A Legacy in Soft Gray

 It’s sweater weather around here. Time to revisit the gray sweater story. . .
  The gray yarn looked scratchy, like an old man’s stubble. Betty, my friend  Debbie’s mother, had knitted it into an almost-finished sweater. Two strands, twisted together, comprised the heavy braided cables and stitches in row after row of pattern. I can’t remember why I agreed to take the bag with an incomplete sweater and several large balls of bumpy yarn that looked like raggedy kitten fur. But there it was, along with a lifetime of needlework and knitting materials in a house Betty wouldn’t be living in anymore.  My friend urged me to take needles, yarn, books, anything I thought I could use. So I took the pieces of sweater and unused yarn: a sweater interrupted.
 Betty was a lifeline to me during my teen years;  she listened patiently and offered soothing words of comfort over many a mug of hot tea. I loved the afternoons I spent among the rooster knickknacks in her kitchen, blossoming under her attention and acceptance. When I called Debbie on the phone in those days and she wasn’t home, I was always just as happy to talk to Betty. So I wanted something of hers  to remember her by.
Turns out the yarn wasn’t that scratchy after all. I was thinking steel wool, Brillo pad—but when I touched and stroked one of the wound-up skeins, it felt softer than I expected, silky even. Front, back, most of a sleeve— left unfinished as age and infirmity made knitting impossible for Betty. Seeing the stitches and calculating the hours she spent on this work made me think about her hands, her needles, her thoughts. She was gone from her home now; her never-idle hands were still as she drifted through her final days.
            Who would have worn this sweater? Grandson, daughter, friend? I held up the work and pulled it close to my chest. Someone bigger than me. A man, probably. But the gray was soft, not steely, like a battleship or a storm cloud. This was a feminine color, at least that’s the way I would describe it. Like the silky catkins of a willow tree.
            I decided to take apart the pieces of the sweater in the bag, unraveling the work, stitch by stitch, just the way it was put together. The yarn fought me; it wanted to keep its secrets locked into each knit and purl. The braided cable pattern clung together. I fought back, pulling knots apart, yanking out the stitches and coiling the unraveled yarn into a bumpy ball that I would deal with later. Perhaps, I thought, I will create something new out of this yarn, something I can wear myself. 
          I decided to entwine the soft gray yarn from Betty’s sweater with a thin strand of white silk and mohair, just a breath of white added to the gray, and made a sweater for myself. It’s a hooded sweater with pockets and a zipper in the front. The blended yarns have the shaded quality of heavy fog blowing through the Golden Gate, or light clouds that shift shapes as they slide across the sky. There are memories in the yarn, but no burdens.
  When I wear it, I think of Betty’s ready smile, and hear her saying “Oh honey,” just the way I remembered. I think she’d approve.

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