“Oh, darn,” her grandmother mumbled.
If darn was the best swear word Vera Pulanski knew, Courtney would be happy to broaden her vocabulary.
Climbing out of the car, she closed the heavy door and followed her grandmother inside. Courtney immediately walked over to the cat in the window and started petting him.
“Hello, Vera. How are you?” a young, petite woman said.
“Lydia, I’m glad to see you. This is my granddaughter Courtney. Courtney, Lydia.”
“Hi.” Courtney raised her hand in greeting.
“Do you knit?” Lydia asked.
Courtney shrugged. “A little.”
“I taught her one summer,” her grandmother boasted. “She took to it right off the bat.”
Courtney didn’t remember it that way, but she didn’t want to be rude.
“Courtney’s staying with me this year while her father’s in Brazil.”
Not wanting to listen to another lengthy explanation of her father’s important engineering role in South America, Courtney left the cat and wandered through the store. She’d had no idea there were so many different varieties of yarn. A display scarf knitted in variegated colors was gorgeous, and there was a felted hat and purse, a vest and a sweater.
“You could knit that scarf up in an evening,” Lydia said, lifting the end of it for Courtney to inspect.
“Yes.” She smiled widely. “It’s easy with size thirteen needles and one skein of yarn. You cast on fifteen stitches and knit every row. It’s that easy.”
“Wow.” Courtney had money with her, but hesitated. A twenty probably wasn’t enough to cover the cost of the needles and yarn, and she didn’t want to borrow from her grandmother.
Five minutes later, while Courtney was studying a display of patterned socks, Vera placed her purchases on the counter by the cash register. Courtney didn’t know what her grandmother was currently knitting, but she always seemed to have some project or other on the go. She hurried over.
“Did you see the socks?” her grandmother asked.
Courtney nodded. “Those new yarns are really amazing, aren’t they?”
“You could knit a pair of socks like that.”
“Would you like to?” Lydia asked.
Courtney considered the question. “I guess.”
“That means yes,” her grandmother translated. “Sign her up.”
“Sign me up for what?” Courtney wanted to know.
“The sock class,” her grandmother explained. “It’s time you met people, went out, got involved.”
“We’d love to have you,” Lydia assured her.
“My treat,” her grandmother added.
Courtney smiled, trying to show she was grateful. Actually, the idea was growing on her. She just hoped at least one other person in the sock class was under ninety years old.
“Remember that you need two socks. How to achieve this feat? Knit both at the same time, and release the idea that they need to be identical!”
I try to spend at least part of every weekend with my mother. It’s been difficult for her since Dad died. Difficult for all of us. I so regret that Brad never had the opportunity to meet my father. I feel certain they would have liked each other. My dad was open and friendly, and he always found something positive in everyone he met. He had a kind word and usually a joke or two; even when I was at my sick-and-despairing worst, he could make me smile. No one told a story better than my father. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever stop thinking about him, because it seems that he’s on my mind more and more instead of less.
The adjustment to life without my dad has been hardest on Mom, though; she’s aged ten years in the last fourteen months. She’s emotionally shrunken—I don’t know what else to call it. She’s become frail and sad and uninterested in much. And she’s shrunk physically, too, as if her body is reflecting her inner state, which is one of grief, of diminished expectations. In fact, at her last doctor’s appointment, we learned that Mom is a full inch shorter than she was a few years ago.
The results of her osteoporosis tests aren’t back yet. All at once, Mom has a number of medical problems, and I attribute this decline in her health not only to grief but to loneliness. My father was her anchor, her companion.
Although it sounds like a cliché, it seems as though part of her is missing; without him, she can’t function the way she once did. I understand that, and to some degree I experience the same feeling. Dad was such a vital part of the woman I am.
When I arrived early Sunday afternoon, I found my mother in the backyard pruning her roses, fussing over them. Her flower garden is her pride, one of the few things she still cares about. She prunes the roses, she tells me, so they’ll grow stronger. I consider Dad’s death in the same light. Losing him helped me discern what was important in my life, what was real. Mostly, I needed to find my own path to happiness and to accept the challenges of independence. It was losing my father that gave me the courage to enlarge my life, and I did this by opening my own store—and through my relationship with Brad.
I stood in the open doorway watching her for a few minutes. Caught up in her gardening, Mom didn’t hear me. She had on a big straw hat to shield her face from the sun and wore her green garden gloves. There was a bucket at her side in which she dumped the clippings. I didn’t want to frighten her so I called her name softly.
“Lydia!” Mom turned toward me as I stepped out of the house. “I thought you’d be here sooner.”
“So did I, but I got sidetracked after church.”
“By Brad and Cody?”
I nodded. “I’m meeting them in an hour. We’re going to walk around Green Lake.” The three-mile stroll was good exercise and I get far less of that than I should. Brad, on the other hand, is in marvelous shape and can run circles around me. Cody has a golden retriever named Chase—because of his terrible habit of chasing after everything and everyone. Cody would probably bring his dog, but he’d been warned to keep Chase on his leash. Maybe I’d get a book on dog-training and work with Cody to teach him some basic commands. Anyway, this afternoon would be fun and I was half tempted to take my in-line skates, just so I could keep up with the two—or rather, three—of them.
My mother’s hand trembled as she snipped another branch. I’d noticed the shaking more often lately. “What did you have for lunch, Mom?” I asked. Her eating habits were atrocious, and Margaret and I worried that she wasn’t getting the nutrition she needed. We also worried about her medications. My fear was that some days she took more than prescribed and on others she skipped them entirely.
“What did I eat for lunch?” Mom repeated as though she needed to think about this.
“Lunch, Mom?” I coaxed gently.
“Tuna and crackers,” she recalled and looked at me with such a triumphant smile that I smiled back.
Still, I had to ask, “That’s all?”
She shrugged. “I wasn’t hungry. Now, don’t pester me by insisting I eat when I don’t have an appetite. Your father used to do that. I didn’t like it then and I refuse to listen to it now.”
“All right, Mom.” I’d leave it for now, but we’d have to check out some alternatives. Meals on Wheels, perhaps. Or a part-time housekeeper if, between us, Margaret and I could afford one. I’d discuss it with her soon.
“Next Sunday is Father’s Day,” Mom pointed out. “Will you take me to the cemetery? I’d like to put a vase of my roses on your dad’s grave.”
“Of course. Margaret and I will both come.” I was speaking out of turn and hoped my sister would agree to accompany us. She’d been so prickly and out of sorts lately. The closeness we’d briefly shared had evaporated like a shallow rain puddle in the sun. Whatever was wrong, she didn’t feel comfortable enough to share it with me, and frankly, that hurt. We’ve come a long way in our relationship, but it was situations such as this that reminded me how far we had yet to go.
As if the strength had gone out of her legs, Mom reached for a patio chair and sat down. Lifting the hat from her head, she wiped her forehead with one arm. “My goodness, it’s hot.”
I glanced at the temperature gauge my father had hung on the side of the house, and it read seventy-four degrees, which surprised me because it didn’t feel that warm. Of course, my mother had been working outside for at least an hour, more likely two.
“Would you like to go out for dinner, Mom?” I asked, thinking that would be a treat for us both.
“No, thank you, honey. I’m not hungry. I met Dorothy Wallace at the Pancake Breakfast the Knights of Columbus held after Mass and we ate our fill.”
Translated, she had one small pancake without butter or syrup, followed by a lunch of tuna and crackers, and she’d probably skip dinner altogether.
“Besides, Margaret phoned and she’s stopping by with the girls later this afternoon.”
Some of my worry left me. Margaret would make sure Mom had a decent meal at the end of the day.
“She enjoys working with you,” my mother continued. “She’s not one to say it, but she does.”
I wondered if I should mention my concerns about my sister. I decided against it, although Margaret had been weighing heavily on my mind since my conversation with Brad earlier in the week. There was no need to bring Mom into this. She’d certainly mention my concerns to my sister, and that would infuriate Margaret; she would resent me for discussing her with Mom, and then I’d hear about it for weeks.
“Can I get you anything?” I asked.
Her smile was distracted. “I’d love a glass of iced tea.”
I went inside and poured one for each of us, then added slices of lemon. Several other lemons had shriveled up and I tossed them without telling Mom. A quick look in the refrigerator had revealed a carton of milk a month past its expiry date and a package of liquefying spinach. I’d tossed those too. When I returned to the patio, Mom had replaced the hat and was sitting with her back to the sun.
I joined her and handed her the glass, savoring the warm sunshine against my skin, the sound of birds in the distance along with the swish, swish of the sprinkler watering the lawn.
“Tell me about the shop,” Mom suggested. “Did you get in any new yarn this week?”
She especially enjoyed the stories about my customers; so many of them had become my friends, especially Jacqueline, Carol and Alix, my original class members. We’ve created a real bond, the four of us, and it’s rare for me not to see them during the week. If nothing else, one or two always showed up for the charity knitting session on Fridays.
I talked nonstop for almost twenty minutes about the shop and described the three women who’d recently signed up for the sock class. The one who interested Mom most was Courtney Pulanski, the seventeen-year-old granddaughter of Vera Pulanski, a regular.
“I’m thinking of holding a potluck once a month,” I said, wanting her opinion on this new idea—partly to allow her to feel involved and partly because I trusted her instincts. Over the years, she’d been a valuable sounding board to my father in his businesses.