Filed under: Knit
Elsie. That’s my Grandmother Jeppson’s name. The grandmother whose husband was Agriculture Commissioner for the state of Nevada and a horticulture professor at the University there, the man who once drove into the southern part of the state onto a reservation, picked out a stone for his dear wife, picked a setting style he liked, and watched the ring coming to be for her. My father cannot remember when his mother didn’t have rheumatoid arthritis, which quickly deforms the joints of the fingers–so that a big ring like that would have been painfully heavy, not to mention she would have found it very difficult simply to get it on over her swollen joints. So I’m guessing my grandparents were a rather young couple at the time the ring came to be, and they were born in the late 1890’s. My inherited ring is an old ring–and it connects me to a time and place far from where and how I grew up.
Last week, I had a pendant that had long since lost its sterling chain–I probably gave it to one of my daughters, I have no idea–and I looked at it and thought, you know, I’d like to wear that again. I really ought to replace that chain. So I went looking for one, and found a competitive price. No big deal.
But before I ordered it, as long as I was clicking around, I thought, hmm, and looked around some more. I stumbled across a beautiful handmade turquoise pendant, complete with sterling chain, offered by a cooperative of the Navajo Nation representing the particular craftswoman who had created it, on Ebay. She was proud enough of the piece that she had signed her name on the back. There was a Buy It Now price, or a much lower one where one could start the bidding at. On impulse, I bid rather than bought.
And instantly regretted it. The price was far too unfair. I hoped someone would bid it up, but by the next day I admitted to myself the feeling I was having that nobody would. The picture had not shown the piece as well as it could have, and it was a bit of a guess what the top of it would look like. Even my bid-up-to-here price wouldn’t come to be. It was just me and that opening price.
I thought of my grandfather, face to face with the craftsman, admiring his skill in person, and wished for that chance to have seen this necklace coming to be, too. I wondered if this woman’s older family members might possibly ever have met Grandfather in his travels around the area. And I wondered how I could face paying in a few days for a beautiful rendition of this Navajo woman’s talent for which, after the markup up to Target or Walmart’s price on that sterling silver chain, what would be left to cover the cost of the stone, the silver, the skills and the years of expertise, the time, and the artistic vision that went into creating that piece, something she was proud enough of to have signed her name to it, all of the percentage of that bid price to cover her work and her materials, was…
Fifty. Cents. Fifty. Stinking. Cents. That’s it.
I could not bear it. I absolutely could not bear it. I don’t think I could have faced my grandfather nor Elsie in the hereafter had I left it at that. It was just so wrong.
You know my reaction to just about all human problems is to go knit something for someone; it’s what I know how to do. And so I found myself thinking, people like handmade things because they like the personal touch, and yet, it’s not quite truly that personal touch unless the experience is somehow shared both ways, a connection made between maker and receiver. Whether that means admiring the work in person, or through a letter of appreciation afterwards–but for me, I felt her necklace was simply an outright gift to me, when you come down to it, and I wanted to give back.
But how do you pick out what to make for a complete stranger? It stopped me a moment. I did a mental inventory of my stash, and when I thought of the green I had, something in me cried out, That’s IT!
I had ordered some green baby alpaca yarn. When it had come, it had arrived the color of new plants just coming up out of the soil, bright and vigorous and beginning, but without the time and experience in the sun that gives them their color depth. It didn’t quite please me. I let it sit for some months, and finally one day wound it up into a one-pound hank, scoured it in preparation, added just a bit of blue to my dyepot–the color of the sky to go with the grass–and let the yarn simmer away there.
I have this pattern that didn’t make the final cut in my book. I’m glad; it had not felt quite finished. I had been wanting lately to redo the edges, and now the old rendition of it wouldn’t be set in stone with my name attached to it. I could still go tweak it.
And that is the pattern I knitted up, with those changes, for this woman in this green plants-and-sky-colored yarn. I live near the redwoods, with one bordering my property; I knitted a tall redwood growing to either side of the shawl. I knitted the wind blowing the water of the San Francisco Bay in the center, and at times having it remind me instead of the leaves of the trees hanging over Cabin John Creek in Maryland, deep in the woods, where I grew up. This shawl showed me what this pattern had been meant to be all along. And I accidentally twisted a stitch in the wrong direction, and then left it that way, a tiny flaw nobody will ever see, but one that, in the Navajo tradition, at least as I understand it, should be there to offer reverence to God by acknowledging the humbleness of our being imperfect and human.
Monday it goes in the mail. I do not expect to hear anything back, nor do I ask to. I did this for the woman who creates with silver and stone like I create with yarn, but also, I did it for me. I could not rest until I had done a good enough job of expressing my thanks.
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