Banding together
Sunday March 22nd 2009, 5:58 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life

When my oldest was in high school, a dozen years or so ago, there was a young band and orchestra teacher, Theron Pritchettimgp7246, in his second year there.  His enthusiasm for music and his love for his students was such that his classroom quickly became the place to be, and the number of kids signing up soared.

Then he found out he had cancer. When he said they’d taken a 15-lb tumor out of his stomach, everybody went, Where?  I mean, the guy was tall and thin to begin with, but afterward it was like his shirt could blow right through him in the wind.  Fifteen pounds!

But it was apparently self-contained, they were very sure they’d gotten it all, and he was relieved to be back at work with his kids.  Mine absolutely adored him.  He was a good one.

I was sitting in my daughter’s next concert at school when an unexpected mental image came to me. I’d been spinning some 90’s (Bradford count) merino.  Now,  I didn’t know at the time how rare it was to even find a wool that fine to spin.  Where I got it no longer has it.  It was seriously soft stuff–the micron count was finer than cashmere. I had a baby blanket in mind to make with it, but as I sat watching Theron conduct and the kids play up on that stage, I pictured a different project entirely and I absolutely knew that what that wool was for was for making him an afghan to wish him well with. To try to convey how important he was to all the parents in the high school music community as well as the kids.

I did a fair bit more spinning, two-ply skein after two-ply skein.  I wished fiercely that I knew how to knit lace.  Had it been a few years in the future…  I could picture exactly how I could have used lace leaf patterns and a faggoting stitch for a trunk to knit the idea of a Tree of Life, but at the time, it was simply beyond me.  That fervent wish later helped propel me to sit down, books and needles in hand, and start to make myself finally work through and learn what I’d needed to know then.  My first attempt at one repeat of Dutch Elm Leaves, in Theron’s memory, took me over an hour to do across 15 stitches with two mistakes I couldn’t figure out how to fix.

And look at me now.  But this story isn’t about me.

So, instead, for his afghan, I sketched out what I had in mind and knit up that tree in a combination of knit and purl stitches gansey style.  When I got done, you could see it if you saw it in light that let the purl stitches shadow across just a bit; otherwise, it was just a white blanket, but very nice.

I don’t have a picture of it. What I really wish is that I had a picture of Theron with it.  He loved it and was fairly blown away; and then the thoroughly delightful exclamation of disbelief I knew was coming: “You SPUN the YARN?!!”

Memory says that band enrollment tripled and that that was when the school hired a second teacher to help handle the load.  Who was Sue.  Whom I got to see last night at the concert.

Shortly after she arrived at the school, I spun and knitted her a scarf–triangle and in angora, if I remember correctly.

Theron was there when I gave it to her.  She was totally thrilled and stunned.  I got to watch the grin on his face as she exclaimed the exact same words he had, “You SPUN the YARN?!!”  He told her about his afghan in great delight.imgp7256

Then the day word came he’d relapsed; it was hard.  And yet I want to say: my daughter marveled to me at the time at how the kids across the high school came together, how they stopped judging each other the way teenagers do but simply saw each other as fellow travelers.  Life is short; treat each other well.  Theron had a positive influence far beyond what he knew as the kids reached out to each other in their grief.

Sue was one of the small group of friends who played a deeply moving rendition of  “Amazing Grace” at his funeral.

Where I met Theron’s partner and introduced myself as the one who’d knit his afghan. He told me Theron had asked for it and had kept it on the bed with him his last week.  I loved that.  I loved thinking that the love I had tried to knit into it had comforted him.  That comforted me.

I am so glad I got to see Sue last night.  I am so glad we went!

16 Comments so far
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And the meaning of Theron’s life continues as you retell his story. Life *is* short; treat each other well. It’s the best memorial we can have.

Carol in MA, whose youngest dd struggles to support herself as a freelance bassoonist. Music gave her identity in high school, and mostly kept her out of trouble, except that one of the neighbors called the police early one a.m. because of the noise coming from the front lawn when the kids, after a party, were outdoors singing their parts to Mahler’s 2nd symphony LOL. No, I’m not even gonna try to fix that sentence! 🙂

Comment by Carol Telsey 03.22.09 @ 6:44 pm

You do have a way of making tangible comfort. Thank you for sharing another deeply wonderful story.

Comment by Amy 03.22.09 @ 8:12 pm

Okay. I was in a very pissy mood when I read this and now I’m not. So, thanks. I’m one of life’s travelers who needed a reminder about my journey. That makes sense, right?


Comment by Robin 03.22.09 @ 8:21 pm

Wow! What a story! Yes, Life is short — too short to be mean, or short-tempered, short sighted, or nasty, which is hard on ones own body and soul.

This is not the mood for my humor. Tomorrow is another day.

Comment by Don Meyer 03.22.09 @ 8:38 pm

What a bitter sweet story and yet another life influenced by you and shared with all of us to influence all. He sounds like a wonderful man and I’m sure is leadng amazing music up in heaven.

Comment by Allison 03.22.09 @ 8:59 pm

After all the news coverage of Natasha Richardson I was already reminded of how short our earthly days could be, but after reading this I gave my kids another hug and said another prayer of thanks for the days that I have already been blessed with! We often forget how much we impact each others lives. Thank you for reminding me to always strive to make that impact a positive one.

Comment by TripletMom 03.22.09 @ 9:30 pm

I love the picture of Theron holding up the Domino’s Pizza box.

I think God has a special place for all the musicians who have given so much of themselves through the ages.

I’m glad you had the opportunity to knit for this fella, and to know how much he treasured your gift, and took such comfort from it.

I make socks for my dearest musician friend. He isn’t ill, but he’s no spring chicken anymore, and will be 61 this year. Still jumping up and down with his Strat like a 16 year old and giving so much to so many. 125% every time he sets foot on a stage. He never seemed like a scarf or sweater person, so one day in 2001, when I was interviewing him for an article he’d asked me to write, I worked up the nerve to ask him how big his feet were. He put his up to mine for comparison, and our Doc Martens matched exactly, heel to toe. So, if the socks fit me, I know they will fit him. I have a built-in template to check if I have the sizing just right.

After I presented him with the first pair I told him, “Oh, by the way, you can’t just throw these in the washer. You’ve got to do them by hand. Is that all right?”

This is a busy rock musician, author, playwright, father, husband, and political activist. I fully expected him to say no, and he’d rather I not make hand washables for him in the future.

But he assured me they would never go anywhere near the washing machine, and he would wash them by hand himself. That was 7 years ago this month.

Once, a few years ago when he was caring for his elderly father back in Ireland in early winter, I had an e-mail from him, saying that he had a pair of my socks on right then, and he always made sure he packed them when going to Ireland, because they were so warm and comforting in that climate. (Cold, windy, and damp at that time of year, as I have learned on my November trips over the last few years.)

I’ve lost track of how many pairs I’ve made for him since that first pair, but…he’s playing within a couple hours’ drive of my town tomorrow night. It’s an all-ages show, and my daughters and I are going. And there’s a new pair of socks hanging on the drying rack in the living room right now, just finished yesterday. And while he won’t wear them on stage for fear of ruining them — all that jumping up and down is hard on socks, to say the least — I know where they’ll be when the band’s van heads back to New York City after the gig.

On his feet, which will no doubt be feeling every minute of his real age by then, and needing all the comfort they can get.

Two more warm hugs from a friend who values what he has given her through his music more than mere words will ever say.

I am also thinking now of my junior high band director, whom I adored, and my old algebra teacher, both of whom were infinitely patient with me during some particularly ornery years, and of my eighth grade English teacher. I know how to reach the algebra teacher, but the others? Wherever they are, I’m wishing them well, especially the music teacher, who knew the best thing to do with his “different drummer” was to turn her into a bassoonist.

Speaking of which, what concerto did you hear at the symphony the other night? I don’t play anymore, myself, but I still love some of the repertoire and am curious. 🙂

Comment by Paula 03.23.09 @ 5:46 am

Beautiful story. I can only aspire to live so selflessly, so in-tune to the world around me.

Comment by Channon 03.23.09 @ 8:05 am

What a wonderful eulogy for a man who made a difference to people.

Comment by Jocelyn 03.23.09 @ 12:04 pm

What a beautiful story. His enthusiasm has touched so many lives. Such a perfect gift, as usual.

Comment by Alicia 03.23.09 @ 1:13 pm

I was shocked to discover you had been ill!
I had pneumonia this year and got behind on blog reading!Yes, it is possible to be too sick to knit!
Knit On in good health!

Comment by susan 03.23.09 @ 3:45 pm

One of the most difficult, yet most important things to experience is loss, and through loss, learning how precious everything in life is. I bet Theron’s partner also receives comfort from your afghan.

Comment by Diana Troldahl 03.23.09 @ 3:52 pm

What a truly heartwarming story. I’m so glad you got to find out about his last week with the afghan.

Comment by Renna 03.23.09 @ 7:48 pm

I have been struck by the observation that the most amazing teachers, those who have a greater, better, or more inspiring influence on their students, seem to die in the prime of their lives. Could it be that deep down, unbeknownst to their conscious,something in them tells them to work harder, make more of an impact, because their time is limited. It’s a sobering thought. Theron sounds like such a good man.

Comment by Madeline 03.23.09 @ 8:04 pm

When my dd was 15, our friend hired her to work in her yarn shop. Mollee was already a spinner and a knitter, but during her first two years at The Yarnbasket, her skills and ambitions soared from her regular exposure to Cay and the talented, generous women who hung out at her shop. Mollee’s grandfather, my dad, had been ill off and on for several years, although he continued to live alone. Mollee had knitted gift items for various members of the family, but couldn’t come up with an idea for her beloved grandfather. Then she found a lovely afghan pattern and was on fire to knit that for Pop Pop. Cay ordered the yarn for her, a muted green, Dad’s favorite color, in March and Mollee planned to knit it for a Father’s Day gift. June came and the yarn hadn’t arrived, so Mollee gave him something else and planned to knit it for his birthday in August. Nope–the yarn still hadn’t arrived. Mollee was getting understandably frustrated, but small yarn shops often have problems getting their small orders filled. Finally, the yarn arrived–in mid December. Mollee worked valiantly but just couldn’t finish it in time. She knitted a scarf from her homespun to give as a Christmas gift. The afghan sat for two weeks, unworked, while the ladies in the shop gently nagged at Mollee to get it done. Finally, I took her aside and reminded her that her Pop Pop was visibly deteriorating. I asked her how she would feel if he died before she got his afghan to him. She agreed that she wouldn’t be able to handle that and went back to work on it. She finished it on February 4th. On February 6th, my dad, sister, and I were to drive an hour away to a cousin’s funeral, so Mollee gave me the afghan to present to her grandfather. He was thrilled with it. He kept stroking it and audibly marveling that Mollee had done all that work just for him. There was a ferocious snowstorm on our way back and it was quite a journey, but Dad sat contentedly in the backseat of my sister’s car, wrapped snugly in his brand new afghan. The next week, when I went to visit him, I found that he had died in his sleep. The afghan was at the foot of his bed. When I called the family to tell them of his passing, Mollee’s first remark was, “I’m so glad I finished that afghan for Pop Pop.” Mollee has it back now and I know it will always remind her of her and her grandfather’s undying love for one another and of the warmth of promises kept, even ones made to oneself.

Comment by Shirley 03.24.09 @ 9:20 am

Theron Pritchett was my Concert Band Teacher both in Jr. High and High School (1990-1993). Thank you for remembering him. He was a great teacher and mentor. I discovered music and have never forgot.

Comment by Jason 02.27.13 @ 3:43 pm

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