My mother, like the queen of a matriarchal realm, had four daughters in part so that she could ensure the continuance of a part of her reign that was very important to her: knitting and crocheting. She made the entire family Christmas stockings with our choice of Santa, reindeer, or snowperson head, and then knit our names across the top. For my father, she knit a sweater with his famous cow on the back, lined it, and put in a zipper. From her throne on our old green couch, she crocheted acres and acres of afghans and one christening outfit worthy of a royal birth. Despite all her efforts, however, Jeannie’s mopines (Italian dishrags), and Patty’s scarves, were more of a cruel disappointment than Barbara Ann’s and my complete lack of interest in the craft. One Christmas, she even gave me one of those potholder looms, peering at me so full of hope as I opened it, that I tried my best to figure the goddamned thing out. Although I did finally get the loops braided, once I released them, the final product shrunk to coaster-size except it was so lumpy, no glass was safe resting atop it.
When my neighbor Cathy invited me to Knit Night, I hoped to god it wasn’t about knitting. I knew, for example, that book clubs aren’t necessarily about reading (though my own book club — much more on them later! — doesn’t like to mix alcohol with the kind of beatings they can lay down on writers, and that’s probably a good thing). But, home with three young daughters, I desperately needed an evening out, so armed with some of my mother’s old needles, a ball of yarn she threw in for good measure (her grim optimism still at work), and — what the hell — a bottle of white wine, I headed out.
For the first few months, I did knit, a stitch here, a stitch there, on a Penelope-like endeavor I envisioned might someday be a scarf. Fortunately, though everyone did play around with their needles — either sewing buttons back on kids’ shirts or continuing work on a collection of argyle socks (now there’s a daughter my mother could love)– there was plenty of time to toast what a great idea this was, a once-a-month meeting of handicrafters anonymous.
Then, one night, Kathy announced she’d invited someone new to the group. “And Carla,” she said, “I especially can’t wait until you meet her because she’s a writer, too!” Oh boy, I thought, imagining the Hallmark verses or grade-school attempts at detective stories I would soon find stuffed into my mailbox. “Anyone else need a refill?” I asked.
Holly, it turned out, didn’t write poetry or detective fiction. Oh no. Instead, she had just signed a big-house book contract for a memoir. She wrote for magazines people had actually heard of. I smiled and dropped a stitch or two. So what if I caught a chill when I could finally don my homemade creation? With a real writer like Holly in the room, who would ever miss me?
The good news was, however, that Holly didn’t know how to knit, either. Smugly, I clicked away. Look at me, I might have said. New poem out in the East Bumfuck Literary Journal and an (almost; actually non-existent) ability to knit without looking at my hands.
When Holly sat down and dug into her bag, I thought: Let me get ready to teach her how to cast on. Set this hierarchy straight. But she had already casted on the first few stitches of the wool sweater she intended to make for someone’s Christmas present. Three weeks away. “I might need a little help,” she said, “when it comes to the cabling part.”
I held up the thin ribbon of my scarf. “I think I’m done,” I said. “Do you think it’s long enough?” Everyone said it was. Everyone who had been drinking for an hour before Holly breezed in. Everyone who knew I was not in it for the 4-H Hopechest Medal. But then Holly looked up and said, “Oh god, that’s not nearly long enough. Keep going.”
The group buzzed on, but I said, over them: “Hey, New Girl. No one asked you.”
Holly finally stopped knitting long enough to look up over her cheaters and make eye contact. No one blinked. We were outside the saloon now, boy, pistols drawn. You know we writer types. Always looking for a shoot-out.
The room quieted; needles froze mid-stitch; the cheesedip paused in its congealing; even the wine the hostess poured suspended itself in a twinkling rivulet over the mouth of the glass.
And then, Holly did the thing I most hoped she’d do: she laughed.
And that was that. Score settled.
So she’s an overachiever, so what? She’s a funny bastard. She knows a thing or two about the writing business. She likes walking and playing tennis without keeping score. She has a husband who mixes great cocktails and a mother who is an outspoken supporter of local artists. She has kids who don’t think my husband is a freak just because he grills them about their mile splits. She has a dog who is as loyal and generous and excited to make friends as she is despite the fact that my dog (big surprise here) is more reluctant to, shall we say, bond?
And best of all? She lives in my neighborhood. So let’s hear it for non-long distance relationships!! And to all those queens out there, trying to maintain a foothold in their lonely kingdoms when, all of a sudden, some new royalty (thank GOD!) moves in.