Throughout the fall of 1997, Sheila and Max spent their evenings knitting, talking, and enjoying each other’s company. Best friends, after a lifetime together raising their children and struggling to make ends meet, they were approaching their twilight years. Max would be seventy years old on December thirteenth, and they’d be celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary the following April.
Sheila grinned at his struggle with the stitches required to turn the heel on the woollen socks he was knitting. No matter how many times she showed him how to do it, he always managed to get stuck in the same spot. Any minute now he’d drop his knitting to his lap in frustration, and she’d have to show him how to do it again.
Although his stitching was by no means perfect, Max enjoyed knitting and Sheila made a conscious effort to praise his work, so he didn’t lose interest in his project. He planned to knit five pairs of woollen socks complete with tassels for his five grown daughters for Christmas. Sheila knew the socks would be priceless to their daughters simply because they’d been knit by the father they adored. It was the first time their father had knit anything. “I just can’t do this,” frustration clearly evident in the tone of his voice, she laid her knitting aside, “Pass it to me, my love, and I’ll show you how to do it.”
“How about I’ll make us a cup of tea,” he said passing her the pale green woollen sock he was working on. He knew by the time he got back from the kitchen with their tea she’d have the heel turned and he’d be able to finish the rest of the sock. Sheila knew him so well. “I’ll knit on it until you get back. You don’t mind if I turn the heel for you?” She asked, trying to keep a straight face. She’d turned the heels on the other four pairs, fully anticipating doing the same with this pair.
When he returned with their tea, she was just finishing the last stitches. “You know, the girls are going to love their socks. They’ll be so proud of you when they find out you knit them all by yourself.” She could see by his obvious pride he’d missed the slight sarcasm in her remark.
It was the second week in November and he was nearly finished the last pair of socks. Quite a feat, since he’d only learned how to knit in September! He couldn’t wait to see their faces when they opened their presents on Christmas morning. They’d be so pleased his first knitting project was for them.
On the twenty-ninth day of November, he finished the last tassel. The girls’ Christmas presents were finished at last! It was a Saturday evening and they were getting ready for Mass, when he had a sudden terrible headache. Thinking his eyes might be strained from all the knitting over the past few months, Sheila made a mental note to book an appointment with their optometrist next week. “I’ll get you some aspirin, but maybe we should skip Mass this evening.” Swallowing the aspirin with a glass of water he said, “I’ll be fine once these kick in.” Putting on their heavy Mary Maxim sweaters they headed off to church.
The next morning while he sat on the sofa wrapping his gifts, Max suddenly turned to Sheila, a very strange look on his face. He tried to call out to her, but only a mumble escaped his lips before he slumped forward. She called his name but there was no response and in a panic she knew he was in trouble. Rushing to his side, she leaned him back against the sofa. Completely unresponsive, he stared at her without really seeing. She grabbed the telephone and dialled her nearest daughter’s number, “Judy you have to come over quick. There’s something wrong with dad. I think he might need to go to the hospital.”
“I’ll be right there mom, you just hold on okay.” Judy recognized the panic in her mother’s voice and realized something serious must be wrong. Her first thought was her dad might have had a heart attack, but he was only sixty-nine years old and in great shape. A man who’d always loved nature, he walked miles every day for exercise.
Judy arrived within five minutes. “We’d better get him to the hospital,” she said. They practically carried Max to the car, strapping him into the back seat with Sheila beside him as they raced to the hospital. Judy called the other four sisters from the hospital, advising they should come as quickly as they could. The girls wasted no time in getting there, but the doctors still didn’t know what was wrong with their father.
By early afternoon the resident neurosurgeon determined their father had a series of strokes. Throughout the rest of the day, he had several more until he eventually remained unconscious and in critical condition. It took two weeks for Max to finally succumb to the bleeds on his brain that inevitably took his life. He turned seventy years old on the thirteenth of December and passed away on the fourteenth. He always said the good Lord gave everyone three score and ten years, and the prophecy proved true for him nearly right to the day.
The joyous Christmas Season fast approaching was far from the minds of the sad family. The pain of losing their precious father was unbearable and they didn’t want to think about Christmas without him. When Christmas morning arrived and the girls gathered around their mother, she handed them each a small package wrapped in festive paper addressed to them from their father. Opening their packages, a combination of sadness and joy overwhelmed them when they saw the special gifts. A sob catching in their mother’s throat, she silently thanked God for her children who never left her side during the past few weeks. “I showed him how to knit in September and he wanted to knit each of you a pair of socks. He was so proud of himself when he was finished.”
Love, pride, and a strong sense their father was watching, brought smiles to their faces as the girls tried on their woollen socks. Even with the slight imperfections, they were the most beautiful gifts they’d ever received.
I still have the socks my father knit for me thirteen years ago. The heels began to wear over time so I wrapped them in tissue paper and put them away, but I take them out every Christmas just to touch them and feel the love my father knit into every stitch. Warm memories are all I have left now of two loving parents, but they’re enough to keep me warm on the coldest winter nights and fill my heart with wonderful memories of Christmases past.
© Annabel Sheila