But were they knitting in the audience?

Christmas is bearing down on me like a freight train. I have five gifts in various states of unfinish, two not yet cast on, and one finished. Not a good ratio at six days to zero hour. I know I’m going to be weaving in ends on Christmas Eve, but I’m pretty okay with that. After the boys are put to bed and my MIL brings out the eggnog and cookies, it’s a pretty pleasant way to spend an evening. I was doing it last year, too; I finished an embroidered book cover for my sister in record time. The odious parts of finishing embroidery (or knitting), which is to say all of them, are less of an issue when I’m too rushed to be the perfectionist I normally am.

Last weekend, I went to concerts: the Mount Holyoke Christmas Vespers at the Old South Church in Boston with my sisters, and to hear my mother sing with Concord Chorale winter concert in New Hampshire, with one sister and my dad and grandfather. Brought my knitting to the Chorale; I owed my mother one. When I was about twelve, I sang in a school concert and chanced to see her knitting in the audience. I was mortified, sure that all my friends had seen her and were going to tax me with that information when we got back to school after. Everything your mother does when you’re twelve is mortifying. I knew how to knit, but I wasn’t really doing it in public, that being the mid-eighties and all. It was long after the handwork revolution of the seventies, and long before the handwork revolution of the late nineties. And there she was, mitten on the needles, in front of God and everybody. I still remember whining at her about it after, telling her it made her look like she wasn’t paying attention, and how could she do this to me. I have to give my parents credit for not sending me to the Home for Little Wanderers, honestly.

Anyhow, I asked my mother if she minded, and she didn’t, so I knitted happily through the whole thing and made some real headway on the one gift I’ve finished. It occurs to me that we don’t see live music enough anymore, especially after the age when you go to shows all the time. I hadn’t been to a concert in ages. It isn’t just the tired metaphor of how knitting is like music-making because they both involve a laborious manual process for doing something we now can do by machine, but also that hearing live music, particularly live classical music with a vocal ensemble, is a kind of time travel. I’ve read, and agreed, that history museums are one of the closest things we have to real time travel, but particularly when I was at the vespers concert, I had this very unsettling sense that I could have been in almost any era in Boston history since 1870, when the Old South Church was built, doing the same things people had done, in the same place, even to hearing the same music in the same way. It was the first time in years that I remember feeling absorbed by the collective echoes of a place, doing something other than knitting or embroidery. Add knitting, and it’s an aggressively analog experience, a very good thing.

I miss my city life sometimes. The only thing missing that night was a little frosting of snow.


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