Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Knitting on the anniversary

This is an article I wrote for a magazine some time ago.  By coincidence, I assume, they returned it last week.  I take it as a sign that I should publish it today, on the anniversary of the day that Hurricane Katrina hit my home state.  It is even more fitting (and concerning) that another one is moving over the same area today.

The Best Thing I've Ever Knit

While we drove to and from the suburbs of New Orleans to repair the damage done by Hurricane Katrina to our two small apartment buildings, I knit.  Once there, I put my needles away.  My hands were needed to carry moldy sheetrock and broken limbs, sweep away the dust and bent nails left by the demolition and begin to rebuild.

Day after day, I packed my knitting for the hour-long drive. I wasn't particularly skilled in rebuilding apartments, but there was no other choice.  We had waited weeks to be allowed into the area.  Once we got in, we found a labor shortage.  Crews of unskilled laborers who had come for that purpose had gutted the apartments, tearing out and replacing the bottom four feet of drywall that had been soaked by the flood.  They piled the debris in the front yarn on top of the piles of tree limbs and stumps, the remainders of the huge trees that had once shaded the buildings.  It was saddening to see our once lovely trees reduced to head-high piles of trash, piles that had to be moved to the curb so that they would be carried away by the sanitation trucks.
Once we had cleaned up the debris, we found that the needed painters, plumbers and electricians were in short supply.  It was frustrating to learn that our apartments were on a list of hundreds that needed repair. Without labor, our properties wouldn't be repaired for months.

We hated to see the apartments in such conditions.  It wasn't a matter of money.  We didn't need the rent--that loss was covered by our insurance.  What moved us was the situation of our tenants, who were left homeless.  With no nearby apartments available for rent, in order to get to work and send their children to school, they were forced to live with relatives and friends, several families sharing a home meant for one.

They, and we, were unwilling to wait.  We decided to begin the repairs.  That a professional carpenter or painter would have been appalled at our work methods didn't matter.  Making the apartments livable again was what mattered.

Although it wasn't how I imagined I would be spending my retirement, I became a builder. I visited home improvement stores and bought cabinets and appliances.  I bought paint and brushes at local paint stores.  I spent hours painting and caulking.  I hammered finishing nails into trim.  I helped wedge cabinets into kitchens. 

Sometimes my will faded.  I wanted to go home and work on repairing the damage the storm had done there.  I was tired.  At the end of each day, I got back in the passenger seat of the car and gratefully picked up my needles, glad to turn to my knitting.  Although I worried that the smell of the mold, the paint, and the other materials that I had touched during the day would permanently impregnate the yarn, I was relieved to concentrate on an unfamiliar lace stitch pattern, forgetting about the destruction, the hard work, and the faces of the people who had lived through it.

I had just begun knitting again after a long break.  In the yarn department of a big store, I'd found a beautiful book of knitting patterns, patterns that stretched my imagination and encouraged me to try new stitches.  Although I'd never knit a lace pattern before, I dared to attempt a lace scarf.  The pattern wasn't particularly complicated, but it was a challenge for me.  I still remember how I struggled to correct my mistakes as I rode along, the car bouncing over the joints in the 24-mile-long causeway over the lake.  For an hour each way, every day, for four months, I stared at the water and forgot about the drudgery of the rebuild as I knit.

Now my memory of the hard work has faded.  I'm glad I could help; glad the tenants are still there and happy in their homes.  Time and wear have affected both my memory and our work.  The apartments once again need more coats of paint, new cabinets and flooring.  Thank goodness there are carpenters and painters to do it.

Unlike the apartment rebuild, the scarf I knit during those months hasn't faded.  I keep it in a basket where I see it often and wear it every winter.  In the seven years since, I've knit more than a hundred other projects, improving my skills with each one.  But this scarf holds a special place of importance among them.  I can wear it and remember the satisfaction of helping in times of need.  It is warm, pretty and made of memories.  In so many ways, it is the best thing I've ever knit.

Although I hope I don't have to do it again, I am ready, with plenty to knit along the way.

1 comment:

whittsknits said...

This is a lovely post. :)