This morning I came across yesterday’s coffee cup. A curved metal hook shone just above the surface of the day-old coffee. How the heck did one of my cable needles end up in such an odd place? People often find themselves in unexpected places. Barbara Walker thought she would be in Washington, D.C. for awhile. Lucky for us knitters, she left for New Jersey and needed an interest that would fit easily into raising a family.
“How I Became a Knitter” was the title of Barbara Walker’s keynote address delivered at Interweave Knits Knitting Lab on the evening of October 6, 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire. What a story. Ms. Walker became a knitter after leaving her job as a cub reporter at the Washington Star to follow her husband to his new job at a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. What was a woman with interests outside the home to do while raising a family during the 1950s and 60s? I doubt daycare other than in a private home was an option.
Even 20 years later in 1974, daycare didn’t exist for toddlers in Fort Collins, Colorado. My 18-month-old son, Chris, attended a daycare center just outside the city limits. The center was organized by a group of women with degrees in early childhood education and located in a church annex. I would drop Chris off for a morning of painting, drawing, water play, and other engaging activities while I biked on to my morning class at Colorado State University. I would pick him up at lunch time. After less than ten minutes in the bike seat, he would be fast asleep – his head lolling gently against my lower back. Chris loved those mornings at the center. Unfortunately the church decided it wanted the facility for other uses during the week; the daycare center’s lease was not renewed. A suitable facility could not be found because of the stringent building codes for a daycare center in Fort Collins. Much of the code made sense; much of it made no sense at all. To meet code, a facility would have to either be built from the ground up or an existing building totally gutted and rebuilt. A plea was made to the town council for help. We were told we should be home raising our kids. Yes, that is exactly what one of the councilmen said, “Mothers should be at home raising their children.” I still get angry when I think of that meeting with the town council. Why would dropping my son off to play, paint, draw, listen to stories and music for a morning hurt him? Why would my taking classes at Colorado State University cause him harm? CSU had the perfect facility, tiny toilets and sinks that met code, but it told us no: no daycare on campus; the university had plans for the facility. After almost 40 years I can’t remember what CSU had planned: I do remember that it wasn’t daycare for either it’s students or working mothers. So I could complete my classes, I sent Chris to a private home. Moving from a group he loved to a private home went well until the woman caring for him had to leave town to care for her ailing mother. The second home was a disaster: the caregiver’s 4-year-old daughter liked to hit; an act my son never understood. Somehow we made it to the end of the quarter. I doubt Barbara Walker would have accepted what the councilman said which was pretty much to stay at home 24/7 unless going out was with the husband or for a cause related to the children.
Barbara Walker is an extraordinary woman with an appreciation for a craft most people think of as ordinary and fairly routine. Try mentioning some of the math involved in patterns; the typical response from a non-knitter is, “Really?” in a tone I can’t possibly help but hear as a bit skeptical. I feel honored to have been in the audience to hear Ms. Walker’s talk. So many have benefited from her research into the history of the craft, her innovations (the top-down sweater!) and her many books. I am so glad she left that fabulous job as a cub reporter to become a mother in New Jersey. What gifts she has given to so many with her work in such fields as anthropology, feminism, humanism, mineralogy, art, and, yes, knitting.
To learn more about Barbara Walker, listen to this Freethought Radio interview on YouTube. Now to locate a copy of her autobiography.