I had a friend from elementary school, Elissa, who I had lost track of and reconnected with several times throughout our lives. I changed schools when my family moved to a different community during junior high, later she lived moved away from Minnesota. Elissa looked me up after she had moved back to Minneapolis and was expecting her first child. In one of those small world things, it turned out her husband was from my high school class. During that period we enjoyed get togethers with our young children and occasionally as couples.
Later after our kids were grown and we had both moved again, we crossed paths when her son, Jesse LaVercombe, was in a holiday season play called “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis. Elissa happened to be at the play the night I attended. At the same performance, I also ran into my theater loving cousin and her mother, Erika and Tina. They both write reviews for a blog called “Aisle Say Twin Cities” which results in them getting free tickets to shows. Here is the link for Erika’s review of the play.
The next winter Jesse was in another Jane Austen theme play at the Jungle Theatre, “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley“. This time we planned ahead and met Elissa for dinner before the performance, and this time we got to meet Jesse at the dinner. Tina wrote a review of that play.
This spring Elissa was interested in scheduling hour long phone conversations with me. I don’t really like talking on the phone, much less for a whole hour, but it seemed to fill a need for her so I went along with it. We had some good conversations and found many things to talk about. She ended up coming for an in person visit of several days at our house during the summer.
The end of Elissa’s visit at our house happened to overlap with the beginning of a family cabin reservation by cousins Erika and Tina, so they were excited to meet and visit with Elissa after having enjoyed both of the plays that Jesse was in. We talked about other work that Jesse has done including some screen writing and a role on a Canadian TV show called Murdoch Mysteries. Another topic that came up is that Elissa’s ex mother-in-law, Jesse’s grandmother, is Judith Guest, the author of Ordinary People. The book was published in 1976 when I was in high school. Later it was made into the movie with Mary Tyler Moore and directed by Robert Redford. At the time there were rumors about Robert Redford visiting their home in the suburbs of Minneapolis
While Elissa was here visiting, she asked me to knit her a pair of mittens. Due to severe arthritis that was diagnosed in childhood, she had trouble getting traditional gloves or mittens on her hand. We went to Tangles to Treasures to pick out some yarn for the mittens, which would be stretchy and easier to get on than a stiff leather or fabric pair. She decided on some extremely soft Cascade Yarns Color Duo dark blue and gray variegated bulky yarn in a blend of alpaca and merino wool.
I started knitting the cuff using three double pointed Denise brand needles with short flexible connectors, and using my Twice Sheared Sheep row counter.
After knitting the cuff, I switched to a larger size of traditional bamboo double pointed needles. After a couple of rows it was time to start increasing for the thumb.
The thumb stitches went on a holder while I continued knitting up the hand.
When I was in the middle of the project, I got an email from Jesse, Elissa’s son, to a large group of people, informing us that she had been diagnosed with advanced terminal cancer, and she was in the hospital for pain management. This was quite a shock as Elissa seemed healthy when she was visiting me a few months earlier. It did not sound very good. I was not sure if she would get to ever use the mittens. I decided to keep knitting, and as I did I kept her in my thoughts.
It did not take very long to finish the mittens, especially once I made it a priority to get them done. Following are photos of the completed mittens laying flat and on my hands.
As soon as they were done, I mailed the mittens to Elissa, not knowing what her condition was by then. She texted me a photo of herself modeling them with a big smile on her face, from the hospital. A couple of weeks later I got an email blast from Jesse with information about her memorial service. I am sad to lose another friend too young. But I am also glad that I rose to the occasion of participating in those long phone calls, that we had some quality time together this summer, and that maybe I added a bit of joy to her last months.