UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

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/.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image