Our relationships with our moms can be complicated. Whether we are close with our mom or whether we find it really difficult to see eye to eye with her, she’s still Mom. I love my mom and in spite of the many deeply challenging aspects of my relationship with her, I have a deep regard for her struggle to do the best she could with what she had and who she was. Being human is messy in spite of our best intentions. So today, I thought I’d share a treasured memory of my mom in honour of Mothers’ Day.
Mom was a very creative person. She sewed and knitted, gardened and along with all the other “mom” things she had to do, she ran a business with Dad. She had rheumatoid arthritis in her hands and every morning she would sit in her rocker-recliner in the corner of the dining room and knit. It got the circulation going in her hands so that she could function. For many years, she knitted commissioned garments for people in the community. She sewed and was a brilliant cook as well. She made many items including jams and jellies that she sold for years at the Salmon Arm Farmers’ Market. She was one of their founding members and was proud to have been the very first to purchase a membership: Receipt #001.
Our family was exceptionally hard-working. We grew up with a very strong work ethic, always looking for how we could improve on what we had done before. We were instilled with a love of discovery, creativity, invention and took pride in our achievements. We loved a challenge, even if we didn’t know how we were going to meet it.
I remember a particular commission piece that my mother took on. A customer brought her a picture from a knitting magazine of a sweater that looked like a landscape painting straight out of the Louvre. It had an astounding 28 colours of yarn in it. Mom warned the customer that this was going to cost a pretty penny; when they agreed to her price, she couldn’t resist the challenge.
She organized her balls of coloured yarn in mason jars; one jar per colour. The array was quite spectacular. (Pity the person who bumped into any one of those jars, though!) For this project she moved from her recliner to the couch. That was a lot of jars! As she switched colours, she would deftly move the jars, like a dance, to keep the strands from tangling. It was a fascinating, sometimes terrifying process to witness. On the days when it went smoothly, we could quietly sit and watch her work. On the days when it wasn’t, it was better to be out in the barn! It took a very long time for her to finish the sweater. The landscape wrapped around the entire sweater and continued on the sleeves. It was DK yarn and the sweater was for a large man. The amount of work was phenomenal.
I remember one night in particular that I went to kiss her goodnight. She looked up from her knitting and I realized that she was crying. I asked her what was wrong. She sighed and said that she wasn’t sure she was a good enough knitter to finish the sweater. She sniffed and then said,
“I have so much invested in it now that I can’t turn back.”
I hugged her and kissed her and told her that I knew she could do it. I told her that I hoped one day I could be half the knitter that she was. She smiled and kissed me and sent me off to bed.
When she finally finished the sweater, she was relieved and proud and yet still pointed out every flaw that she saw (and she saw plenty). They didn’t look like flaws to me. I was so proud of her and I told her so. I told her that I thought she was a super-hero,
a bonafide Wonder Woman!
She gave me a strange look and shook her head and told me, “Don’t tell anyone how many mistakes I made.” She lamented that no amount of money could pay for the amount of work, care and concentration that went into that sweater. I asked her whether she regretted taking it on. She sighed heavily and said that now it was done, she was glad she did it. But she would never do another one like that again.
That sweater inspired me. Watching my mom plugging away at what must have seemed like an insurmountable task impacted me deeply. Sometimes when I feel like there isn’t enough of me to get through what I have to do I remember my mother quietly knitting into the night, tears of self-doubt on her cheeks, persevering. I remember the finished sweater. I take a deep breath, shake off the self-doubt and carry on.