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.



Filed under life stories, music, parenting, wordsmithing

4 responses to “Succession

  1. Hmm. Maybe this will change when I have kids, but I’m having a hard time caring about anything you just said. Handing down physical objects seems like an inefficient way to do things nowadays. There was a time when making a dresser or a table was hard, but if you can buy one that’s cheaper and lighter from Ikea, I’d gladly get rid of my bulky Oak furniture. Memories that are attached just makes it harder to let go, and forces you into pack-raticism. I’ve still got a blanket that my mom made for me, and there are a lot of emotions attached to it, but I’m not going to save it for my baby; I’ve been using it on my cats, and will continue to do so until it wears out. And with the internet and the ease at which information is exchanged nowadays, secret techniques are a dying breed. I really don’t want to lessen the impact of your wife’s grandmother’s knitting secrets, and I realize I’m being a bit insensitive here, but I’ll bet that they’re somewhere online if you look hard enough. On the other hand, I think information is the more important thing you could pass down; it’s the duty to every parent to bring their kids up to speed on everything that humanity has accomplished. And while not really something that humanity would be interested in, your kids, at least, might want to know about your own past. Take those missionary journals, for example; they’re probably not something you would post online, so maybe you owe it to your kids to save them. On the third hand, while I love my dad, I can’t say that I much care about what he was like when he was younger. I prefer to think of him as the well-dressed IT professional / rugged mountain man / loving father that I remember him as. On the second third hand, even if I read his journals (which I haven’t – I’m pretty sure they’re around somewhere), I wouldn’t be able to really *know* what he was like. The young man I would imagine would be totally fictional, a product of my own mind. And beyond that, I don’t have any desire at all to know my grandfathers any better (harsh, I know, but true). Go forward enough generations (probably just one), and the person you really are right now will be totally forgotten. I’m certain that I’m in the minority, but I guess just don’t care about the past.

    • Ted

      You hit on a lot of really good ideas there, and I don’t know if I can do justice to it all!

      You bring up a lot of good points, like how the shifts in culture and society don’t really lend itself to heavy-duty built objects anymore, or even objects of the physical realm. I read somewhere that the average adult lives in seven different houses now in America during his life, and if you have big, bulky, wooden furniture, that’s a pain. On the other hand, I don’t think shoddy, cheap stuff made to last only a couple years is the answer either. There’s definitely been a rise in industrial design where lightweight and easy-to-move meets quality, built to last design. Hopefully, it’ll take steam.

      You are absolutely right that information is probably the best thing we can hand down, and also the futility of trying to preserve whatever is in the past. Generally, I try not to be a past dweller, either. I don’t think it’s healthy to become fixated with what happened at the expense of what could happen. I don’t necessarily see these hand-me-down relics as superior because they were built or made in the past, but I do think they are great anchors to help us build a sense of identity and belonging to something bigger than our individual selves.

  2. dteeps

    I know that I am looking forward to inheriting my mother’s books. She has already passed on to me some of her mother’s books, like the Complete Works of Shakespeare that my grandmother bought in High School in 1938. And I am looking forward to reading my books with my son, and eventually passing them on to him. An I hope that he will be excited about these books because of the memories associated with them, just as I am excited to get the books from my mother because I remember reading them with her.

  3. I ABHOR WASTE. I love relics, much like Ted.

    I respond mostly to Gammapod’s fallacious statement about Packrat-ism.

    While IKEA is lovely in some ways, I do not believe in buying ‘throw-away’ items as a matter of course. Throw-away items are to be avoided if at all possible.

    Packrat-ism actually only happens when someone refuses to rid themselves of their actual JUNK, and not necessarily when they make it a habit of buying quality products that will last, and be repairable. I would MUCH rather pay someone to fix something, than to WASTE more resources on a brand new object that won’t last more than a year. This philosophy has its limits though– there are many objects that have become mainstream necessities that cannot be built in such a manner that they will last long periods of time and remain useful– example– cellphones. Cellphones have about a 4 year lifespan– and that’s if you treat them remarkably well.

    Regardless, lightweight furniture that is sturdy and reliable is perhaps slightly uncommon, but well worth the effort.

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