Dashing up our neighbor’s porch stairs, I knocked on the front door. Mrs. Nelson had come home from the hospital just this morning so Mom had dished up a serving of the lasagna she’d fixed for supper and asked me to take it over.
Shifting impatiently from one foot to the other, I wondered what could be taking her so long. At last, I heard a bolt slide back. Mrs. Nelson opened the door and peered out.
“Jasmine! What a wonderful surprise!”
I was startled at how much weight Mrs. Nelson had shed. Her pink cotton dress hung loosely from her frail body. Her lovely round face, once the color of coffee beans, had shriveled to the likeness of a peach well past its prime.
I held out the container. “Mother thought you might like some lasagna.”
Mrs. Nelson opened the door wider, one hand gripping her walker. “Come in, child.”
I shook my head. “I… I have the sniffles. I really shouldn’t --.”
She frowned. “I need both hands for the walker. If you could just pop in and set the food on the table, I’d really appreciate it.”
I stepped inside, offering her a half-smile as I edged past. In the kitchen, I set the container on her chipped Formica tabletop.
“Thank you, dear,” Mrs. Nelson said, her walker clicking as she shuffled along behind me. “How are you and your mother doing?”
“Fine.” I nodded. “And you?”
“As well as can be expected, I suppose,” she said, lowering herself into a recliner. “The doctors aren’t very optimistic but, ultimately, it’s in God’s hands.”
The next day, I brought her a bowl of beef stew. When I knocked, Mrs. Nelson called out for me to come in. She was sitting in her recliner, head bent over her knitting.
“Stew,” I said, holding up the container.
“Thank you, Jasmine. You and your Mom are so thoughtful!”
Mrs. Nelson was knitting a daffodil-yellow blanket, her hands flying along as she deftly wrapped a strand of yarn around a needle, then pulled it through in a loop which she worked into a stitch. Her fingers were gnarled with arthritis, each finger bent at the knuckles like a row of men hunched over their work. I watched in awe, mesmerized as her needles whipped across one row, then another.
“Do you knit?” Mrs. Nelson asked, as she stabbed, looped, pulled, and tweaked the yellow yarn.
“No. But I’d like to.”
“Pull up a chair then and I’ll teach you.”
She handed me a pair of aluminum needles and a skein of dark grey worsted.
“Grey?” I frowned. “How about something a bit more colorful?”
“Grey will do just fine for now. Believe me, you’ll do plenty of stitching and tearing apart before you’re ready to work a project. Now, make a slipknot.”
I gave her a blank look.
“Oh child, you’ve got a lot to learn.”
Taking the yarn, she tied a slipknot, then poked one needle into the loop, showing me how to jab, loop, then pull the yarn through and over.
“Now you try.”
I held the needles stiffly, thrusting them together, like two rams butting heads.
“Relax your elbows. Lower the needles. They’re supposed to work together, not against each other.”
The thick yarn felt strange as it wound through my fingers. The needles flopped about like wet, slippery fish in my unskilled hands. I plunged the right needle through the next stitch, then attempted to loop the yarn over it. The thread resisted, a rebel in my bumbling hands.
Mrs. Nelson resumed her own knitting, tactfully ignoring my clumsy efforts. I glanced over, watching as her needles clicked away, obedient little pixies in the service of their master. She made it look so easy.
The next day, I didn’t fight with the needles as much. Soon, I had a big, grey square that didn’t look too bad.
“Let me show you something,” Mrs. Nelson said, leading me to the guestroom.
The bed was piled high with blankets in shades of purple, red, orange, blue, green, and yellow. A rainbow of love, all knit by hand.
My eyes grew wide. “What’s all this?”
“Blankets for an orphanage overseas. I don’t have much to give those poor babies, but I can knit them each a blanket.”
“How many blankets have you made so far?”
“One hundred and twenty-six.”
I gasped. “That many?”
“But not nearly enough,” she murmured, tears pooling in her eyes.
Spring warmed into summer. I started helping Mrs. Nelson with the blankets. Blue, pink, purple, lavender, and bright yellow yarns worked their way through my fingers, onto my needles, slowly emerging as blankets that would provide warmth and comfort to many children in need.
As the summer wore away and autumn brought cooler weather, Mrs. Nelson seemed to shrivel like the leaves falling from the trees. She was barely five feet now, a stooped little figure, struggling for every breath. I knew she was still fighting, but I wasn’t convinced she was winning.
It was mid-October when Mrs. Nelson passed away. For several weeks I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a pair of knitting needles. I told myself I needed time to heal. How could I knit without my teacher, my mentor, my friend? It just wasn’t the same.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, I arrived home to find a moving van in Mrs. Nelson’s driveway. Her daughter was cleaning out the house. Several large bags sat on our doorstep. Dragging them inside, I opened the first one. It was bursting with yarns of all colors and thicknesses. Like a bag of Skittles burst open, skeins in pinks, reds, yellows, and blues spilled out onto the floor. A note lay among the skeins.
I picked it up and read, “A gift for my sweet Jasmine. Remember me with each stitch you knit. Love, Mrs. Nelson.”
In that moment, I knew I had to continue the blanket project in her honor. For in teaching me to knit, she had gifted me something far more valuable; she had taught me how to love.