When I was a little girl, we lived on a busy street in Regina. We knew all our neighbours. I can still name the people in about 7 of the houses near us then. One was a hockey family. One had family back in Ontario who would visit often (and I think their daughter became fairly Canadian-famous in journalism). One family had 9 kids, and I knew all of them. There was the girl with Leukemia, a block over. There were the people behind us, who let me walk through their yard to get to school so that I didn't have to walk all the way around the block. There was the old lady who would always donate about 4x as much as anyone else to whatever I was raising money for (Jump Rope for Heart, the MS Read-a-thon, etc.) I still keep up with one of these families (yay facebook!) to an extent. But one woman just sticks with me. I loved her. So I'm going to tell you about Marie Craig.
Marie was the kindest lady I can remember. I have no idea how old she was. I was 7. She was Ancient in my seven-year-old mind. Older than my parents, for sure. I'm going to guess she was about 60. I can't remember her face very well, but I remember her. She was our next door neighbour to the south. She and her husband Jim. They were kind people who would invite me in when I was playing outside. They'd feed me cookies and milk, and let me explore a bit. Mom could call on them to babysit, though she rarely did. If Mom couldn't find me, she'd check with them, and usually that's where I was. She'd tell me not to bother Mr and Mrs Craig, which I always found confusing, because I was pretty sure they were happy to have me. They'd invited me, after all!
One time, I remember they invited me in to watch TV with them. They were watching a new show, and Marie made me go home to ask Mom if it was okay if I watched 'a negro show' (keep in mind, it was about 1982 and she was about 60. That was the polite term.) Jim told her she was being ridiculous, but she made me go. Mom laughed and said that yes, of course, it was fine. The show was Diff'rent Strokes, which she called "Different Colours". She said, "I figured your Mom would be fine. Some people don't approve of it, but they're just stupid."
Marie made the most amazing things. That was one of the reasons she intrigued me so much. She could take a crochet hook and a ball of yarn and make magnificent things. She made a blanket and pillow for my dolls. I still have them. And now that I crochet too, I see the amazing detail and work she put into it. I was grateful at the time, but I had no way of understanding the complexity of the work. It's incredible that she'd do that for a little girl.
So one day I asked her to teach me how. This is one of the conversations with her I can remember. She smiled and told me to bring over a hook and some yarn and she'd show me how. Now, I know crocheters. She definitely had extra hooks and yarn. No question. She either wanted to make sure that I really wanted it, so I had to go get my own, or she knew that any hook she lent me was never coming back. Or both. So I nagged Mom over and over until Mom finally got me a hook. It was a pink 5mm plastic hook that Mom found in Grandma's sewing stuff. I took it and a ball of yarn (purple! I remember!) and was SO excited. Marie looked at my hook and yarn and said, "Oh no. This will not do. Take this back and tell your Mom you need a proper hook. 3.5 mm. Aluminum. And lighter yarn. We'll get you doing this right!" I was so disappointed. Like, she couldn't even get me started?! But no, she was going to do it the right way. Heh. So I did. I nagged Mom until we went to Woolco and bought one. That night, Marie started teaching me. I made a few little things, but I found it too monotonous to keep doing so that I could get to the point where I could do it while doing other things. And hey, I was 7.
So next, I needed to know how to knit. She taught me that too. But for the life of me, I could not get used to holding the yarn in my right hand, so she taught me to do it Continental Style (where you hold the yarn in the left hand, but the stitches are otherwise identical). I remember her laughing at me about it. Gently, but she was amused. I made doll blankets and pillows and scarves - shaping was beyond me.
And then I stopped doing all that stuff. For decades. I came back to it when I was pregnant with Crackle. I couldn't remember much, but I remembered that I found it easier to do Continental knitting, that you go through both loops in crochet, that an aluminum hook is better than a plastic one (usually!) and that yarn quality matters a lot.
And I remember how patient and kind she was.
I think of her so often. The last time I saw her was when we moved away in 1985. She cried. It was one of the first times I'd seen an adult cry. I asked Mom a few years ago how she was doing. Marie died of breast cancer several years ago.
I miss the world of my childhood when kids knew their neighbours and could wander into their yards without a thought. I miss people like Marie and Jim.