Valentines All Year Round
By: Michelle Edwards
"My heart knit-purl, knit-purls the pattern."
- Hope Anita Smith, "hand made", Greetings from Knit Café
An unexpected conversation with Hope Anita Smith rearranged my writing calendar. My scheduled essay--"Lost and Found Knits"--has been rescheduled. Instead Hope's story will be my after-Valentine's Day valentine to you. Non-caloric and Weight Watcher friendly. A story about a knitter who gives out valentines to the world. All year round.
I met Hope at a children's book writer's retreat I attended recently. But it wasn't until we both began our long journey home that I finally had a chance to talk with her. At the airport, at our gate’s shared waiting area, with an ear tuned to announcements about our impending flights, we chatted about writing until we realized our other mutual passion: knitting. Immediately, we started talking faster. There was a lot of ground to cover before our planes would board.
I showed Hope my new book, A Knitter's Home Companion. She told me she was in a knitting book, too: Greetings from the Knit Café. I knew that book. I could even picture her in it. Then we noticed another knitter sitting nearby, smiling at us. We paused to admire the colorful Kristin Nichols shawl she was stitching. This might have remained just another pleasant knitting encounter if Hope hadn't mentioned the scarves she knit for this trip. Eighteen of them. Wrapped in tulle with a ribbon on either end. She called them neck candy.
"I give them away," Hope told me. "Gifts for the flight attendants." A handmade card with poem or word of appreciation for what they do is tucked inside. Valentines. Hope's careful to bring enough for each leg of flight.
But wait, there's more. Rummaging through her Mary Poppins'-sized purse, Hope pulled out a bouquet of the handmade cards. She hands these valentines to "cashiers at the grocery store, hostesses at restaurants, parking attendants, cab drivers, coat checkers, etc. Sometimes in California, sometimes New York. About 100 a year." She's done that for ten years now.
Hope always gives away the handmade--a journal, a watercolor, a card, and, of course, her hand-knits. Currently she's making linen washcloths to be paired with a bar of store-bought soap. For another a flight later this winter, she has already "tucked away" seven neck warmers.
The airport in Burlington, Vermont, where we sat that last day in January is very much like airports everywhere with uncomfortable seats, bad coffee, loud cell phone conversations, and other unwanted noise. But Hope's majestic appearance, her radiant smile, and her soulful tales of handmade giving cast a magical warmth to our sterile port of passage. After all, it appeared I was sitting next to a fairy godmother.
When Hope's flight was finally announced, we hugged a goodbye. Later, knitting through the snowy evening, from Vermont to Michigan and on back to Iowa, I thought about her. When husband Rody drove me home from the Cedar Rapids airport, I told him about Hope.
"Lovely," he said. And navigating slowly through the dark and flurries, cautiously avoiding slippery patches, concentrating on the road, I could tell that he, too, was touched by her story.
A few days later, I was still thinking about Hope and her year-round valentines. "What does it mean to you?" I asked her in an email.
"It gives me great joy to surprise people with a little bit of love." Hope wrote back. "I want each person to feel special in that moment. This was handmade for you. You matter."
We matter. Lovely, indeed.
Every knitter has a story. And each knitter's story brings us into their knitting world. Their chapters help us grow our own sense of the vast potential our needles can do for others. Let us inscribe Hope Anita Smith and her random acts of knitting kindness in the enormous book of big-hearted knitters. Next to her name, let's paste a constellation of gold stars to add to her glittering literary awards. May she inspire us all to reach new vistas of generosity.
Hope Anita Smith. Valentines to the world. All year round.