Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Sweater Vest

by Kathy Carr

She knitted me a mauve sweater vest
with an owl on the front. She didn't know
I didn't like any shade of pink. Or sweaters.
Or owls. But I knew she was waiting
for my reaction as I opened the reused Macy's
shirt box, edges worn and jagged strips
of brown showing along the sides where tape
from years past had pulled up the white.

The vest had probably taken a long time to knit.
The owl was an intricate raised pattern,
its beak stuck out into a fuzzy point.
She'd even attached huge googly eyes to it.
I'm sure I would have loved it ten years
earlier. “Oh boy,” I managed, pulling
the handmade monstrosity from the wrinkled
white tissue paper.

“Feel it. It's soft,” she said in her childish
sing-song voice. I pressed it to my face.
It smelled like Grandpa; like an old man's
cologne. And like their fat toy poodle's
flea powder.

The owl vest wasn't the first thing
Grandma knitted for me. She made
slippers once, with pom-poms on them.
They were perfectly wonderful slippers -
in them, I could glide around our kitchen
floor like Kristi Yamaguchi.

I wonder if knitting was therapeutic to her.
If it helped to know that she was creating
something out of nothing.
Did it help her briefly forget about the stillbirths?
Did it help to set aside the helplessness
she must have felt when her oldest
son lost his hearing?
Or the crippling depression that followed?
Did knitting undo any of the damage
caused by the shock treatments?
Did it help her forget losing a grandson?
Or her sister, Beulah? The sister her parents
had institutionalized as a child? The one
we found out about after Grandma died?

Did she knit one, pearl two? Or did her fingers
automatically move without conscious
thought, needles clicking, yarn snaking up
from her basket, sweater vest growing like a baby
in her lap? Did she imagine me as the slippers
took shape – her granddaughter dancing
in them, alive and full of laughter?
Did her hands tremble like they do now?

I ask myself these things now,
after she's been gone a long time.
Back then, all I saw was an ugly
mauve sweater vest
that I would never wear. A waste
of time. A failure of a present.
Like a good girl, I told her “thank you”.
Then I kissed her on her velvety cheek
and wished for something more.

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