Freedom

I’m 13, on a long extended vacation with my family: mom, dad, and two brothers.  I’m the middle child which means I can usually call a good seat in the family minivan, which is important when you’re on a road trip for 30 days.  We drive everywhere because flying 5 people up and down the east coast is expensive.  We get lost in every major city.  We read hundreds of books and listen to thousands of songs.  We compromise because nobody wants to fight in the car, but there are some long days.  We don’t stop at every historic site but we hit all the historic battlegrounds and rest areas.  We eat one-pot meals made in our hotel rooms, in front of 300 cable tv channels.   Sandwiches out of the car.  Sometimes, we meet some of our relatives for the first time we- the kids- can remember, and turn their homes into our base of operations to see several places over the course of a few days.  For the whole month of October, we make our way from Montana to Vermont to Virginia and back home again.

Midway through this adventure, we hit Boston, a treasure trove of Independence era sites, home of the Freedom trail. We see the liberty bell, Independence Hall, Paul Revere’s house, Betsy Ross’s house, a church who’s history I can’t remember, and an old ship named “Ol’ Ironsides” left over from the War of 1812, and many regular city streets.  It was in one of the modern, non-famous areas where my revelation took place.

Mom said everyone could tell we were tourists by the way we kept looking up at everything.  She noticed that locals kept their eyes front, never looking up, just getting where they’re going.  Montana children are not used to skyscrapers of course, especially a whole bunch of them in one place, and we couldn’t help but stare up to try and see the tops.  Mom said it in a way to get us to move along and pay attention to where we were walking, but not as a means to scold our curiosity.

But then I had to go and say, “I’m going to live in a big city some day.”  My words, exactly.  If I went back to Boston today, I could even find the exact building I was staring up at, if it’s still there.  I loved it.  The energy of people speed-walking to work, the way nobody paid attention to anyone else, and the quickness of transactions.  The infinite height of buildings and amount of people seemed like equally limitess opportunities.   I took the city in with excitement while my mom took it in and converted the energy to anxiety, tension, and stress.  Her response was “Yeah, right.  You’d hate it.”

To be fair, we also took in our first case of road rage witnessed in person that day.  From our vantage point in another lane, we saw a man yelling out his car window (fingers, er finger waving), but by the time we drove away, one man was making motions to get out of his car.  I thought that was all very exciting and new too, so that shows my perspective was perhaps a little skewed.  Over the years, I forgot the road rage and the exchange with my mother.  

10 years later, on an airplane across the pacific with two new friends, almost delirious from lack of sleep caused by 30 hours of traveling, that memory replayed in my mind like a reel of slides.  I laughed out loud.  Our airplane touched down in Seoul and I thought I was about to prove my mother wrong.  But would I prove myself wrong instead?  Would I like it?  

After 4 1/2 years of metropolis life, I will finally have visitors.  You see, my family knows they would hate to live here, but my brother and none other than my supportive mother, are coming.  Perhaps I can look back on that trip long ago- and many others to go camping, visit relatives, and travel to and from college- and lay the blame for my travel bug.  Perhaps it comes from my mom, who is braver than she knows.

I wonder, does she remember that moment in Boston?  On the Freedom Trail?  Maybe she won’t find her freedom while she’s here, but it’s okay.  I’ve found mine.

How do you measure a Gram?  Memories.  

My grandmother taught me how to knit. She must have been doing a project in the living room, and I must have been watching. Raptly. “Can you teach me?” I might have said. After all, I had a brand new pair of plastic knitting needles- one yellow and one red, with little animals on top- that had come in a craft kit. In no time at all, I was set up with my own yarn and 10 stitches at the ready. It was good that it didn’t take long to learn because my Gram was only able to visit once a year, for about a whole month.
Soon, my brothers were sitting, watching, raptly. “Can you teach me too?” Although they were missing colorful needles adorned with animals, my gram set their 10 stitches up on pencils, and my brothers and I labored away for a week, silent in our chairs, stretching our fingers and gaining muscle memory.

Teaching was nothing new to her. She handled classrooms of middle school students in her professional life. She loved it, and they loved her. But when it came to us mirroring her hands, she suddenly got confused. My Gram is left-handed, and dyslexic. My brothers and I are right handed. She did her best to teach us, and we ended up doing everything exactly like her hands.

Before she left, we took a trip to the local Ben Franklin store, where we stocked up on yarn and she bought me a pair of aluminum needles that were much sleeker that my plastic pair. I wandered around the store for a while, and when I returned to her side, she introduced me to a woman with the signature red apron of all the store’s personnel. Although Ben Franklin isn’t in business any more, I still remember the woman’s name. “This is Naomi,” she introduced me. “If you have a problem, just bring your project over and Naomi will help you after I leave to go home.”

Throughout my teenage years, I knit while watching tv. I got so good I didn’t have to look at what I was doing. Scarves, blankets for my stuffed animals, bags, anything squarish and longish rolled off my needles, by this time aluminum and matching in color, size 7’s. I made projects for the state fair and wash cloths by the dozens.

When I learned to drive, the first place my gram allowed me to take her was Michael’s craft store. After that, I’m sure we must have gotten ice cream. I grew up, learned to drive, and felt important, but my gram’s contagious love for ice cream reminded me of being a little girl again. But that’s tomorrow’s story.

Not until I was older did I attempt to use round needles for a project, and even then under the supervision of my gram and aunt; I knit a navy blue hat out of soft, thin yarn, during my junior year spring break.

These past few years, I finally experimented with switching colors mid-project. This technique I had to look up online, but my gram was one of the first to hear the news of my exciting progression.

These days, my Pinterest account features a collection of knitting projects on my Hooks and Needles board, one of my most project laden areas. Matching hats and scarves, blankets, stuffed toys for my niece and nephew. One thing I have no desire to try are socks, as my gram makes the best ones herself and gives them away readily at any hint of admiration. Many patterns I have planned for the future feature stitches and techniques that I have yet to master, and it makes me sad knowing my Gram will not always be there to show me how, but I will press on.

No one else can teach me the same way she did.

My grandmother taught me how to knit. As a left handed person.

Are you okay?  

My boyfriend recently traveled to the states to meet my family for the first time.  I was also meeting one family member for the first time- not so little Ollie, who is about 8 months and wears the same size diaper as his big sister Sophia, who is about 2 1/2.  

The first morning, as I went downstairs to hold Ollie and renew my friendship with Sophia, my boyfriend started making noise in the shower.  Sophia looks around, and notices that her mom and dad are there, and so are grandma and grandpa.  Sophia looks at me, points up the stairs, and says “who’s that?”  I should have said “your new best friend” because soon, that’s what they became.  

A few short minutes later when I left to take my turn in the shower, I heard giggles, squeals, and electronic toy sounds coming from the living room.  From then on, every time he walked into a room, Sophia would say “hi!” and when he sat down, Sophia would be over shortly.  

Sophia doesn’t say a lot of words yet- well, she thinks she’s saying words but they’re just sounds.  Yes and no and okay are pretty clear, and if you’re in the middle of her game you can easily figure out what she’s saying with body language and context clues.  But a few times, she surprised us with a sentence.  

The next evening, my boyfriend is sitting in the recliner.  I join him by sitting on the cushy arm of the chair.  Sophia comes over, gives us each a ball, and boldly climbs on up, turns around, and sits down.  She’s not sitting for long though, she’s standing and putting all the weight behind her little arms and legs and not watching where she’s putting them.  Ow, my boobs and I can’t even imagine where her little feet are going.  We play with the mini kickballs for a few minutes until someone gets hurt.  It’s my boyfriend, and he’s caught Sophia’s elbow with his glasses.  Not really hurt, but reflexive surprise.  She knows from the immediate pause in warfare, and she says “Are you okay? Did you have fun?”  Not the slightest pause between her two perfect sentences.  After a moment of silence, the room began to laugh.  How many times does she hear these two good parenting sentences?  I bet they won’t be forgotten in our family any time soon.  

The next day while standing in the sandwich shop order line, she grabs onto a menu and parades around with it.  Up and down the line, looking up at everybody instead of where she’s going, but magically isn’t hitting anything.  One woman looks down and Sophia, feeling the need to say something because of the eye contact, greets the woman with “I’m reading!”  We finally get all our food at the table and Sophia doesn’t eat anything except black olives out of my sandwich and a few other pickings from her other neighbors.  

The whole 2 days, I heard Ollie cry three times, twice when he was getting his boogers sucked out, and once because he was cold.  Most of the time, he was a little owl with big eyes and ears, watching and learning.  

What a joy to be an aunt, where there’s plenty of play time, smiles, giggles, and too much clapping for a job well done… or for getting a toy placed on your head.