our usually noisy neighborhood near the airport suddenly was very quiet.

I work alone. In my studio, I can happily pass hours by myself with my stories and pictures. But on September 11, 2001, work was out of the question. Would I ever work again? What would I write about? I could not write or draw or even iron that day, but I was sure I could knit. Listening to the radio and trying to find a way to understand what was going on, I could let my hands knit and purl, back and forth across rows of careful stitches.

During the French Revolution, women knit while heads rolled from the guillotines. Madness, maybe, but what better what to calm a soul? By hearths and heaters, in fields and bomb shelters, women have knit through all wars and disasters. How many times in conversations and in writings had I quoted Elizabeth Zimmerman, the matriarch of American knitting, who advised us to “knit on with courage and confidence through all crisis”?

But what do you knit with courage and confidence in a world where people fly planes into buildings and deliberately kill thousands of people? What do you knit in face of a profound uncertainty about the future?

I had been working on a pair of socks for myself, bright ones--yellow and orange, blue and green. They were so cheerful that I could not bear to look at them, almost like archeological finds belonging to another time, another world.
For me, on the morning of September 11, 2001, it was a gift, a small comfort amidst the profound shattering of our country to discover in my stash, half a skein of yarn in a Babysoft® pastel. Yarn probably left over from a gift made years ago and for a baby now old enough to join me in my worries. I grabbed my copy of Projects for Community Knitting by Carol Anderson and found her pattern for a preemie hat. It was my first confident gesture for the future.

I knit stacks of preemie hats in what remained of the year 2001 and the first half of 2002. In June, my middle daughter, Flory, became Bat Mitzvah, and at the luncheon following, baskets of preemie hats graced the tables. My friends and fellow knitters, Katherine Goldman and Sarah Herren, helped me knit over three hundred hats, which we donated to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul.

In August my husband and I packed up our house, loaded the kids in the car, and moved to Iowa City, Iowa just in time for the start of the school year. It took a long time to settle in. My knitting was mixed up with the inaccessible, unmarked, unpacked boxes stuffed payload style in our garage, waiting for my studio and the lower level of our new house to be completed.

On September 11, 2002, I was not ironing. After my husband left for work and my kids for school, I took a new skein of baby yarn bought the day before, and began to knit. A preemie hat, of course.

Each of us has struggled to find her own way to deal with the death and devastation that happened on September 11, 2001. My way is by knitting preemie hats. And I try to knit it the way Elizabeth Zimmerman advised, with confidence and courage.

For those of you who would like to do the same on this fifth anniversary, I offer you the Babysoft® Preemie Hat pattern. Several other knit and crochet patterns for preemie hats are also available at the online Lion Brand pattern archive. And for those of you unsure of where to send or donate your hats, please consider The Preemie Project.

Authored by

Michelle Edwards is the author/illustrator of A KNITTER'S HOME COMPANION and many award-winning children's books including CHICKEN MAN and STINKY STERN FOREVER. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys talking about books in schools throughout the US and beyond. Her newest book, Room for the Baby, will be available from Random House in Fall 2012. Visit Michelle Edwards at her website or on Facebook.
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