December 15, 2012

The Last Sweater

The Last Sweater
By John R. Greenwood

I don't write about my mother a lot. The reason is, it hurts too much. I begin to think of all the things she did for me. All the things that went unnoticed and floated quietly into the night. I think of all the Saturday nights she slipped an extra five into my hand as I headed out the door to see Patti, my girlfriend at the time and now my wife. That gesture hangs with me like an infinite hug. Mom did more for me than I will ever know. She stood tall for me when I messed up. I wish I could have shared some of that with my sister. Sis was blazing the teenager trail of arguments and wing spreading. The trail was well marked when I arrived at my teens. By that time I knew the drill. I was aware of the safest way through the parent minefield. My sister deserves a medal for what she endured. It was much easier for me. 

My most cherished vision of my mother is one of her sitting in her favorite fabric chair knitting away. She loved to knit. Anyone who knew my mother knew of her skills with a pair of #2 needles. Her baby sweaters and blankets were her finest works of art. Her wool knit hunting socks were prize acquisitions for anyone whose feet were ever cold. There are no more socks. There is an empty spot in my heart. 

I, like most people, wade in a pool of sentimentality during the Christmas season. I also enjoy writing more when there is an emotional connection in the mix. I got here by thinking of some of the Christmas traditions of our family. I was looking for a story to share. 

I was in the cellar the other morning when I spotted a trunk of family items tucked away on shelf along the wall. I was drawn to it by an unexplainable force. When I opened it up I immediately pulled out a plastic bag folded neatly in the bottom. In the bag was the pink sweater pictured in the photo above. It was an unfinished girls baby sweater. It was the last thing mom was working on when she got sick. They were the last stitches she made. It was the last sweater. 

Mom suffered with carpal tunnel due to the years and years of knitting. She had begun doing more crocheting because it was easier. Although she did have success with operations on both wrists it was still very painful for her to knit. She refused to stop and forged on making her blankets, hats, and sweaters. I know there are still many of her handmade treasures roaming around out there. What affected me the most about my discovery and the flood of visuals that accompanied it was something unexpected. I was overcome by the thought of all the things I took for granted where my mother was concerned. In her later years I did my best to thank her and assure her I knew the quiet things she did for me. We would look at each other and know what the other was thinking. If dad was in one of his, I-am-always-right, moods, she would simply give me that silent confirmation all was well, and send me out the door. When it came to watching my back she provided better protection than Tony Soprano. 

That expertly crafted sweater, so pink, so delicate brought all the things mom did for me back in an album of nostalgic reminders. I still have a bag or two of her vintage knitting books stored away. Seeing them brings back the memory of a Friday night ritual my parents would go through. It was back in the 1960's. There was a small knitting shop over on the east side of Saratoga Springs. On Friday nights dad would take mom there. We would park on the street out front. She would run in to get a few scenes of yarn. We would sit (impatiently) in the car(International Scout) and wait for her. I remember when the little yarn shop closed. Sadly, Mom's yarn world was slowly shrinking. 

I still smile when I picture mom nestled in her chair in one of her appliqu├ęd sweatshirts and sweatpants, her favorite drink by her side. She would have those needles flailing like Edward Scissorhands and at the same time her eyes would be glued to the Bruins/Devil's game, weighing in her definitive opinion with each missed shot and scored goal. 

Mom, thanks for the warmth of your wool socks, the joy of those exquisitely crafted baby sweaters, and your unwavering love. As I folded the unfinished treasure and gently placed it back into the memory vault I got a slight twinge. I realized the sweater mom was knitting was for the great- granddaughter she had been waiting so patiently for. My sister and I could field a starting basketball team lineup, and bench with grandsons, but there were no granddaughters coming. It would be a great-granddaughter when it happened. Mom never got to see my sister's granddaughter Adilynn. Adilynn would never get to enjoy the warmth of moms arms or the last sweater. 

This piece was written in the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting. The pain and horror of that event was so overwhelming I had to find a distraction. This piece was created as a tribute to those families who must now endure a lifetime of pain. For those of you reading this today, gather your children, hug them with the warmth of a hand-knit sweater. My mother will be looking out for the children lost in that tragedy. That is my Christmas wish... 

Mom, the boys, and me
circa. 1982


  1. John, excellent writing!! You always seem to make me reminisce. Your Mom would be so thrilled and proud of your writing.

  2. A beautiful written tribute to your mother on the aftermath of such a tragic shooting in Newtown. Life will never be the same.

  3. Lovely. Makes me want to finish her sweater...

  4. John, this was a touching post, on many levels. My husband kept the last two pies his mother baked, protected in our freezer for two years, before finally getting to the point where he could get rid of them. I still have some of my dad's old seed catalogs, filled out with orders that were never sent. The bonds are so strong. They will never end.

  5. Mom told us about this post tonight. Our daughter may have never gotten to wear such a special sweater but we'd venture to say her great-grandmother knows all about this little one who loves pink!=-) We have a very special picture of Grandpa and her meeting for the first time that we cherish...we'll never forget that look on his face when we proudly handed her to him and his very first remark was, "Boy if your great-grandma was here she'd be knitting up a storm right about now."

  6. Very touching. There are display boxes framed with glass and this sweater and needles poised like the photo would be a winderful gift ( at least in my eyes)