I knit. This time of year, I knit mittens. Just because I knit doesn’t qualify me as a knitter, any more than painting a ceiling makes me Michelangelo. But I try. I am knitting from Saltwater Classics, patterns from the “Island of Newfoundland”, says the cover of the book. Some of the patterns are tricky. For every finished mitten there has been 451 starts. That may be an exaggeration, but it feels like 451 starts.
I’ve noticed something as of late. I am reading a two-colour pattern chart that has twenty-five stitches for the front and twenty-four stitches for the palm. I know the number of stitches hardly matters but bear with me. Some time ago, maybe a lifetime ago or maybe not, I could read the twenty-five-stitch colour chart and knit it while remembering, without having to look back. Now, I’m lucky if I remember what row I am on and can only do about three or four stitches in one block of memory. It gets worse – I go back and count what I’ve already knit more times than I like to confess. My eyes get tired, so I have a flashlight handy to shine on my work while I count stitches and curse mildly, mostly internally, when I find a mistake. Does this sound like fun to you? Relaxing? Meditative?
Further, I’m good at seeing one mitten through to completion. The follow-through to complete the mitten’s partner is where I struggle. I sometimes wander off never to return. I place the burden of this flaw on my Grandma Stewart. She was knitting me a soft yellow grey mitten with a butter yellow stripe when I was four years old. The grey was meant to match my favourite cat Muff, whom I loved. I still love Muff, but she’s been gone a long time now. My Grandma was born Sarah Lucy Carnduff in 1893 in Carnduff, Saskatchewan. She was called Lucy and she passed away at age sixty-six in 1959, much too young. She didn’t get the chance to knit the matching grey and yellow mitten for me. I kept that single mitten for a very long time. I’m sure you see the correlation. Her mittens were flaw-less; mine are flaw-full. I wonder if that is where the word awful comes from. I’ve just mentally wandered off again. I remember her taking my face in her hands and telling me I looked like my father. I liked that very much and I have clung to that fact ever since, not caring if it was true or not. I wish I had more time with her.
Back to my memory. It’s hard not to feel panic when my memory can’t be counted on, having watched my mother burdened with Alzheimer’s for too many years. This disease seems more common, though I suspect that is because of my awareness at this age. But so many I love and care about have gone down this one-way road and I can’t help wondering as I struggle to remember 3 greens, 4 purples, and so on, that I may be facing the same challenge. I am having my memory assessed this week. I’m not hesitant to do so. It is a logical place to start, to have a baseline established of my memory that can be compared to if things get worse.
A cousin I love very much is suffering with Alzheimer’s. Her instructions were, in the early days of the disease – don’t tell anyone. The Canadian Alzheimer Society reports that 46% of Canadians would feel shame if they had symptoms of the disease. Shame comes with most issues of mental health, as if we are to blame for this affliction, that we somehow brought it on ourselves. Would it not be better to share our concerns, to say I’m worried? Aren’t we meant to journey this road together, to help one another when needed? The silence on any subject has never benefited a single soul. The disease costs the Canadian economy and healthcare system 10.4 billion annually (Alzheimer Society). Staggering.
I mostly laugh when I can’t remember why I entered a room or when I am staring into a cupboard with no idea what I am looking for. We do get forgetful as we age, a naturally occurring reduction that can be helped by paying attention to what is at hand and not thinking of seven things at once. I could easily give up knitting these blasted mittens, but then … who wins?