Posted by: Kate | January 4, 2007

I Miss Grandma O

I just had an epiphany.

I knit weird.

I was – yes, I understand, by admitting this I am baring a truly geeky and uncool side of my soul; I am at ease with this – watching a show that is so insanely faux-trendy and irritating that it’s like having Grandma’s gaudy ceramic turkey salt and pepper shakers on the table, where it’s so bad that it’s actually kind of sweet and comforting, called Knitty Gritty

…I’ll just pause while you fight off the nausea that the cutesiness of the name inevitably incites…

…and I happened to notice, “Hmm. That man is knitting differently than I do.” It’s subtle, and I had already known that my way – which I believed was the Continental method – looked different than how my sister and a few of my friends knit. They knit in the American method (I know it’s the same page as the last one, scroll a little!). I’m a mere beginner – I learned the basics about 3 years ago, and have only really been into it for the past few months, with my first project, a really loud blanket, finished in April 2006 – but I can knit pretty quickly, and without looking at the needles. The purls and the knits just feel different. Shut up, it matters to me.

Anyway, it was interesting to me that I had learned the Continental method, which isn’t rare but it’s less common than the American method, at least in America (I tend to think there’s something about the naming convention that would suggest this to me, but I can’t think what). Interesting because I learned from my great-grandmother, whom everyone called Grandma O. You’d have called her Grandma O, too, if you knew her. This is not cute blog-shortening to protect her identity, that’s actually what we called her. We’re Irish, she had an O’ last name… you get the idea.

I miss her so much, and somehow more this year than last, likely because I was in such a deep dark depression this time last year that no one thing stood out as a stronger sadness than the others. (I must have been SUCH fun.) Growing up, I spent two or three weeks every summer with her in the Adirondacks, in this kitschy summer-only trailer neighborhood thing that we all referred to as “Camp.” She was 70 years older than me, almost, and being the much-oldest grandchild, I was mostly there with her alone. So we talked some, more her than me, and we just sat together. She gave me a lot of freedom and trust, and taught me how to crochet, and cook without using recipes, and build a decent fire.

I can’t put it into words well, other than that I am so unspeakably grateful to have had her in my life, and I ache for my children that they won’t know her. How many other 80-year-old women do you know who got kicked out of an Irish bar on St. Patrick’s Day, for lecturing the cook on how to properly make Irish stew while her traveling companion – my other great-grandmother, Grandma B – was demonstrating an Irish jig, on the bar? How many other people consider Parcheesi to be a full contact sport? She died in June 2005, just days after our last visit.

But, like I described here, I did not learn how to knit at Camp. Dunno why, just never did. So the fact that I found the time and motivation to learn from her later, in a nursing home, while she was still coherent and herself, is a point of pride for me. And now my only regret is how clueless I was; I didn’t even realize there was more than one way to knit, much less that there was anything unusual about the way I was learning. I didn’t know I should ask her how she learned that way.

So, back to the present. I was watching my dorky show, and realized that the guest knitter (ah, yes, a new life goal) was doing it differently, and since my laptop was right here all wifi’ed up and ready to go, I went to my favorite knitting website (shut up, it’s got videos) to investigate. And it turns out that I don’t knit American – I knew this – nor do I knit Continental. Instead I use a rather obscure and unusual method called Combination knitting.

I had no idea that such a thing even existed, much less that I was doing it. HOW did Grandma O learn this way? Who taught her? Why can’t I be twelve again, sitting on the porch at Camp, listening to the rain and one of three channels on the TV (“just on for company”) and another Grandma O Story?

And, to step out of the maudlin for a moment, how weird is it to learn something like that about yourself? This may not seem like a big deal to those of you who don’t knit, but it’s a bit like suddenly learning that everyone else holds a pen between different fingers, or ties their shoes up-side-down, or something. I barely even recognized myself in the mirror.

The end result is the same, as far as I can tell, but the process is different. How’s that for armchair couch philosophy?



  1. I would have liked to have known your grandma! (especially her mother – anyone who dances jigs on St. Patrick’s Day would be cool to know!!!)

    My grandma taught me how to crochet. I don’t know if there is more than one method.

  2. What a great story!
    I love to knit, and have been doing it for precisely one year. I also love Knitty Gritty unabashedly, wholeheartedly, DVRly. I followed you here via the knittyboard, one of the best places around! 🙂
    Nice to meet you!

  3. Grandma O marched to the beat of a different drummer. Or, knitted to the purl of a different…never mind.

    I always knew you were bass ackwards. :kiss:

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