It has been chilly down here in the “Sunny South”. Not unbearable. Last winter in Chicago, where my brother Dan lives, I think they had 20 days (maybe more) below zero.
They know cold. Our cold has always been double digit cold and pretty infrequent. Still, since we have lived Up North, we do have cold weather gear.
We keep hats and mittens in this old bench with a lid that raises and holds about two cubic feet of stuff. I still have hats from WAY back in the day. One is from an ill-fated hockey team from our days in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Grand Rapids Grizzlies only lasted a season or two. That was circa 1979 or ’80. Who knew a knit cap could even last that long?
Anyway, I found myself with a random hat and gloves out of the mix. When I got back I realized that the hat was one that my mom knitted just before she died. She was always a knitter. And sewer. And quilter. And for a while, she made the most exquisite leaded glass. She never really watched TV. Her hands were always busy. And almost always, they were busy making things for other people.
Just before she died she went into this frenzy where she was going to knit 100 little caps for newborn babies for this project my sister was helping to sponsor in Kenya. I think she made it to 60-something before she let go. I’m guessing most of those 60-something caps are still in use.
At the same time she was working on a quilt for my nephew Mike. It is a beautiful thing. But her hands were not working very well at the end. She had this vision in her head of how she wanted it to be, but her poor old hands could not cut with scissors. One of the last times I went to see her at her “Tree House” in Brevard, NC, she was so worried that she wouldn’t be able to finish that quilt before she died. She couldn’t use her scissors any more, but she could improvise. She would make just a little cut and then use her teeth and the strength in her arms to tear the strips she needed. Those she could still fit into the sewing machine. I don’t now if it was the most artistic of all of the many quilts she made, but to me, her last quilt was the most beautiful.
The gloves I happened to wear that night were once my dad’s. They were driving gloves. Does anyone even wear driving gloves anymore (besides my brother John)? Jack O’Keefe died in 1989, just about 6 months after he retired from The Inland Steel Company where he worked almost all of his adult life. In the early 60’s he took a job as a technical service rep. He drove all over creation representing that steel company. He loved his work. You see, he was a real personable guy, the kind of guy you wanted to hang out with, to have a drink with, to have lunch with. I wouldn’t say he was a schmoozer, but he was well liked by his clients and his work pals. And that man drove. And drove. I’m guessing he put 50 or 60 thousand miles on the company car every year. He also had considerable arthritis toward the end. So… driving gloves.
The gloves are worn now. The fingers are worn through in a couple of places and the stitching in the finger webs has come loose. But I think I can sew them up a little. Maybe get a few more miles out of them.
There was something comforting about wearing that combination of Ruck and Jack O’Keefe on that chilly night; something besides that yarn, spun like magic from the fingers of my old mom, and that old worn out leather, the same leather that comforted my dad’s arthritic hands, that kept me warm.
That night I had a dream about my mom. We were talking on the phone, like we had done so many times over the years. We talked of school, and the family, and her home in the mountains. We talked of the old days when we were all so much younger. And just before the end of that dream, I asked her when she was coming down again for a visit.
It was that question that brought reality crashing through that dream. It was the question that woke me with my mom’s voice still in my ear and the image of her pretty old face in my mind.
The next chilly evening, when I need to wear a hat and gloves, my choice won’t be quite so random. I’ll have that old Ruck and Jack keeping me warm.