Political Needling Keeps Us in Stitches

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THE subject of this morning's informative lecture is ``Knitting as a Political Force.'' Our local editor recently told us that the mayor of Rockland, Me., in a petulant moment, spoke in an unseemly manner to a lady member of the city council, suggesting she refrain from knitting as her activity distracted attention from serious business being considered. Our editor seemed to dismiss the matter as petty frivolity and faulty manners. I think not. I believe this is meaningful in our time. It is a good sign and shows what is going on.

The elected representatives of the people, at all levels, have finally accepted the terrible truth that they are not expected to spend any more money. Having no more to do with increasing taxes, they are bored by indolence and take it out on each other by picky-picky insults, crankiness, and making themselves hard to get along with. We, the taxpayers, should recognize this for what it is worth, and so should editors. Let us rejoice!

Stringency has saved us from philanthropic tendencies. Let 'em abuse each other and spare us the details. If democracy is poised for a giant step, knitting must not be deplored. Mme. Dufarge rides again! The lady said if she knits she doesn't get quite so mad.

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And Mme. Dufarge was hardly lacking in political importance. Let us consider the consequences if the gracious lady and her gentlewoman friends began counting heads in the Congress of the United States. Can you imagine with what celebrity, if thus challenged, the members of Congress would suddenly believe in knitting as an instrument of national policy?

A Congress busy knitting could solve everything. Sheep farmers would become rich, and the prosperity of wool gathering would filter down into our lower brackets and perhaps cover the national debt.

If the clatter of knitting needles becomes insufferable, as it seems to be in Rockland, every congressman could wear ear muffs. This would create thousands of new jobs in every ear muff factory in the land.

As to Mme. Dufarge and political knitting, I was in France back in the 1960s when Charles Andre Joseph Marie de Gaulle was president, and I asked a number of Frenchmen what they truly thought of the man. The answers had a pattern. Either the folks admired de Gaulle or they did not, but whichever way the answers went there was always the added thought, ``... but he's been good for France!''

When I asked for opinions about the first lady of the republic, Mme. de Gaulle, the answers had a tighter pattern. Everybody said the same old thing. Everybody smiled, made the old ``ca va!'' shrug, and answered, ``Elle tricotte - she knits!'' With cozy Gallic drollery Mme. de Gaulle was dismissed as neither good for France nor bad for France, but without prejudice a mere knitter.

Here in Down-East Maine, ``knitting work'' is something you do to occupy your hands in idle moments. It has no connection with gainful employment. Pliny Blinford, who had a big dairy herd, used to say that splitting wood was his knitting work. ``Fun to split wood,'' he'd say, ``s'long as it's just knitting work.'' In like manner, our ``wimminfolk'' lumped tatting, crocheting, tacking, and even darning socks along with knitting into the word ``fancywork.''

In this way, we can properly consider Penelope as a knitter. As a cozy, warm-handed gentleman who never had a cold finger in his life, I've often wondered how the Odyssey might have come to an end if Penelope had tried her hand at some mittens. A good woman who knits good mittens is a jewel of great price.

And the wooers, so ineffectually persistent, would certainly have made better offers for mittens than for Penelope's web, whatever that was. Offers so much better she could not have reasonably refused, and there goes old Odysseus out the window as King of Ithaca. It could happen to a mayor.

When I took my bride, so long ago, to Prince Edward Island for our wedding trip, and to meet my cousins there, Cousin Vera had a parlor party to welcome the new member to our family. While the tea was ``drawing,'' Cousin Vera noticed my wife's hands were idle, while the other girls all had fancywork. ``Didn't you bring some work?'' asked Cousin Vera, and after all these years my bride laughs heartily now and then in remembering the very idea.

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