Friday, August 15, 2014

The last sock

The first time I ever saw a pair of handknit socks they were being worn by my then-new friend Ady, and Wow.  I've never forgotten it.

Although at 19 I'd already been knitting a few years, it had never occurred to me that anybody would knit socks.  By hand.  Out of amazing yarns and in colour combinations you'd never find in what you could buy ready made.  I had major sock envy, but Ady's were so much a part of her, so much a part of a casually athletic life that I as a confirmed bookworm had never considered, I couldn't imagine ever having anything like them.  And the fact that I eventually did teach myself to knit socks does nothing to diminish the powerful memory of that first pair.

They looked a little something like this,

And they were knit by Ady's younger and only sister, Alanna.  Who passed away a week ago today, after a hard fight against breast cancer.

I don't know about you but it still shocks me that we lose people to this disease.  With all the fundraising that goes on, all the attention, all the early detection and advances in treatment, it just seems - well, wrong, obviously.  I am grateful that many people beat it, and I'm angry that many others don't. 

Here is Alanna's cat, who came out of some shrubbery after I set this sock down on the ground.  Probably because I set it down.

I expect she often sat with her cat while she worked on these, and other projects.  Alanna lived her life fully with an amazing career and many friends and interests and plans for the future, but she was always a very active knitter too and found time to make exceptionally beautiful things.  Often they were for Ady, on whom I would see them.  Still, it's the socks that will come to my mind first when I think of her - the wonderful yarns she used and the many colourful pattern variations she played on that small canvas.

That girl knew from gorgeous.

Like a lot of us, Alanna would knit several different things at once.  The upside of that is always having variety and never having to go out without something mindless in your bag, and the downside is that if something happens to you, some of those things will be unfinished.

Unfinished knits are always poignant but sometimes it's okay that they are what they are.  I have two sweaters in progress right now that could be frogged tomorrow and I wouldn't regret them as I passed over.  Socks for myself?  Eh, so be it.

But socks you were knitting as a gift for a dear friend's very important birthday?  No knitter wants to leave something like that undone.

Alanna's knitting basket and travel knitting bags yielded several socks in progress, all in fabulous colour and yarn combinations, but this pair was the one Ady knew was even more special than the others - this pair was that birthday gift.

And the second sock was so close to being done.

Ady doesn't do enough knitting to take this on but she and Alanna and their mom sometimes worked on socks as a family with Ady running in ends and their mom knitting toes.  So their mom will finish the second toe on this pair, but... she doesn't love stranded colourwork.  Since I'd rushed north to give Ady a hug after she called to tell me Alanna was gone, I was available do to that part.

And I was going to do it, too - just sorting out whether the first or second stitch of the round should be yellow - when Ady had a better idea.

Why not knit those last rounds without the stars?  So that Alanna's friend will always know that this sock was her last?

I think that is so brilliant, and so moving, and exactly what I would want, too.  I noted how many more rounds were needed before the colour change and toe decreases, and then I left the note and the pair and the yarn with Ady for her mom to take over.

Alanna's death is another stark reminder that there is a lot more work to do to put this disease in its place - in deep history would be good in my opinion - and for those of us who are not scientists or researchers that means helping to fund the efforts of these fine people.  I know most of us do donate to breast cancer research, often.  Still, this seems like a good day to mention my own favourite way to do that: The Weekend To End Women's Cancers, a punishing two-day walk of 60 kilometers (more than 37 miles) that, this year, is scheduled to unfold in Canada in the cities of Toronto and Montreal.  I know there are similar walks in the United States, too.

You can donate randomly or to a particular walker or team; I donate every year to the walker with the most fundraising still to do on my cousins' team, Keenans and the Crew for the Cure. Those amazing women walk with friends and relatives for my aunt and for so many others, like Alanna, who are still dying from the disease that took their mother when they were just girls.  Some of them have fifteen years on me and I couldn't walk nearly as far as they do for the cure, but they are driven and they train hard and they just do it.  Every year.  With a smile.

Supporting them as they support research feels even better to me than just plain supporting research, you know?  And if you feel the same, I know they'd be glad of the help.

This is a sad way to part for the weekend and that's not what I like to do here at Hugs, but it can't be helped.  Next week I'll be back with some pretty knitting pictures that are cheerful - promise!  Meanwhile, enjoy the next two days and don't forget to make the most of every minute of it, just because you can.


Trish said...

Just reading this now, and darn! Even when you know the end is near, it's still no fun. I'm so glad you got the socks to almost finished, and that you agreed to leave one sock star-less. They will be even more meaningful now. Well done, Mary. *sniff*

Mary Keenan said...

To give credit where it is due, it was Alanna who got the sock to almost finished and then stopped. I don't know whether I would have had the fortitude to do all of the plain, boring knitting and then take a break at the fun part, but I worry that she was simply in too much pain to go on... anyway, in the end my job was simply to count stitches and rows and feel grateful she was able to get as far as she did :^(

Adriane Bondar said...

I finally worked up the courage to read this beautiful article you wrote about my sister and her knitting. I figured it had been long enough, 4 months today, and surely I could make it through without sobbing. I was wrong. I still miss her everyday, sometimes it feels like every minute of everyday. "They" say it gets easier, and there is the occasional day that is better, but most, are still really, just sad.

Mary Keenan said...

I can't reread this post without crying either. And even though it does get easier - it never stops being sad. I am nearly 35 years out from losing my brother and I still miss him every day... but I have great memories, and great friends, and those things do help!