Chapter 22: The Long and Winding Road


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Many years ago, when she was about Jamie’s age, G-ma had learned how to knit from her grandmother. The old woman would sit by her fireplace, in a rocking chair, knitting sweaters for her family. It was a stereotypical scene, admittedly, but one that G-ma observed for years as a young girl. 

Each Christmas, after the presents were opened and the meal was served, as things were winding down from the day, G-ma’s G-ma would take out a sheet of paper and pencil. Making her rounds to each member of the family, she’d ask them what sort of sweater they wanted the next year. Would they want a zip-up cardigan, a themed sweater for a holiday, or perhaps something more exotic like a wrap or a cape. The men mostly stuck with the style they liked from years past, while the ladies would ask questions about styles, options, yarns, and linings. With her list in order, she’d prepare for the next year. On the next Christmas, the first present everyone opened was the sweaters. G-ma’s G-ma happened to have 12 immediate family members, and would produce a sweater a month. This meant that nightly she’d retreat to the fireplace (Or the porch in the summer months), and knit, careful not to reveal whose sweater she was working on. The more observant family members might try to guess, but they never quite knew what their sweater would look like until the next Christmas.

G-ma would eventually ask the older woman to teach her to knit, and her G-ma obliged. Then puberty hit, and G-ma wasn’t as interested in knitting as she had been. It was hard for her grandmother to accept this at first, but gradually she understood when her granddaughter became interested in other endeavors.

And just as G-ma had gone her way, so had the popularity of the sweaters. As time passed and heating in houses became more economical and less dirty, the winter months weren’t filled with drafty hallways and slow-to-warm wood stoves. Consequently, the sweaters received less and less use. Whereas a sweater might wear out over 3-4 years in the past, sweaters began to stick around for quite a bit longer, filling up closets and hooks. The family didn’t particularly like to give their sweaters away, partially because they knew G-ma might not approve of strangers wearing her Christmas gifts. And as the old woman became older and older, her attitude toward life seemed to lend support to this theory.

Finally one Christmas, after all the gifts had been opened and the meal served, as things were winding down for the day, G-ma noticed her grandmother was nowhere to be found. She’d gone up to bed, with most of the family not noticing her absence. The sweaters from that year lined the dining room chairs, where they’d been placed shortly after dinner. They weren’t on the backs of their owners, as they’d always been. G-ma’s grandma had ended the tradition, without any fanfare, leaving her family to wonder what would happen next.

On that night, G-ma thought back to her grandmother’s knitting lessons from years earlier.

“You got to deal with it, child”, she’d say.

“But it’s too hard! And the yarn is too tangled! And the stitch is too complex! And the pattern is all wrong and confusing!”

“It’s gonna make you change your ways”, she’d say in reply, meaning that the complaints and the struggles, the pain and the purl, were all part of life. One couldn’t take for granted anything. One pattern was easy, the next might not be. One project worked up faster than another, one might not be able to predict completion times. And sometimes you didn’t get your nightly knitting time – you couldn’t count on anything.

G-ma reflected a lot on her G-ma the night before her announcement to the group, and the day after. Her G-ma loved her, would never hurt her, would always be there for her. But her G-ma didn’t make things easy, and didn’t stop pain from happening if the pain was going to make you a better person.

The first year the family didn’t have homemade sweaters on Christmas, they looked at their G-ma and realized the hard work she’d put in. Countless apologies were given that morning to G-ma, for not valuing her treasures enough. They all felt that she must have stopped knitting sweaters as some sort of punishment for ingratitude. But the old lady did her best to put that to rest.

“Hogwash!”, she exclaimed, “I didn’t stop knittin because you didn’t say thank you or appreciate it. I stopped knittin them sweaters because you stopped needing them. I’ll always be there when you need me, and when you don’t, I know to let you go out and fly on your own”. In a way, she felt the end of the sweater tradition was a sort of milestone, nothing significant emotionally, just significant historically.

G-ma wondered if perhaps her own feeling on Julie’s possible death might just be a similar milestone. One can’t exert their will on others, and even if she could, was it her place? Putting aside all of the talk of freedom from this mental prison, the primary reason G-ma felt Julie should be free to end her life if she choose was because she loved Julie. Julie would know if the torment was too much, she would know if she could put up with it or if she had to end it. And G-ma felt that Julie would do what was best. G-ma just didn’t think it was possible that Julie was strong enough to power through, even though G-ma had worked countless hours, both inside and outside her head, no doubt, to make her strong.

“I’m going to help that child as much as I can”, G-ma had always told herself, “And if that means supporting her when she can’t handle it anymore, I won’t stand in her way, even if I could”.

It was a stance she’d begin to get more and more passionate about, as the others still grappled with it. She’d convince them given the time, she was sure of it.

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