I can't even remember when she made it for me. It was in a very productive time for her. I think it was after Dad died. She taught herself to knit to occupy her time when dad was at the VA hospital for his visits. She sat for hours in the waiting room. She was an occupational therapist, but when she had her children in the 1960s, she became a traditional home-maker/mom. She managed the household incredibly well. She was crafty then, and brilliant with repurposing ground beef and white rice. When Dad came home from work, she would run to any art/craft/make something class she could. She told me once,
"As fulfilling as motherhood is, it can be incredibly boring."I may have mentioned I was raised a Catholic. She had five children in the span of six years. Her time of raising children was that same time as Mad Men - but without the hip, New York life style. Her time of motherhood was the same as Jackie Kennedy, but she had no pearls.
Now that I've had my turn at the baby/toddler/early childhood years, I get it. It's not that we don't love our children - but at a certain point in motherhood, one could possibly lose their minds if they don't disengage with feeding, burping, wiping, diapers and toy possession peace talks.
She set a goal to knit one for all of her children. She let us pick out the patterns from a catalog. She made each one in birth order. I think she made mine when I was in undergrad; more than 25 years ago. I stupidly put it through the washing machine. Even in cold water, it shrunk. I've been working to stretch it back, either by hand pulling or over eating. This is a sweater that I will never throw away.
There's some spots on it. I've tried to work them out with gentle soaps over the years. Just tried to loosen some of them with Oxy-clean. The dirty spots have shadows.
I wear this most cold weather weekends around the house. It's my "go-to" mobile blanket. Every time I wear it, I think of the love she poured into it. It feels like she's holding me. It smells of my perfume. But I imagine there's a lingering scent of her hands tightly woven into every stitch.
She also knitted sweaters for her seven grandchildren. When she made the sweaters for my kids, they were toddlers. She's knitted other Aran pattern projects - but she's not going to knit me another one.
Here's a bit of info about Aran knitting from a reliable source:
From the beginning, the Irish sweater has been intimately linked to clans and their identities. Aran women shared their knitting patterns and skills and passed them from one generation to the next. An official register of these historic patterns has been compiled, and can be seen in the Aran Sweater Museum on the Aran Islands.
Aran knitting is an Irish tradition that may soon be lost if the next generation doesn't learn how to make them. I suspect the reason why she is passive-aggressively not knitting me another - no matter how much I beg her to do it - is her way of encouraging me to learn how to knit. Last year, I signed up with my daughter to learn Aran knitting from a woman who is a member of the Ladies auxiliary of the Allentown Hibernians. Her name is Kathy. She fell in love with Lady B; who has some pretty good finger dexterity and ability to make even stitches. I, on the other hand, was a hopeless case. I kept losing stitches every time I had to answer a text or a tweet on my mobile devices. I know there's places in the Lehigh Valley where I can learn - I just have to make the time to do it.
Until then, I will wear this sweater over a few layers tomorrow for the Bethlehem parade. It looks to be a chilly day. I'll wear my Aran knit sweater to balance the kilt - which no self-respecting Irish person should wear. But when you're a board member for the Celtic Cultural Alliance; you wear the costume.
If you see the dirty spots, know they came from years of studying, practicing, reed making, vacuuming, dusting, baking, cooking, feedings, diaper changes, sick day cuddles and lots of family movie nights.
I wear this one-of-a-kind sweater with the greatest admiration and affection for the woman who made it.