Change. Memory. Remembrance.
Some things in life make you stop to take stock of the malleability of the world, take a moment to reflect, and say a blessing for the grace of knowing things were a certain way once in the world.
That happened to me this past week upon reading the obituary page of my local newspaper and discovering that Alberta Lamb-Rogers had passed away. She was 99 years old. She was living in Grand Junction, Colorado—a long way from Vermont, but serendipitously in the same mid-west city where an uncle lives. I didn’t know she was there; I didn’t even think that she was still alive. Yet she’s one of those local icons about whom one still thinks about every now and then. To read her obituary, one can understand why—she was a powerhouse of charity and good works.
Mrs. Lamb (who was actually Mrs. Rogers in her later years, although everyone knew her as “Mrs. Lamb” as the captain of her own business by the same moniker) was the proprietor of Mrs. Lamb’s Yarn Shop. In the days of its reign, it was what most businesses in the area were—a cottage industry. And true to its brand, it was situated in a portion of the back of her own house on Kendall Avenue (the same street I grew up on until I was five-years-old and my family moved to a different section of town). It was a little haricot-yellow house near the old high school, and it’s where people went to buy their yarn and knitting products. There were no superstores in that era. There were no Jo-Ann’s Fabric Stores or Michael’s Craft Stores, nor were there any other fancy yarn shop storefronts to be had in our hamlet. This was a time when people actually made their own clothes and winter-wear, and the art of sewing and knitting wasn’t so much a fad or a hobby as it was a life skill and an expected talent of home economics for homemakers. It was a time when making your own clothes was cheaper than going to the department store and buying overseas-sweatshop-produced garments.
I can still remember accompanying my mother into Mrs. Lamb’s shop, with its crates of yarn along the walls and center-room layout. I was much too little to see above the tops of those crates, so it seemed like I was traveling through a forest path of fiber in rainbow colors. I’m quite certain I was too occupied with the visual cacophony of all that yarn to notice what my mother was purchasing or learning from Mrs. Lamb. But Mrs. Lamb had established herself as the town matriarch of knitting instruction and advice. I don’t believe it was anything like today—where yarn shops hold special hours for teaching and technical help, and charge fees for the secret knowledge of the macramé magic and the pleasure of learning a vintage art form.
No…Mrs. Lamb was there more as matriarch of charitable service for a town of young women trying to prepare their families for the 8-to-9 months of harsh Vermont winter weather with enough sweaters and mittens and scarves to keep them warm. What I believe is that Mrs. Lamb was exercising her Christian mission of charity through the beatific practice of helping to clothe the naked. (Because if you don’t have a sweater in the middle of a Vermont winter, you might as well be naked!) If you were having trouble with a particularly nasty gusset turn on a pair of socks, Mrs. Lamb was there to help you fashion your perfect heel-cozy. If the British pattern instructions were too obtuse and your project didn’t look anything like the lace pattern in the picture, Mrs. Lamb was there to get your needles clicking in the right tempo to accomplish the elegance you were hoping for. But even more basic, if you couldn’t seem to keep the right number of stitches on your needles from row-to-row, Mrs. Lamb was there to help you find your groove and method, to find your zen (and your dropped stitches). Mrs. Lamb raised a generation of homemakers who provided for their families with hand-made fashions. She was an institution in-and-of herself helping promote domestic stability. For that alone, the residents of my hometown should bestow great honors upon her.
Mrs. Lamb was like Lachesis of the Greek Moirai—the measurer and allotter of thread, measured with her measuring rod. She was, however, generous with her measuring rod—giving everyone ample chance to extend their own usefulness in the community. This can be evidenced—in addition to her personal encouragement of young women—by her active participation in Church and community charity…having helped initiate the Trinity Church women’s group, which to this day continues to hold bi-annual rummage sales in order to raise money for community need services.
And it isn’t just my toddler years amongst her colorful home-shop that leaves an impression on me… it’s a greater personal legacy.
When my dad was stricken with lymphatic cancer, and during his treatments, my mother was left to worry about maintaining the household with two toddler children. A family friend—Penny—often offered to care-take of me and my brother when my mother needed to do errands or things related to my dad’s illness. Penny often helped with meals and other amazing feats of heroism, and I know my mother was grateful for the assistance…she comments on it even to this day over 40 years later. Penny was also a master knitter; she often helped man the shop when Mrs. Lamb needed assistance or a break or a vacation. So it was Penny and Mrs. Lamb who, I think, taught my mother and encouraged her to work on knitting and crocheting projects to keep herself occupied amidst the stress.
…And when I started pestering my mother too much when she was working on those projects, she gave me a big blue metal—size “K”—crochet needle and showed me the basics of what she was doing…giving me the opportunity to keep myself occupied.
…And I did keep myself occupied, learning more and more and more, until I was doing a lot more than my mother was doing…and kept doing it until I had self-taught myself all sorts of yarn-fiber techniques
You can still find vestiges of Mrs. Lamb’s (Mrs. Rogers’s) business lingering on the internet…reviews and reminiscences. Here is one from a dated directory of Vermont knitting stores as reviewed by Donna Powers…
“This is an old fashioned yarn shop in the back of the owner’s home. It is the best yarn shop I have been to. The service is friendly and Mrs. Lamb is always ready to help you with a pattern or a problem. She will order yarn for you and ship it to you if you are from out of state. The shop has all the latest yarn, in fact I found the self-striping sock yarn there before I saw it anywhere else. A great selection of bamboo needles and double pointed needles are available too. So if you are heading up to Killington for skiing, head on down the mountain into Rutland and stop and see Mrs. Rogers.”
Thank you, Mrs. Lamb, our town’s patron saint of knitting, for the charity of your good works. Thank you for the skills and past-times you shared with your neighbors and fellow citizens. Thank you for your role in the legacy of joy that I now partake of in that craft, historically essential, now therapeutic, still often charitable. May your adventure in the new great mystery you’ve embarked upon be peaceful and beautiful. May we continue in your example of envisioning community and charity and good works through the craft that you shared during your lifetime…