Yesterday as I flipped through the stack of mostly junk mail that I had fetched from the mailbox, an advertisement for a magazine caught my attention. The cover featured a color photograph of a ball of yarn with knitting needles artistically inserted through the middle. The ball of yarn and needles was sitting on a table beside a retro couch with a knitted afghan blanket draped across the arm. Memories of Mrs. Hudson, my sixth-grade teacher, came to mind. She was tall, with a kind face, and wore little makeup. Her light brown hair had begun to gray, and she wore it in a simple bob cut above her shoulders. Her school uniform consisted of skirts with blouses that were not tucked in, flat or almost flat shoes, and a cardigan year-round.
Mrs. Hudson taught language arts when I was in sixth grade. Mrs. Hudson also taught knitting lessons in her home to select sixth-grade students every other Saturday from fall through winter.
It took the most pitiful expression I could muster to convince my parents to let me take the knitting lessons. It then required pleading and promises of extra chores to get them to agree to drop me off and pick me up every other Saturday. Thankfully, Mrs. Hudson only lived seven miles away, and she offered the knitting lessons for free. She even supplied knitting needles and yarn.
On the Saturdays when there was a knitting class, I would wake up early and be ready in a flash. Sometimes I had to be persistent to get my mama up so we could arrive by 9:00 a.m. My mama worked long hours at a factory during the week, so she was tired and often slept in on the weekends. Once I arrived at Mrs. Hudson's, it was like another world. What a difference seven miles make! We lived out in the sticks with the nearest neighbor half a mile away. Mrs. Hudson lived in a subdivision on a corner lot. There were neighbors within shouting distance on three sides. Mrs. Hudson would be waiting on the porch in pants and a sweatshirt. I tried not to stare but could not help but sneak side glances at her. It was the first time I had witnessed the evolution of a teacher into a regular person.
The house was quiet, tidy, and welcoming as Mrs. Hudson guided us to the den. It was such a contrast to the house I grew up in. There was no den at home. We only had a living room. And our house was always loud and in varying degrees of disarray, as would be expected with five children living there. Depending on the Saturday, four to six girls would be at the knitting lesson. Mrs. Hudson always had a tray of snack food on the coffee table. Usually, it was popcorn or applesauce, but occasionally, there would be little doughnuts covered in powdered sugar. That was always such a treat. There was also a pitcher of fresh iced tea or lemonade. Water was always a choice, but no one ever asked. Small bowls and plastic cups were stacked beside the tray. We would grab a snack and drink while everyone arrived and settled for the lesson. I drank iced tea for the first time at one of those Saturday knitting lessons.
When everyone arrived, we would remove sweaters and jackets and pile them in the chair next to Mrs. Hudson's. Mrs. Hudson allowed us to take our knitting home so that we could practice during the two weeks until the next lesson. So, we would then begin rustling in our bags to retrieve the knitting needles and yarn. One or two girls had their projects in a cloth bag or purse, but others, including me, carried our knitting in a brown, kraft grocery bag. "Knitting" was clearly printed in bold block letters on my bag. My name was written in looping cursive underneath. I remember how carefully I had worked on decorating that brown paper bag. Once the knitting needles and yarn came out, there was constant chatter punctuated with giggling and the slow, determined clicking of knitting needles. Mrs. Hudson would sit in a nearby chair, with a cat snuggled beside her, knitting needles silently, flying while taking it all in. Those two hours passed in the blink of an eye. Finally, around 10:30 a.m., Mrs. Hudson would announce that we should find a stopping place and go to the restroom if we needed to because our parents would be there soon to pick us up. Then, as we gathered needles, yarn, and personal belongings, we headed to the front porch. There we would say goodbye to Mrs. Hudson, thank her for having us, and share a quick hug as we called out, "See you in two weeks!'
If we had questions about our knitting in between classes, we could ask Mrs. Hudson about it after school. I was so anxious if I had a question. I knew I would need to be quick about getting to her classroom and asking so I could get in the bus line outside. I rushed to her classroom after school one day. When you added the first stitch, I could not remember if the needle should have been placed behind or in front of the slip knot. As Mrs. Hudson explained, my eyes darted to the window to watch for my bus. She asked why I was nervous, and I explained that I would get in big trouble if I missed the bus. She said, "Do not worry about that. I can drop you off on my way home". As it turned out, I never missed the bus when stopping by Mrs. Hudson's classroom, but I remember wishing I had so that I could have ridden home with her.
I don't recall officially thanking Mrs. Hudson for those Saturdays, and I regretted that. On a whim, I typed her name and the town where she lived into Google, knowing it was a long shot because it was a lifetime ago. Within minutes a couple of articles and multiple obituaries popped up. It did not take long to scan through the articles and obituaries. There was a recent photograph inserted into one of the obituaries, and as I gazed into those eyes, there was no question that it was Mrs. Hudson. She had passed away only eight years before at the age of 99. It was clear from the dates that she was younger than I realized in sixth grade. And, she must have moved from the house in the subdivision I had visited on those Saturdays so long ago because the obituary mentioned that after she retired from teaching, she had raised goats.
Those knitting lessons are one of the happiest memories of my young life. It dawned on me years later that knitting was not Mrs. Hudson's primary goal. There was no open invitation to "The Every Other Saturday Knitting Club." Instead, she had chosen this hodgepodge group of little girls that did not fit in separately but somehow fit together like pieces of a puzzle. As we learned to knit, we found common ground that we may not have found otherwise, and somehow, we knitted together our own little community. I smiled as I visualized Mrs. Hudson surrounded by a group of little goats. I do not know much about little goats. But I would venture to guess that they, too, need a sense of belonging, and a community, just like little girls. What lucky little goats, I thought, and what lucky little girls. I closed my eyes as I said aloud, "Thank you, Mrs. Hudson."