Knitting hats is a total blast. First, you search through your pile of knitting books for the perfect hat pattern. Or maybe you go on-line or you check out the patterns Ann has sent you. Then you begin to dig through your ever-expanding stash of neglected yarn for the perfect color, the perfect softness, the perfect feel and maybe you add a second yarn and in this pairing a more sublime yarn is created. You pull out the right sized 16” circular needles and cast on a specific number of stitches and are careful not to twist any as you join the round and knit, purl, knit, purl, knit, and a hat begins to grow. You imagine the delight of the recipient of this hand-knitted hat. Who wouldn’t want a bright pink, fuzzy, soft hat to ward off the winter chill?
I was really happy to receive Ann’s invitation to participate in this project. I enjoy knitting and, in the distant past, have sent blankets and sweaters and hats to various goodwill organizations. This would be the first time, though, that I would be knitting for someone I might actually meet.
I wasn’t sure what to expect on my first visit. I did know that I wanted to arrive with a completed hat. I wanted to knit a hat that was bright and fuzzy and warm. I was sure that was what someone living at the shelter, or visiting from the streets, would want. It was what I thought I would want. But I wasn’t living in a shelter or on the streets. I really couldn’t know and so I arrived on my first visit with my friend Susan and found out bright and fuzzy was not what was wanted.
Driving down 12th Ave. from Washington St. we passed many people walking towards the front of CASS. Several carried dark knapsacks or duffel bags or plastic bags. Some held blankets. All were walking towards the entry gate. We eventually made it through the gates, parked, and found Ann and her daughter on a bench behind a tree graced with several completed hats. I placed my pink fuzzy hat on one of the branches and then Susan and I made our way to some boulder ‘seats’ and pulled out our knitting supplies. I was glad for Susan’s company.
A man, holding a red rose, was lying on the fake turf not far from our seats. A woman sat beside him. Some of the residents/visitors gathered in pairs or small groups. Others found places to sit or lie on their own. A man sat silently on a boulder near us. After about 15 minutes he got up and walked away and James arrived to take his place. James wore ear-buds and was listening to a news channel. He began talking about the killing that had occurred that morning. A woman had shot a taxi driver and the police were attempting to find her at some apartment complex. Several people in the area spoke with him on this topic and he seemed very comfortable sharing his views and opinions about the matter. And then he started to talk to Susan and me, commenting on our knitting and telling us that he used to make crocheted beer can hats. His mother had taught him. He told us he had just dropped in to the center to wait for ‘his girl’ who worked there. He mentioned this several times during our visit. I was never really sure if he lived at the shelter or on the streets or elsewhere. We learned that he always listened to news stations and had a bunch of fresh batteries (and vitamins) in his backpack. He said he used to write jingles for advertisements on the radio. He took a fancy to the hat I was knitting and asked if it had already been claimed. I told him it was his as soon as I completed it. He said the colors reminded him of a tie he used to have. James told us about many aspects of the center. He said if a resident or visitor had a sore tooth, they could put their name on a list at the dental clinic and their name would be called at some point during the day so they could receive treatment. The same thing held true for the health clinic. At around 11:30 we noticed a line forming and James told us it was the line for lunch. He invited us to join him and extolled the food pointing out that the staff also ate the lunches there because it is so good. I told him we’d pass this time and that I wanted to complete his hat. Most of the talk revolved around the work James had done or was doing. He claimed he was working with young people with histories of drug use. He was pro-marijuana and against what he considered to be hard drugs. He did smoke and told us it was the one thing he just couldn’t quit. Most of his talk was calm and playful until he began talking about President Obama. He said things have only gotten worse since he took office, that President Obama hasn’t completed a single task since he took office. I told James I was making the hat for him and if he really wanted it he needed to get off the Obama-bashing. He laughed and then agreed, said he really didn’t think it was okay to bad-mouth anyone in the extreme. James returned from lunch and introduced us to a woman who was with him. They sat off to the back of the center and when I finished his hat, I took it over to the two of them and he seemed very pleased as he put it on.
Several times during James’ visit, I glanced over to the ‘gifting’ tree and noticed pink and fuzzy was still there – all alone. After he walked off I noticed several female voices coming from a seating area near us. A woman spoke loudly to one of the other women. “Anytime you need to use my phone you just ask me. It’s okay.” Her tone was clear and enthusiastic and then I heard a woman yell towards Susan and me, “You’re crocheting. I used to crochet. What are you making?” And I told her we were knitting and that we were making hats for whoever might want one and wouldn’t she love a bright and fuzzy hat… that fuzzy hat over there, on the tree. And she said, “Nah, I already have a hat in my backpack. I don’t need another one.” I told her she could take it and give it to someone else and she said, “I could take it for my daughter!” She wandered over to the tree and that’s how my next visit became a little different from the first. This woman, who at last found a recipient for brighy and fuzzy, was a member of W.O.W. and introduced Ann to Ms Tilllie. Ms Tilllie of the wonderfully big and enthusiastic voice!
PS The residents seem most drawn to hats of subtle color and elegant patterns. I've kept that in mind while knitting my last three hats. But I still have some bright and fuzzy yarn left and just know I'm going to have to use it!!!