Knit One, Unravel One; Knit One ...
'You girls always have your noses stuck in some book," said Mrs. Pryor, as she knitted across the row of a half-finished sweater. "Reading is fine, but you're becoming bookworms." Her needles clicked industriously. "Learning a new skill this summer would be good for you both."
Patty gave me a look. Her mother seemed determined to improve us, one way or another.
"Every young lady should master the womanly arts. Now, I could teach you-all to knit, but I haven't got the patience. So I think it's high time we visited Miss Lydia Peck at Loving Hands Knitting and Needlework in the village."
Within two weeks, we found ourselves at Loving Hands. Miss Lydia seemed born to work in knitting shops. Dressed in one of her own knitted garments of olive tweed, her gray hair was pinned up in a careless bun stuck through with small knitting needles. She wore a brown vest, into which were pinned various darning needles; in the breast pocket were crochet hooks in many sizes, and a tape measure.
Selecting the colors for our sweaters wasn't easy. Boxes and shelves held heaps of yarns in every shade and hue: downy-chick yellow, emerald, the orange of poppies, the russet of autumn leaves. Finally, I chose a dazzling ruby red. Patty selected a soft, pale peach.
"Now we must decide on styles of sweaters, girls," said Miss Lydia.
Out came the fashion magazines. I was enchanted with a picture of a beautiful young woman, looking slightly like Claudette Colbert, in a tight pullover with puffy sleeves and scalloped collar. "I want to make one of these."
"Just a minute now, missy! Hold your horses!" said Mrs. Pryor. "If you think your mama would let you wear a skin-tight number like that, you've got another think coming!"
Miss Lydia, observing my crestfallen face, was more gentle. "I'm afraid, my dear, that sweater's a bit complicated for a beginner. I believe simple cardigans will be the most practical for both of you."
Next, our measurements were taken. I was chagrined to learn that my chest, waist, and hips all measured the same. My figure was like a box. It was rather more narrow from front to back than from side to side, but definitely like a box.
"Well, your sweater will be simpler to knit, with no increase for the bust or decrease for the waist," Miss Lydia consoled.
"Now are we going to begin knitting?" I wanted to get on with it.
"After we make a gauge, dear," Miss Lydia said. "So that we can see how many stitches to the inch each of you will knit, both in knitting and purling. I will cast on for you."
Purling, gauge, cast on? I'd hardly understood a word she said.
Eventually, we learned how to hold the needles, how to throw the yarn around the slippery point, and pull the stitch through, murmuring: "Knit one, knit two; purl one, purl two." We ripped as much as we knitted. We knitted and ripped all summer. Miss Lydia came to know us well.
Soon, our mothers tired of driving us to the village, and we made the trek on foot. We loved talking about books and movies as we dawdled. We enjoyed less the time spent correcting strange lumps and knots, regular features of our handiwork.
IT was Patty who first decided to give up. One day, as summer was coming to an end, she held up one long, long sleeve she was knitting. "I'm not making my sweater anymore. I'm using my yarn for one of those new 'shrugs' for Mama for Christmas." I gasped as she continued. "It's the latest thing. Like sleeves connected with a sort of scarf. It's simple!"
I was amazed that my friend had solved the problem of her intractable sweater so simply. And I was a little envious. I soldiered on with my original project, until one day I thrust it into the back of a dresser drawer. Sighing with relief, I told myself I would finish it someday, but I never returned to Miss Lydia's.
One day at the beginning of school, I was eating lunch with my friend when a thought struck me. "Growing up is pretty hard. We have to learn all this school stuff, like algebra and science, and we have to learn all that lady stuff, too - like how to dance and how to knit."
Patty nodded, and I looked around at the other kids. The boys, as usual, had gobbled their food and were now popping their brown paper bags. I wondered if they, too, were finding the lessons of maturing difficult. At the moment, it seemed they hadn't a care in the world. Then a sudden, horrid question popped into my mind.
"Say, Pat, your mother wouldn't be thinking up any other lessons for us, would she?"
"Don't count on it," Patty said.