The Picture I Do Not Have

If her time on Earth seems too short, perhaps it is because we can't get far enough out in space to see the big picture. We are not that giant oak tree or that tail of a comet that can see how perfectly our human lives are conceived, lived, and ended.--Peggy Dee

I do not feel a huge attachment to all the things I have made over the years. I have ripped up, sold, and given away hats and scarves with abandon. When I first began to knit hats for babies, I used to ask the parents to send me pictures of the children wearing the hats. I have pictures of Bridget, Lucas, Anamarie, and Allie in acorn hats. I have a picture of Megan in a snowflake hat. But there are so many children and adults out there who have stuff I made for them and I wish I had a photo of them wearing the item. It isn't merely the stroke to my ego that I get when I see someone wearing my stuff which is fueling this wish. It is in part, the intangible connection I feel with my work and with the person who receives my work and my desire to document this connection. I am aware that children get older and grow out of their hats and it is this sense of impermanence which fuels my yearning for photographic images.

That and my awareness of my own and others' mortality.

One Friday morning in March of 2004, I took a pregnancy test which was inconclusive. Fred was in the shower and I showed him the test and he said something to the effect of "maybe you should go to the doctor." An hour or so later, I received a phone call from my chiropracter, Penny. She needed to cancel our appointment the following week because she was about to have surgery to remove tumors from her brain.

I had seen her only six weeks prior to this and at this visit she spoke of her recent trip to Ecuador, where she visited a man she had known since kindergarten, how she had spent her days, how she hiked and sat by mountain streams and how she felt. She also spoke of how she had stopped watching television because, as one gets older, one becomes aware of all that is left to be done and how can one waste time watching television.

I told her of my inconclusive pregnancy test and told her I needed her to get better because I couldn't imagine facing nine months of pregnancy without her therapeutic touch. She was fairly matter of fact about her prognosis and expected to be back at work in a matter of weeks.

I didn't even think of Penny later that day when I went to the doctor and received confirmation that a human being was growing inside my belly. I was so sure that I would be seeing her soon. I wanted to do something for her in the short term, so I did the only thing I felt I was capable of doing. I made her a hat. I had noticed she always wore aqua colored shirts (which perfectly complimented her pale blond hair,) so I used a multicolored boucle yarn in shades of what I called "Penny Blue." I cannot remember if I knit or crocheted the hat, though I know I crocheted an ivory trim on the end. I wish I had asked her to send me a picture of her wearing the hat, but I believed I would see her wearing it someday, I believed that all the positive energy and love that I had put into the hat, along with all the positive energy and love that everyone who knew her felt, would dissolve whatever cancer cells had not been removed by scalpel, chemotherapy, or radiation.

My mother was much better at keeping in contact with Penny. She called her up and talked to her about what she was feeling. She sent her Bernie Siegel's books. She made Indian food and took it to Penny's sister's house in Schaumburg (where Penny had moved when she lost control of her legs.) My mother kept me updated on the reappearance of the tumors and Penny's slow deterioration. Sadly I was too wrapped up in the enormous changes which were happening to me, my body and mind too focused on the creation of another creature inside of me, to offer the support I would have liked. I didn't want to intrude and felt I was too young, whereas my mother was closer in age to Penny and, I felt, could offer a form of support which I could not.

Penny Spokes died on September 8, 2004. Her family respected her wishes and did not to have a memorial service, so I never had the opportunity to say good-bye. She died before Julian's birth and I feel his life will be less rich because he never had the opportunity to meet her. I feel a huge hole in my life and everytime I get a massage or try out a new chiropracter, I am aware of the loss.

Her sister, Peggy, called me once to confirm my mailing address. When she explained who she was and told me that Penny wore my hat all the time, I started to sob uncontrollably and was unable to talk. A few days later, I received a thank you letter she had written, talking about Penny's life and her death. It's a lovely letter and it brings into focus how special Penny was, how lucky we all were to have known her in whatever capacity we did, and how profound a loss her family was feeling. At the end of the letter, she had handwritten the following:

Dear Alison,

I called you today and am so glad that I could tell you how much Penny appreciated the hat you made for her. We still keep it in the room where she died. It's still so hard.


So if I have ever made you something, please send me a photo of you wearing the item. I know it doesn't sound like much, but sometimes the words can't take the place of a picture. A picture wouldn't make it any easier, but at least I would have something to show Julian.


Andrea said…
Thank you for posting this. I didn't even know that Penny was gone -- I moved from Chicago to Arizona years ago and hadn't seen her since 2001. I Googled her today, hoping I could maybe get an appointment the next time I was in town.

She was a wonderful healer and such a caring person. I fondly remember the odds and ends on her bulletin board, like the little bag full of sugar (to show how much was in a can of Coke) and the quote from Yoda ("Do or do not, there is no try.")

It is sad to find out that Penny is gone, but thank you for softening the blow with your lovely tribute.


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