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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chicken Backs

At the age of 47, I am so very lucky to still have three of my grandparents alive and in relatively good health. (One of my grandfathers died with Alzheimer's 20 years ago.) My paternal grandmother is in a home, but she has a private room, gets around with the help of her cane or walker despite having fallen and broken her neck a few months ago. Seriously. At 88. Pretty amazing. I would say she's sticking around to spite some people, but she is the last of 14 children, so not too many people left to spite. My other grandparents are in their own home, still keep a vegetable garden, watch my cousin's 4-year-old, and, on a regular basis, crack me up.

Just this week, grandma sent a thank you letter for the hydrangea I sent for Mother's Day. Her letters are very stream-of-consciousness, with details missing that she assumes I already know or that my mom has filled me in on. Usually, neither is true, and the letters jump from non sequitur to non sequitur. This one was great:

Paragraph of cute stories of their great-granddaughter, Cora, helping in the garden. And then...
 "Aunt Betty (my great aunt) has a problem. They are telling her she needs a new toilet, but I don't believe them."

Another cute story of 4-year-old Cora telling my grandfather that he's too old to drive, even if it is for ice cream.

I have no idea how Aunt Betty's plumbing issues got in there, or why grandma fancies herself a plumbing detective, but that was all the information I was given. It made  me, my husband, and my mom, to whom I read the letter, laugh and laugh.

So, how do we get to chicken backs? Grandma was never one to waste. If we had a chicken barbecue, she would eat the backs while the rest of us got the legs. Nothing could go to waste. We once took a day trip to Great Adventure in New Jersey. After, we stopped at a diner and we bought a coconut cream pie to take home. Unfortunately, the baker forgot to add the sugar. None. This thing had no taste. Grandma could not let the food go to waste, and she ate that pie anyway. Quilts that were worn got new tops and were used as the batting for the subsequent incarnation. Usable clothing scraps were saved to be turned into patches for future quilts, or knee patches, or, rags, if that's all they were good for. Grandma never got the newest or best or first choice of anything, and I have never heard her complain much about it. So how does this apply to me? My life is very different from my grandma's. She left school in sixth grade and cleaned houses. I went to college, and even some graduate school, and I have been lucky to be able to hire people to help clean my house, on occasion. (I have deep seated psychological blocks about it--it is a huge guilt trigger for me.) Grandma has always lived within a few mile (12, maybe) radius. She was a farm wife who drove a tractor, but never a car. She has never had a dishwasher. She still has a manual wringer washtub to wash clothing. I have lived all over the place, driven in some of the most chaotic city traffic in the country, and my house had two sets of washers and dryers. And I would be a sad girl without my dishwasher.

Oh, chicken backs, yes, the chicken backs...So, now that I dye my own yarns, what do I knit with? The odd skeins, the ones with knots, the ones that aren't quite right. The ones no one else should have. I knit with the chicken back skeins. In the end, though, the things I make are just as lovely. So the color isn't what I originally planned, or I have to weave in some extra ends because of a knot or and under-plied section. Tomorrow the cutest little baby sweater is going to warm a new arrival in Estonia.
And, I am knitting myself a sweater with an entire weird batch of skeins. The color just came out all wrong--not bad, just not what it was supposed to be. I have gotten more compliments on it than almost any other colorway. Maybe I'll call it Chicken Back.