Long ago, when I was in the middle of the transit from gangly teenager to awkward young woman, my then boyfriend’s mother told me, “We have to find something for you to do with those hands…” I suppose they were floating around in the air, or fidgeting, or scratching at something, and it made her uneasy. I remember her locked away in her bedroom for an entire day after that, with a migraine. Suffice it to say that relationship did not last especially long. None of us were ever comfortable together.
But I remember her words, because she was right. I did need to find something to do with “those hands.” They have since acquired the adult ability to sit quietly in my lap from time to time, but never for too long. Indeed, they are in a constant quest for something to do. And so I have become obliged to working with them, whether it’s typing, or picking at plants, or drawing, or cooking, or knotting necklaces, or opening scallops, or needlework. The rest of me enjoys keeping still, for alarmingly extended periods of time, but not my hands.
When I first came to Nantucket during the quiet season, I was in the process of learning to crochet, which was a soothing pastime. The following winter, I was pregnant with my first child, and began making blankets, and tiny sweaters. My grandmother had taught me how to knit as a child, in a backwards sort of way, and I took up needles and yarn to re-learn the basics, and pattern reading … a duck to water, but like a good, domestic duck, I spend most of my time on the surface, rarely delving into the depths of complicated stitches, cables, or lace. My hands work best with methodical monotony, and as little brain interaction as possible. When my hands are occupied, my mind is allowed to drift freely, wander, and wonder. My fingers feel, and move, held captive by the yard twisted around them, grasping the needles lightly, and my thoughts journey at will.
Over the years, my hands have wrestled with the stubbornness of mercerized cotton, run marathons of worsted sheep’s wool, basked in the joys of kid mohair, and slipped delicately along yards of suri alpaca. The tiny sweaters were replaced with bigger ones, and long, laborious hours rendered Christmas and birthday offerings, some of which I suspect were never worn, but I loved making them just the same.
Today, the rain is dabbling jeweled pattern on my windows; the leaves outside are turning the muted colors I love best: rich, brick reds, burnt orange, lime yellow, and the wind is singing it’s eerie, fall song. It’s not quite cold enough for the fireplace, but damp enough to want to wrap myself in the wool that feels so comforting come October. By spring, it will feel heavy, itchy, and oppressive, but right now, it’s a hug I can wear. And for my fingers, a feast of cashmere, knitting luxurious, puffy scarves for a local shop … needlework nirvana. How did I get so lucky? Did I ever think that the rain would make me happy, when it used to make me cry? It’s beyond my imagination—my life on this tangled little knot of an island. An entire day to myself is a gift, while my dogs sigh, and dream at my feet. I will need to leave the house eventually, but not for a while. My hands have things to do…