The woman who knit herself a husband

Posted Jan. 03, 2011, at 3:56 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 05, 2011, at 7:13 p.m.

This is a story, completely fictional, about a young lady who knit herself a husband — metaphorically speaking.

Miss Nellie was born when the 19th century turned into the 20th century. She had been knitting since she was 12, a skill she learned from her mother, her grandmother, several older sisters and a bevy of lively aunts. All of Nellie’s relatives lived in farms on the same dirt road in the same small Maine town where a river ran through, and the round sides of the hills were covered with evergreens and maples.

Nellie’s many female relatives did a lot of “back and forthing” from one house to the other, usually with knitting in hand.

When the United States got into The Great War in 1918, Nellie was 18. She was sweet on Clarence, from the farm down the road. He was 21. There was no formal engagement, but Nellie had hopes and everyone knew she did. Her sisters teased her about Clarence and his failure to declare his feelings. Her aunts thought up all sorts of ways to throw Nellie and Clarence together — sleigh rides, dances at the Grange, church socials, but he failed to propose.

When the war came, Clarence decided to join up. He wanted to help kick the German kaiser in the pants.

Nellie had hoped she would have an “understanding” with Clarence before he went overseas to France where all the fighting was, but he left without proposing.

“Well, Nellie,” Aunt Amelia said. “If he won’t give you a ring, you might as well tie him down tight with your knitting.”

Nellie saw her aunt’s point.

Clarence had written to her — she had an address. She knew that the trenches in France were dreadful places — cold, wet and filled with terrifying danger. She decided not to fret about the danger and to concentrate on what might bring comfort to Clarence.

She bought skeins of khaki-color yarn at a shop in the village where the front window displayed a poster that said, “Uncle Sam wants you!” The poster’s pointing finger singled her out to come to aid of her country — knitting needles were the only weapon she had.

The first thing she knit was socks, working Clarence’s initials into them. Then she knit a long scarf, fashioning the words, “For Clarence from Nellie,” into it. Next, she made mittens, then gloves and finally, a sweater.

Nellie’s sisters and aunts teased her, said they saw sparks fly from her needles, she knit so fast and so well.

When it came time to send the package of knitting to Clarence, Aunt Rose, who was a maiden lady and knew about such things, said, “Everything but the sweater, Nellie. Never knit a sweater for a gentleman who isn’t your husband, because if you do, he never will be. You can give it to him after you are married. If I’d paid attention to that little detail, I would never have been jilted.”

Nellie put the scarf, mittens, socks and a cap in the mail. She laid the sweater away in mothballs in her hope chest.

Weeks went by and there was no letter from Clarence. Nellie looked at the casualty lists on the post office wall each week with awful dread in her heart, but to her relief Clarence wasn’t on them.

“Don’t fret, Nellie,” her mother advised. “Knit something else.”

Nellie turned her knitting toward the needs of the Red Cross, which was calling for as many pairs of socks as the ladies of Maine, and indeed, America, could cast on and bind off. All the time she was knitting, her thoughts were on Clarence, keeping him safe, imagining what it would be like to be married to him.

When Nellie finally heard from Clarence, the letter came from a hospital in England where he was recuperating from a leg wound. The war was over for him.

Nellie was so happy to hear from Clarence, and so concerned about him, she invited her girlfriends and women relatives (and Uncle Ephraim, who had learned to knit as a boy and loved it) to a knitting bee. She asked each one to knit a long strip of bright-red yarn in any pattern they wanted. Red, she said, was the color of bravery and love. She sewed the strips together into a cozy afghan and sent it to Clarence to keep him warm while he convalesced.

When Clarence came home several months later, handsome in his uniform and with a rather endearing limp, he called on Nellie. All of the women who eddied and swirled through Nellie’s days suddenly discovered they had errands to do and scattered like autumn leaves in the wind.

Clarence was somewhat changed by all he had seen and gone through, Nellie could see that, but she also saw that with patience, good food and a good woman to stand by him, he’d be just fine.

They sat in the parlor and talked awhile. Clarence told Nellie how much receiving the things she had knit meant to him, how he had worn the scarf as a talisman when he had “gone over the top” of the trench and into enemy territory.

Then he drew a strand of khaki-color yarn from his pocket. “This,” he said, “is all that’s left of the socks you knit me. I wore them clean out.” He handed Nellie the strand and when she closed her hand around it she realized that a gold ring set with a small opal was tied to it.

She cried and he grinned, and when the aunts and sisters and mother and grandmothers drifted back to see how things had turned out, they were thrilled for the happy couple.

“See, what did I tell you,” Aunt Amelia whispered to Nellie. “You never know what you will catch when you cast on a few stitches.” And Aunt Rose nodded wisely.

Snippets

Want to knit a yeti or a sasquatch? Go to www.knitpicks.com, click on “patterns,” then “free,” for directions. Other free patterns include ornaments, socks, hats, scarves and bags.

The Bangor Area Sewing Guild will offer a class in basic garment construction at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 8, at the Hampden Municipal Building. The class will be making pajama bottoms. If you have a serger and need more experience using it, bring it with you. If you don’t have a serger, a regular machine will do just as well.

Learn basic pants construction, how to make an elastic waist and simple hemming techniques, skills that can be used making any elastic waist pants.

The class is open to those of all sewing levels, including beginners.

To register or for information, call Kathy at 941-8815. The cost for the class is $10 guild members, $15 others.

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