Writing > Knitta What?!!

Knitta What?!!

By GEORGE MAFFETT
Published: November 23, 2010

On the surface, the plan was genius. I mean, we’re talking genius with a capital “G. Maffett” here.

I’d stop by my mom’s house, get her to cast on a few stitches for my next knitting project — a cable scarf for my older brother — and send it off to him for Christmas, following it up with a BlackBerry video showing my mom starting it and me finishing it.

We’re talking proof positive here that people care enough about him to take time out of their days to invest a little time in his comfort. You know — the kind of stuff that actually means something when you get older.

So, I swing by my mom’s on the way back from my silent retreat weekend in NJ. I go there twice a year, and I generally go into the weekend thinking what a pain in the ass it is to drive five hours from my house to Mendham, NJ, just to not talk to the people around me.

Hell, on a good weekend, I can do that and never leave my house.

But I’m all about maximizing what’s left of my time on earth, making up for my wasted — and I mean that in every sense of the word — youth.

The original plan was to have my mom teach me to knit. It dawned on me that the number of skills my parents passed on to me is limited indeed. My dad gets, “Right is tight, loose is left,” and how to change a tire.

My mom? Well, I know how to make a butterfly bandage from athletic tape, but other than that, there’s not a whole lot registering.

Granted, she was the sole parental influence for my first 12 years on earth, so I picked up a ton of things by osmosis, I’m sure… but sit-down-while-I-show-you-how-to-do-this-Georgie? Not so much.

So, I figure she teaches me how to knit, and I pass that along to my kids, and whaddya know, we got a legit Maffett Family Tradition started.

I had this brilliant idea back in September (it’s now November 2010).

I had the idea; I just didn’t have the patience to follow through on it. It turns out; I wouldn’t be up to see my Mom until Halloween weekend. So, in typical G-fashion, I go to my local A.C. Moore, get a Beginner’s Knitting Kit and some yarn, and YouTube up some instructions.

Knitting is great. It’s one of those life skills that after you learn it, you wonder why you waited this long to take it up. Tons of “a-ha” moments early on, where going on blind faith in Jesus was rewarded with genuine understanding of what the hell was actually going on.

This is important to me, because I had recently devoted a year of my life to learning how to solve a Rubik’s cube in less than 38 seconds. A process I liken to a trained monkey for my understanding of the goings-on behind the scenes. I memorized a series of moves, and then memorized an increasingly complex series of moves, but had a limited understanding of what I was actually doing (and to be fair to the guy who wrote the book, he did make a point of saying it was very important to understand what the moves were doing as opposed to just applying rote memorization to the process.)

So, understanding cause and effect was important to me. I didn’t want to spend another year “learning” something I really didn’t understand. (For the record, I understand roughly 80% of the algorithms I use to solve the cube... now…)

But back to working with mom.

I pull out some yarn (Lion’s Brand “San Diego Navy.” How could I not knit something for The Commander in that color?) and hand Mom the Size 19 wooden needles. These are fairly large-sized knitting needles. You could wipe out a couple vampires with these needles, if conditions warranted.

Give mom credit. I tell her I need her to cast on 20 stitches and knit four rows, and she’s off to the races.

Oh, sure… that pony’s a little slow around the track. But you can tell she’s been in a race or two in her day.

“Oh, you knit the stitches on?” I say.

“Well, sure…” she replies, as if anyone would do it any other way.

Truth is, I would and I do. And in the time it takes my mom to knit five stitches on to the needles, I would have had casted 10 on… by the time she’s done 10; I would have been knitting the first row. (And we wouldn’t have been backtracking because I cast on too many stitches.)

The reality is, in only six weeks, I’m a better knitter than my mom is. To be fair, she admitted that she doesn’t knit much. She’s crocheted all of her life and knows how to knit and purl, but little else.

But eventually, we get to the point that mom has cast on 20 stitches (okay… after more recounts than the Bush election, we get it to 20 stitches. Mom don’t see so good.)

While this is going on, my sister is peppering me with questions about how my daughter is doing. I can be incredibly naïve when people are nice to me, meaning I forget everybody’s got a fucking agenda and I’m just a tool to help accomplish it. She even allows that she had given my daughter advice on some issues at college.

Okay… the alarms are ringing a little bit. My interactions with my sister have been limited since she went back to drinking about 15 years ago. She had about 5-years sobriety at the time and avoided me like the plague when she first went back out.

Now, she talks to me occasionally. But she gets this condescending tone to her voice at times that can be annoying. And at this point, it is.

But I brush it off. I’m here to spend an hour or so with my mom and get back on the road. I take the knitting needles from her and in less time than it took her to fish the yarn-end out of the skein, I’ve got the first row done. I turned the work and explained to my Mom that I’m knitting a cable scarf for Greg. I had knitted a prototype in green that my wife claimed as soon as I was halfway through — once it was obvious to her that the scarf was actually going to turn out pretty good — but this one was going to be for Greg.

I zip through three more rows of knitting to give the scarf a fine garter stitch edge. But with all of the yammering and mom slow-poking the cast on, my hour is about up. And I’ve got to get on the road. I’ve got a new (to me) racing bike that I have to get home before it gets dark, and hey… I’ve got about 12 hours of knitting ahead of me for this scarf.

I start packing my knitting bag up, having gotten all the praise I’m going to get for the two hats I have with me. I’ve knitted four hats to date — one for myself, one for my daughter, one for a buddy I met at the Double Ironman, and one for a kid I’m sponsoring in AA. Three out of the four hats turned out reasonably well. The one for the kid I’m sponsoring ends up three sizes too large (the second one I knit for him has issues as well… third time better be a charm!)

“Okay, Mom… well, I’ve gotta go…”

“Oooh… hand me my pocket book… I’ve got to give you something…”

I look around and spy a black pocket book at the edge of the sofa. I grab it and hand it to mom. She sorts through some envelopes and stops when she comes across some pictures of kids. In the last few times I’ve seen her, she has been showing me pics of my half-sister’s newest drain on the welfare system. But she has to be careful. My sister Teddi-of-the-Condescending-Tone doesn’t like my mom being in contact with Linda, since Linda heisted my mom’s credit cards and rang up several thousand dollars of debt while my mom was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery.

Turns out the pictures she’s showing me are ones of my brother Neil’s daughter Melissa and his son Justin’s toddler. I’m really only close with two of my four brothers, and Neil is one of the two. He’s the kind of brother who is comfortable calling me up out of the blue for the first time in over a year and asking me how much it should cost to mail a parcel from Nevada to Pennsylvania. No hello’s, no how’s the family, straight to the question. Very Maffett that.

But mom is still fiddling around in her pocketbook. The pics aren’t the purpose of the retrieval request. Mom pulls out her purse and her checkbook.

I have an idea I know where this is going. Mom needed $200 for medicine a couple weeks ago and I refused to let her pay back the money I gave her. She probably figured enough time had passed that I’d take a check.

Well, that’s an easy enough dodge… just take the check and never deposit it. Eventually she’ll get the message.

I’m still looking at the pics when I hear something about:

“I need help paying some bills. I don't know what to do about this, so you're going to have to talk to Greg and figure out what you guys want to do..."

Suddenly, I realize, I’m probably not going to have to fend off Mom’s offer to repay me — she’s going to be hitting me up for some more dough. Hmmm… $200 last time with nary a blink from me probably means we’re in the $500 range this time.

And really, if that’s the case, it’s not a problem. My wife and I were discussing what to get my mom for Christmas and she was suggesting we get her a laptop so that she could surf and Facebook during the day. We could offer it up as a community gift to anyone that wanted to contribute, but we’d purchase it and deal with details down the road.

She hands me an envelope with four credit cards and her checkbook in it. With those items is a settlement offer from Discover saying they’ll take $6,000 on the $10,000 she owes them.

Okay… that’s a heart-stopper.

“Wow… Mom… how the hell did this happen?”

“I don’t know Georgie, it just did. And it’s stressing me out. I can’t sleep…”

And because it’s my mom, I have to ask, “Is this it?” Because if it is, that’s roughly $2,000 a piece split among the three oldest boys. It’s gonna sting, and I don’t want to hear the rash of shit my wife is going to hammer me with when I tell her, but we can make it happen

Long story short, $6K is a drop in a bucket,

She guesstimates it's at $40,000...

I'm trying to process having Mom blindside me like this, because hey, three minutes ago, I was walking out the door after spending a pleasant 45 minutes with her, so that I can delicately get around to "HTF did this happen?"

This is where Teddi jumps in with the now infamous...

"Now, George... this is the first I've heard of this... but can't she ask for some kind of hardship?"

Okay, you live in the same house while Mom is ringing up thousands in credit card debt and this is the first you’ve heard of it?

I have to shove down the temptation to lash out sideways at my sister… and I mean shove it deep down. My mom is on oxygen and has a history of bad credit and running up debt. My sister has a history of living off her while she does it. Of the two, it would be easier to snap at her.

"I don't know what she can do..."

So... I look at the credit cards... they've all expired in '09 or early '10... my guess is, she maxed them out and then quit paying on them... so she knows what the limit was, but not the penalties...

“How long has this been going on?”

Pause. “About two years.”

“And you haven’t been paying on it in two years? Mom… you can’t ignore stuff like this. They just keep piling up the penalties when you do that…”

Protestations from my mom ensue... "I know I'm in the doghouse..."

Okay, cut the BS, we can't change what happened, let's get on to how we're going to clean this up, which from her standpoint is "Pawn it off on the kids that don't live with her and not the ones that helped incur the debt..." figuring Linda and her new kid are probably mixed up in this some way as well.

I really don’t know what the hell to do. My mom is asking for help and there’s a part of me that feels obligated to help. I am ever the dutiful son.

But the more I roll it over in my head, the more resentful I get about it. Blindsided hell. I don’t know that things would have been any different if she had come to us boys when this first happened, but “not dealing with it” is how I recall my mom handling a number of issues when we were growing up.

At some point, I give her back the credit cards and checkbook, saying, “Mom… I don’t think you get to dump this on me.”

It hurts to say those words to my mom. To see her flinch, to hear a condescending tone creep into my own voice when I say, “I really don’t know what to tell you. I don’t know anything about settlement offers. What I know is paying my bills on time.”

I figure I can't access her statements, and the cards are expired. If she wants to cut them up, fine... I keep a deposit slip to make it easier if I do have to make a deposit, but bottom line, I'm not stepping in as an accountant at this stage of the game. Once everything gets sorted out, we can discuss it... but until we know what's what, I'm not comfortable having her checkbook in my possession.

In the car driving home I call my wife. As heartless as it sounds at the time, she brings up some good points — my mom doesn’t own a home or a car. She’s 75. What are they going to do to her?

An e-mail to my brother earns a similarly pragmatic response. In his eyes, she essentially just won the Credit Card lottery. As cruel as it sounds, bailing mom out of $40K+ in debt is really just throwing good money after bad.

I’m wondering what I should do, how I should handle it, when it dawns on — my mom did pass on a life skill after all.

I’ll just ignore it until it becomes somebody else’s problem.

Two years sounds about right.

PS... I really only re-posted this because my brother says he can't figure out how to put pictures into his articles...

Really, bro?!! ;)

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