I am a knitter.
There, I’ve admitted it. I’ve been knitting for the past 31 years and almost no one knows that about me. I also sing and hum constantly, watch a soap opera, and fall asleep in the middle of movies. Before it became cool again, I took a lot of grief about my love of knitting. My ex was visibly and vociferously embarrassed if I ever dared to pull out my knitting needles in a public place. He told me it looked so “old” (I was 35 at the time). Sheesh.
I learned to knit when I lived in Switzerland. I was newly arrived from Texas and was soon to be married. Switzerland was a lot colder than Texas. Sweaters looked like a good idea. Everywhere I looked young girls were knitting: at the movies, in coffee shops, and standing on the bus on their way to school. I couldn’t believe anyone could knit standing up, and everyone knitted at lightning speed, talking and laughing, and rarely looked at their fingers. I was in awe. I watched. I wanted to learn.
A very patient Swiss schoolteacher friend named Gabi Schoenenberger got me started. Since I didn’t speak German or French, didn’t understand anything on TV, and had only my father-in-law’s James Bond books to read in English, I had lots of time to practice. I was pretty good at knitting and made scarves, sweaters, and baby clothes for my daughter and son. I loved the meditative nature of knitting, and it gave me something to do when I got bored of sitting around not understanding what was being talked about around me.
I came back to Texas seven years later and brought my knitting needles and wool with me. I still tried to keep up my knitting, but eventually realized it rarely got cold enough to wear much of what I made. Even worse, who wants to sit through a Texas summer with wool in their lap? Knitting became a winter-only activity, and it was something I loved to do in the evenings while I watched TV.
That is, until I discovered the Tour de France two summers ago.
I’m not a cyclist, but many of my friends are. I was a girly girl tomboy when I was a kid, and was always outside on my roller skates, skateboard, or bike. I could patch the tires and put the chain back on my banana seat Huffy and ten-speed bike without any help from my dad. I rode my bike much farther than my mom ever knew, sometimes in places a little girl should never bike alone, and even used to plan out long trips across town from places I had seen out the side window of the car on our Sunday drives.
I loved biking in Switzerland, but those hills were tough work.
In Dallas, home of the world’s worst drivers, I can barely run without getting hit by a car, so I don’t bike very often. The last time I did I tried to run my dog on leash next to me and we wiped out when she darted after a squirrel. It wasn’t fun.
But in July, le Tour de France . . . perfect! I can sit on the couch in the air conditioned heaven of my home and knit for hours as the riders speed through a country I visited many times. I can look at the castles and chateaux and reminisce about the beauty of the French countryside and the trips we took to the south of France. I can go back in my mind to the evenings we drove across the border just for a good meal (white asparagus and morels) and skiing in the Jura mountains. I never have to worry about peloton crashes, broken collarbones, or getting swept off the road by a careening car. All I have to worry about is not dropping a stitch.
I’m relieved that knitting has achieved a new renaissance in the U.S. and that I no longer have to hide my dirty little secret. I never understood what was so “grandmotherly” about it in the first place (as if anything about being a grandmother is a bad thing). I was so excited when my daughter asked me to teach her how to knit, and humbled by the knowledge that I was passing on an art form that countless women (and men) have perpetuated for hundreds–if not thousands–of years. I also loved that she got knitting advice last Christmas when she went back to Switzerland to visit her dad, just like I did all those years ago.
My knitting has come full circle.
So, pedal away Contodor, Cadel, and Cavendish as you bike your way towards Paris. I’ll sit here and knit one, purl two through France and all those memories. At the end of the day one of you will have a new yellow jersey. Me, I’ll be a few more rows closer to the cast-off, and the end of another summer knitting project. Vive le Tour de France!