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My Year of Buying Nothing

That time I finally 'got' knitting, taking after Mum

By Lee Simpson

Adolescent rebellion is an unavoidable rite of passage. Mine focussed on defining myself differently from my mother. This was challenging: Mum was a compelling role model. Witty, understanding, she was a woman with many friends. And she was beautiful: who would not want to be this woman? I loved her dearly and liked her more. I picked my battles carefully, staking turf unclaimed. Tricky, as we shared so much: mystery novels, sports, Scrabble, dogs and family.

I, however, had one thing I was passionate about that my mother was not: cooking. I wanted to create cuisine: Mum viewed food as fuel. She was a disinterested cook, bored by chat of technique or recipes. She could return from a dinner party full of tales of the décor, the guests’ outfits, literary recommendations and perspectives on politics. Ask her what was served and she would pause, hand to elegant bosom: “Oh, it was delicious! Fish? Or perhaps chicken? Did I tell you about Elwy’s new series?”

I turned to Mum’s dearest pal for advanced cooking lessons. At ‘Auntie’ Lil’s side, I mastered everything from aspics to zabaglione, ultimately creating eight-course family feasts. Mum beamed encouragement: she was my head cheerleader, even if she did not know the plays.

She was, however, a talented knitter. She created patterns for intricate sweater-coats, amusing hats and truly gorgeous throws for all who knew her. She was innovative: at 80, she modeled for Kaffe Fassett. And I steadfastly – and, I know now, meanly — refused to learn to knit. I had my thing and she hers, and then we had our mutual interests. Side-by-side on a Sunday afternoon, the scent of braising lamb shanks wafting into the den, we would watch F1 racing, soccer and even rodeo. Mum contentedly counted stitches. She died at 90, sharp and elegant: a decade later, my hand still reaches for the phone to share something I’ve read.

I have atoned for that failure to learn at her hands. I do embroidery; my friend Gail inducted me into the basics of yarn and needles. Last Christmas, I gave scarves in the hues of recipients’ favourite foods: blueberries, oatmeal cookies and Caesar Salad. In this Year of Buying Nothing, I pledged to recycle pastel wisps to honour the family baby boomlet. My first blanket was nearly complete when I arrived home to discover two sheepish terriers, a woolly volcano of pistachio and lemon fluff, and chewed knitting needles. It took hours to unwind the twisted yarn. But the plastic needles were unsalvageable. Because I couldn’t purchase new ones, I threw myself on the mercy of a neighbour. And after exploring the depths of an inherited knitting bag, she emerged with a pair of steel 4 1/2’s.

That evening, I settled in with a hockey game — my woolly project resurrected on my lap. And that’s when it happened: as my cool, metal needles clicked, I heard once again the song my mother’s needles made as she knitted. But I must have imagined the laugh.


Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.
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