Recently, my wife inherited her grandmother’s knitting needles and supplies. The matriarch and guardian of the Nielson Clan Secret Knitting Technique found it time to pass on this ancient practice to a worthy successor. As the only Nielson left with a passion for knitting, my wife now finds herself the one who carries the torch.
I exaggerate slightly when I talk about this recent transition of power, but in reality, it’s a very real thing. Her grandmother taught her how to knit in a special way that required less movement and knitted more efficiently. Whenever she knits in public, people comment on the unique aspect of her knitting style. This knitting technique very much is part of the Nielson family tradition, and as the one who has carried on the tradition, there was something intensely emotional and almost spiritual — even solemn — when my wife opened up the box and found a neatly wrapped satchel of fine, quality knitting needles.
A similar feeling coursed through me when we brought my newborn son over to my parents’ house for the first time. The baby started crying, and my mom jumped up and clapped her hands. Returning from the bedroom closet, she wrapped my son in the baby blanket she had knitted for me when I was born; it was quality knitting, and looked almost brand new. It was almost surreal; 26 years after its first use, it had found its way back into the next generation of the family.
As we move through our hyper-commercialized digital age, I wonder how this idea of succession within the family of concrete, physical objects will occur. You simply cannot manufacture these types of moments. Had my wife’s grandmother said, “I notice you enjoy knitting like me; let me buy you some knitting needles from Walmart,” I could guarantee my wife’s eyes would not swim with tears. Nor could that electric thrill run up my spine and scramble my heart had my mother pulled out any old blanket she got for sale from the local fancy department store. Money cannot purchase these inheritances; their worth is slowly accrued through the excruciatingly slow and demanding process of time, a test of patience as well as the enduring legacy of the item.
Will my son ever have the experience that I experienced, and that my younger brother just recently experienced, stumbling upon my father’s old vinyl record collection, shifting through the musty box, pulling out the faded covers and wondering what kind of person my dad had been in the past as a young adult in the 1970s? Or will he find a forgotten USB stick with my mp3 files that he can’t even play because the technology’s so outdated? Will we have vintage computers built specifically to play the old music of the past? Will I have anything of worth to pass down to my son, or have I, too, fallen into the trap of our troubling disposable consumerism with its siren song that temporary and cheap is better than an object built to last, well worth its price?
Our economy and society’s spending habits are powered by our desire for instant gratification. All of the furniture I own is not designed to last; at my parents’ home, I prepared my son’s bottles on the dresser my mother used to change my diapers on. But I really wanted a couch, you know? Even if it means my son may never lay his son next to him on it in the middle of the night in hopes of getting him to sleep like I do now. It’s a bittersweet feeling.
Someone on Google Plus recently wrote that he had deleted all of his mp3 files and moved everything into “the cloud.” I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit sorry for him; how will he pass his music down? I have no idea if my son will be able to play my old Goo Goo Dolls CDs that I’ve kept all these years from my high school times. I don’t even know if he will like them. I don’t know if he will listen to Black Balloon and let the music wash over him, or listen to Iris and think about his crush. But maybe if I keep these outdated physical relics with me, even if they don’t really serve any purpose now, there might be a chance.
Perhaps the greatest irony surrounding this is that the relics we do leave behind usually takes the form of our trash. Plastic bags and plastic wrapping and plastic shells that hold the things we actually cherish and love and use long often outlast what we actually purchase. I don’t have a good, quality pocket knife that I could use to show my son how to whittle sticks like my father did, let alone pass it down to my son. For the fifteenth time since my son’s birth, I vow I’ll get one soon. Meanwhile, I carefully repackage my high school yearbooks, letters from my mission, and my college sketchbooks. I have a pencil case that my mother bought me when I was 12. I’ve used it all this time to store my charcoal sticks. When my son turns old enough, I will show him how to sketch with charcoal, how to carefully blend the shading in with your fingers, and then gift him the case.
It’s covered with pictures of Dragonball characters. I smile as I hold it in my hands, slowly turning it over. I can’t wait.