William Least Heat Moon travelled around the United States in 1978 on the blue highways found in the Rand McNally atlas. The blue highways indicated those country highways that tend to bypass larger cities: after losing his job and getting divorced from his wife, he lived out of his van and explored his nation and himself.
His great travails in life lead to his great travels in life.
My summer lead to the creation of many different scarves.
These scarves are the ones I knitted over the past six months, and each has a story--especially the one that is missing.
Blue and White Striped Scarf
In my family, my sister and I fit within a gap. The majority of our relatives are either much older or much younger than we are, and now that she and I are in our late 30s, we have become surrogate caregivers for those on the other end of the spectrum.
However, she is 1,000 miles away from the family; on the other hand, they are all practically on my back doorstep.
Aunt Jeanie is 84 years old, lives in a trailer park by herself, had no children, and has skin cancer. She had 13 minor surgeries on her face this summer, and I was often the one to take her to appointments and stay with her for the day after to make sure everything was healing.
I had plenty of time to knit.
She'd smile, watch her Jenny something-or-other polka television show, and tell me tidbits of stories of the family.
"Oh, that Aunt Sharon is a stinker..." (translation: Sharon ran away with Aunt Jeanie's first husband leaving my Uncle high and dry on the farm with two boys to raise).
"That Jeff, what is wrong with him?.." (translation: He's a drug addict)
Even Jeff, despite his drug problem and selfishness, gets a dollar every Valentine's Day. Since my birth until the present day, Aunt Jeanie has sent a dollar in a Valentine's Day card to every grand niece and nephew born to her 9 brother and sisters. Her address book is a large mustard colored book with glittered flowers on the cover; it stepped right out of the 1950s. In it are meticulous notes of addresses for all the family members. Paging through to my name, I saw every apartment, dorm room, and house I have ever lived in my entire life. Each address listed the year and month I moved to a certain location and the month and year of when I moved from that location.
With such dedication and devotion to the family, the least I could do for her would be to sit and watch her polka shows and knit a scarf for her.
"Oh, now you don't give me that scarf when you're finished, young man," she said to me quite sternly as she watched the evening news under an ahfgan. "I won't be around long enough to enjoy it. You just keep it for yourself."
And, despite many protests, I ended up taking the scarf home with me, along with some canned citrons and freezer jam: Even though I'll be wearing it, it will always be Aunt Jeanie's scarf.
Purple and Grey Scarf
The purple and grey scarf is a beast of knitting. It's monstrous and would probably be appropriate for Herman Munster. It was not my intent to make it so large. Circumstances were beyond my control.
Unfortunately, my cousin and her husband came to spend some time with me and my parents as we were visiting my dad's sister. They stayed for a week.
I knitted for a week straight, to the point that my wrists would sound like bubble wrap every morning when I would stretch them out.
It was worth it.
My cousin's husband is a cop, and he is a very bad man. Several years ago my sister came to visit over the fourth of July; she seldom comes to visit, so she has been elevated to celebrity status. This was the first time she met The Cop, at a bar, on the fourth of July. After we all went to bed, the two of them sat on the porch and "talked" about this and that--until he suggested the two of them go behind the barn to "pound one out."
She declined; she told me, of course--we are siblings despite how little we actually talk with one another; and it has been awkward ever since.
So, instead of interacting with him, I knit. My mother knows the story as well, and she throws barbs across the room:
"Hmmm, I think I'll make some poooound cake today. Would you like that?" she says smirking directly at The Cop. Zing!
Making steak on the grill, she turns to him and gives him a mallet: "Make sure you pound it good before placing it on the grill. It needs to be tender," and then she pats him on the shoulder like the dog he is. Zing!
Across the room, in the big white Lay-z-Boy, I knit faster. Every few inches of scarf can be attributed to some sort of awkward interaction or phrase hurled from my mother's mouth.
The Missing Scarf (Light Blue and Peach Diagonal Stripes)
The light blue and peach scarf is the one I know the best. It was a gift for my grandmother. It's very, very soft. It had to be, though, Grandma is a surly Swedish woman who is never pleased with anything.
She is too tired to live, too bitter to die, and too scared to live.
With cancer feasting on her lungs, she sits in her chair coughing away, not talking to anyone.
"All I want to do is sleep," she says, very honestly, "If I could sleep for a week at a time, that's what I would do."
And without another word she walks down the hallway and closes her door. My mother and I shrug our shoulders and leave--we had been excused.
I knitted the scarf as carefully as I could, any flaw would be pointed out--and once found, she would never wear the thing.
My mother and father had to go back to Texas, so the three of us went to visit her one last time. I gave her the scarf.
"It's soft," she said. She analyzed every inch of it, looking for flaws; and not finding any, she cried and she cried and she cried.
Granted it wasn't because of the scarf; it was because we were leaving, that scarf just happened to be there for the ride.
She climbed out of her chair and hugged me, her arms around my neck, on her tip-toes like a little girl holding onto her daddy while dancing on his shoes at a wedding reception.
In the raspy half-voice of an 80 year old smoker, she used my name, which she never does because she always has hated it--my mother named me after someone she did not approve of--but she used it as she said goodbye.
I can still hear it; I will always hear it.
I seal in the story of my family through knitting.
Travelling across the country, William Least Heat Moon may have learned about himself and places and people across the country, but his was a story of blue highways.
Mine is a story of scarves.