The author says:
I enjoy knitting. I learned to knit as a child from my Austrian mother and grandmother. They knit the way they were taught in the “old” country, in the Continental style. That was the style they taught me. At some time I was shown the “American” style, so my knitting developed into my own hybrid version.
I am a storyteller, and the germ of this tale came from one of my improv stories told in a storytelling group. I found myself smiling as I turned it into a complete story. I often include grandmothers and children in my stories and sometimes use a fairytale-like feeling.
THREE KNIT A SHAWL
Grandmother Lisbeth sat as close as she could to the fire, slowly rocking in her great-grandmother’s old rocker. It was hard to tell if the creaking was from Lisbeth’s ancient bones or the century-old rocker. Her sheepskin-slippered feet would gently push off the wooden floor, back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes a little smoke would escape the fireplace and fill the room with the scent of burning pine.
She sat to catch the fire’s warmth and often closed her eyes and dozed, remembering, remembering . . . Other times she picked up her favorite worn knitting needles and began slowly and carefully, knit one, purl one, knit one, purl one. She had been knitting for so many years she didn’t need to count stitches or wonder when to increase or decrease.
Her favorite knitting times were when her two young grandchildren pulled up their miniature rocking chairs, as near to her as possible, the three of them forming a loving triangle before the fire’s heat. As soon as the boy, Ethan, and the girl, Rebecca, were settled, one would cry, ”Granmamma, granmamma, tell us a story, oh please do!”
“Yes, oh please, please,” the other would echo. “Tell the one about the fox and the wolf with the great big teeth. Ooh, that one is so scary!”
And she would start telling the story all the while slowly knitting, knit one, purl one, knit one, purl one. As soon as she was at the end, the children would clap their hands and jump out of their chairs to hug her. “Thanks Granmamma. It wasn’t too scary this time. Tell us another.”
If there was time before dinner, Lisbeth would rock a few times, continue her knitting and tell another.
One time she started by saying, ”Today I will tell one called the Story of Threes. It is about three diving ducks, three glittering stars high up in the sky and three sturdy oak trees that grew on the banks of the pond where the ducks swam. It is about three different things. Can you show me how many three is?”
Rebecca held up two fingers.
“No, no that’s only two, you need one more to make three,” Ethan said, and held up three straight fingers to show her. The girl copied him and pleased with herself, announced “Three, that’s how old I am now. This many.” And she held up three.
“Yes, that’s right,” said Lisbeth and started to rock and knit and tell the Story of Threes. The flames flickered over the children’s faces as they echoed her slow rocking and became lost in the tale.
Now Lisbeth had an old neighbor friend who’s name was also Lisbeth. They all called her Lis to keep from mixing up who was who. What Lisbeth was knitting during those cold weeks leading up to Christmas, was a big afghan shawl for Lis who had arthritis and couldn’t knit any longer herself. It would be made of alternating gold and blue squares and be large enough to wrap around Lis’ entire body and overlap in the front.
“This will be a magic shawl,” she told the children, “because as I tell you these stories while I’m knitting, and because of your careful listening, the stories will become part of the shawl. When Lis bundles herself up in it, she will hear the stories, and they will warm her heart just as the wool will warm her bones. So all three of us will be giving her a special gift this year. And all three of us will wrap it up and bring it to her together, the day before Christmas.”
“Oh yes, that will be wonderful for Lis because we know she likes stories as much as we do. We’re happy to be giving her a magic shawl,” Ethan said.
And so the peaceful triangle and the knitting and weaving of stories continued during the dark cold nights. One night Rebecca noticed that her grandmother was knitting slower than usual. “Are your fingers getting tired of knitting, Granmamma?” she asked.
Rebecca couldn’t imagine her grandmother not being able to knit.
“No dear, but the wool is almost gone and I’m not wanting our story times to be over.” “But Granmamma, the shawl must be finished before Christmas so we can bring it over to Lis. And can’t we have stories afterwards anyway?”
“Of course we can and we will,” so Lisbeth resumed her previous knitting speed, and finally there was only one ball of wool of each color left. “Tonight is the night we will finish and I will bind off the shawl. Let’s retell the wolf and the fox story I told you the first night we started this project.”
When the shawl was finished, Lisbeth said, ”All right my dears, help me out of this chair please.”
Rebecca took hold of one gnarled hand and Ethan the other, and they gently pulled her up to standing. The children helped their grandmother flatten out the shawl and carefully fold it over and over into a soft somewhat lumpy bundle. They wrapped it in brown paper and tied it with the last pieces of left-over yarn. Ethan, who had just learned how to tie a bow, proudly made a big floppy one, and the gift was ready to be delivered.
That evening they bundled up in hats, scarves and mittens and took turns carrying the gift down the long dirt path to reach the house next door. The full moon overhead spread long shadows behind them. Three sets of different sized footprints marked their way through the snow. The children knocked excitedly, but It took a while for Lis’s arthritic legs to make it to the front door. When she opened it, she saw both neighbor children jumping up and down in excitement.
“Come in, come in. I’m so happy to see you all!”
“Lis, Lis, we have a surprise for you!” they shouted. “It’s for Christmas, but maybe you should open it right away. Now!”
Lis did, slowly, as Lisbeth put her arm around Lis’ shoulders, and tears formed in both their eyes.
“It is a magic shawl from all three of us. I did the rocking and the knitting and the storytelling, and the children did their rocking and listening. We all wrapped it together. You will be warm on these cold nights, and the stories and our love will keep you company and keep you strong when you are lonely,” Lisbeth told her friend.
Lis slowly wrapped the shawl around herself. Her eyes were shining and she had the biggest smile they’d ever seen. “Oh, you look perfect!” Rebecca cried.
“Merry, merry Christmas,” the three chanted in unison. They piled on their warm clothing again and returned home wreathed in smiles.
The next night, when they all sat down for a new story in their rocking chairs, they had a great surprise. The basket which held all the gold and blue wool for Lis’ shawl, that had been totally emptied, was now filled to the brim with balls of wool, red and green this time.
Lovely story, Ursula. Your details put us right beside the children and grandmother in the warmth of the fire. Thank you! Lib