We were sitting around the coffee table, all of us trying to ignore that my father-in-law was dying. We talked about the economy, the weather, travel conditions, our children, and the latest news from the doctor, edited to put a rosy spin on his downward trend. My father-in-law grinned more in the last year than I had ever seen him do in all the many years I’d known him. As time started closing in on Ken, the wider his grin became, as if forced good cheer could stave off death’s stealthy approach.
I pulled a blue crochet hook out of my bag, and announced that I could make yarn from an old T-shirt and then crochet it into something useful, like a potholder. Ken got up and came back with a “Save Our Slopes” T-shirt, commemorating one of the countless runs in which he’d participated during his long retirement from a very successful career as an engineer and a businessman.
Ken had always been healthier than anyone his age had a right to be—he’d become a vegetarian during his 50s and then a “vegangelist” in his 70s. He had always planned to live until 100, but the rest of us considered 100 to be a conservative estimate. He travelled all over the world to hike and run in exotic and far-flung wonderlands, scaling mountains, and riding rafts over white water sluicing through slot canyons. He had started a Sierra Club chapter in his mountain town in North Carolina and hiked with college kids, avoiding old people whenever possible. He had very reluctantly moved into assisted living when he realized that his heart failure could be managed but never cured.
The shirt looked so new that I didn’t want to cut it up, but Ken insisted it was OK. Everyone watched as I cut a straight line from armhole to armhole. Then I folded the lower piece and cut through several thicknesses. At that moment, I realized that I was doing it all wrong, and sheepishly confessed that I may have just ruined the shirt.
Ken began to whimper and it dawned on me that his faith had been rewarded with disappointment. Here I was, just like his doctors, making a vague promise to take something precious that he can’t really use anymore, cut it up into something that’s falling apart and then weave it into something different—not necessarily better, but somewhat usable. Any way you slice it, though, the result is a net loss.
I would have cried, too, but my sister-in-law, Ann, did a quick web search for me and we located the instructions on how to make yarn from a T-shirt. With a few rescue snips and some fancy re-folding, I was able to resume making good on my promise. Vindicated, I crocheted in peace as the conversation looped its way through biographies and scientific breakthroughs.
We all sighed with relief as I put the finishing touches on this homespun, overgrown potholder. Ken was more than pleasantly surprised to see the tight pattern of knots. He ran his fingers over the sturdy, springy weave, and he seemed almost tickled that his once treasured T-shirt had morphed into an unexpectedly delightful piece of homely fabric art.
Ken thanked me and decreed that henceforth, this nubby rectangle would serve as a mat for his soup bowl at noon each day.
On our way out of the building that evening, Ann and I rehashed the experience of the almost-ruined T-shirt and the almost-miraculous jury-rigged solution. It was our little victory. She said, “Maybe you’ll write a story about this.” I said I would, but life, and then death, got in the way. Ken missed his 90th birthday by five days.
This is our first Christmas without Ken. His absence will always be glaring. But the relief that his anguish and fear have ended is a comfort, as are the happy memories of his life so very well-lived. Ken’s death has woven us all together just a little more tightly than before.
Ann tells me, “I’ve got something for you!” She presents me with the soup mat, lightly spattered with drops of dried soup. I am more than pleasantly surprised to see the tight pattern of knots. I run my fingers over the sturdy, springy weave, and I am tickled that this unexpectedly delightful piece of homely fabric art has found its way back to me.
We both smile, remembering the afternoon of our little victory. Once again, Ann reminds me, “Maybe you’ll write a story about this.”
Photo Credit: Gloria Talcove-Woodward, “The Soup Mat,” The Talcove Fiction Faction.