CHATFIELD — I hesitated before entering the Root River State Bank in Chatfield on Friday, wondering how I would be greeted inside: as curiosity, outsider or laughingstock?
I'd made a promise a year ago and decided Friday to boldly go where no man has gone before.
With knitting needles and red yarn in hand, I stepped through the doors and walked to where about 10 women were sitting in a circle, all knitting. They greeted me kindly and without comment, though I was probably the first man to ever knit with them. Sit down, they said, there's an open chair next to Maxine Sheldon, coffee and doughnut holes are on a shelf by the door, compliments of the bank.
I sat down and continued knitting a scarf for some needy child in the Chatfield area, fulfilling a promise/dare from a year ago. I did a Back roads column on the 20th anniversary of the Rock and Knit group then and mentioned that about 50 years ago, Greti Hill, our neighbor in Brainerd and owner of a knitting shop, taught me to knit.
How about knitting with us? I demurred because my left wrist and hand were badly swollen from a pinched tendon. Maybe next year, I said.
Next year came and so did a reminder from Bonnie Hedrick, the local guru of knitting and a historian of the craft. I had given my word. I went.
You're a return to knitting's history, she said. Did you know that knitting began with ancient Egyptians and for centuries, only men knit because yarn was so valuable and the men feared women would make mistakes? I felt a bit better.
I also felt like a rookie. I was merely doing all knit stitches with two needles, the simplest way to make something. Other knitters were using three or four needles, they were adding twists, using complex patterns, making circular items, making me feel foolish.
No one laughed at me. I was just another knitter. I updated Mary Place, of Rochester, who was sitting next to me, about how my children are doing (she was one of their high school teachers) and other day-to-day trivia. The group is a chance to catch up with how others are doing, see who is using what kind of new patterns, compare notes on best places to get yarn.
Most of the time, I just knitted and listened. It was strangely soothing, being amid fellow knitters, as part of a group that is making items to help people around the holidays. I was making but one scarf, but some have been knitting for many months and will make a few dozen items.
In the afternoon, the group thinned out a bit. In walked Steve Ketchum, director of youth and family ministry at Chatfield Lutheran Church. He sat down and began to knit a sweater for his dog, not knowing items were supposed to be for other people. But then, he said "this is one needy puppy."
He said he joined a knitting class several years for a great reason — he was trying to meet and impress a certain attractive woman.
He didn't attract her, but he did learn to knit. So he came in without apparent hesitation, joining me in going where no men have gone before.