Real men knit

A knitted square featuring a diamond-pattern lies on the desk next to my computer. It serves to restore my creativity and acts as a reminder.

I grew up in a culture that defined specific roles for men and women. As as a pampered only daughter, I acquired my knowledge mainly from books, whether about philosophy or bedmaking. When I married, I couldn't fry an egg without a recipe. I required the proper tools before I could start any project.

My husband, a brawny linebacker in high school and a muscular factory worker when I married him in 1971, approached life from a different angle. He did what interested him and learned best by trial and error.

I hated errors.

Derrol hunted rabbits and squirrels. He fished in winter as well as summer, and he rushed into every contact sport that required a ball and strategy.

He knew how to build a tree house. He knew how to dribble gas into the carburetor, pop the clutch and get his cranky little Renault running again.

His mom recruited him, the oldest of six kids, at a young age to help with domestic chores. He could whip up a batch of macaroni and cheese while saving his sister's doll from his hatchet-wielding brother. His mother sewed most of her children's clothing, and he was familiar with patterns and fabric. He could baste a hem and even stitched some crewel embroidery.

I dreamed of being 'the little wife.'

I'd bake bread, keep an immaculate house, take care of my man while adhering to the feminist ideal of working outside the home. We quickly determined that Derrol could cook better and clean more efficiently than I. He taught me to keep house.

It wasn't until a year into our marriage that I realized what a Renaissance man he was, and is.

We relished our time together. In the evenings we sat side-by-side on the couch watching television or listening to music. I'd pick up my knitting - one of the few needle crafts his mother didn't do. He watched and questioned. "How do you cast on stitches? What's the differences in the stitches?"

I showed him my knitting book and demonstrated what little I knew, which was basically how to cast on, how to knit and purl, and how to tie off the finished piece. He practiced. When he discovered a dropped a stitch and unraveled what he'd made. I figured that was the end of it.

Two weeks later, though, I found a potholder in his lunch box. "What's this?" I asked waving the off-white square in the air.

He looked up. "Oh, just something I made at work."

I examined it more closely.

The knitted six-inch, perfect square boasted a delightful geometric pattern beginning with a knitted center diamond. A stockinet border came next, surrounded by a knitted border. The borders alternated until the square ended with plain knit stitches.

"You made this?" I asked. "What did you use for yarn? For needles? Where did you get the pattern?" I couldn't believe he'd sat at work among his traditional macho brethren, knitting.

He shrugged, more interested in finding a snack than discussing the potholder. But he took it out of my hand and looked at it. "I found a cone of string at work, and that's what I used for yarn."

"But the needles," I said. "What did you knit it with?"

He laughed.

"Well, they don't have any knitting needles lying around in rubber factories. But I found a couple of bolts, eight inches long. I filed them to a point, then cast on stitches. It took a while to get the pattern worked out. I ripped it out a lot."

"But, what about ...?" I hesitated.

He waited for me to finish.

"What about the guys?" I said. "Didn't they tease you?"

He grinned. "Tease me? Nah. Once they saw what I was doing, they wanted me to make some for their wives."

When I turn from the computer and pick up that potholder, I think of the patient man who knitted it. As I touch each stitch, I remember the lessons he taught me about carburetors, jitterbug fishing lures, and Hail Mary football passes.

Somewhere between the cooking, cleaning, and tire-changing sessions, he taught me about rules, gender roles, and when to ignore them.

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