My mum knits contintental-style because she learned it from her mother, but her casting-on method is one she learned from an old Polish friend of the family (the same lady who taught her to make 16-pointed paper stars out of four thin strips of paper) -- it's a method that owes more to cat's-cradle than to knitting, so maybe that's why it stuck in my brain much easier than the "normal" way of doing it. I guess all those rainy lunchtimes spent covering the classroom with ten-foot cobwebs of woven skipping-rope weren't wasted after all.
It's amazing what fingers can remember: phone numbers I haven't dialled for 10 years, piano pieces I haven't played for twice as long, the control keys for arcade games on the Apple ][, a method for folding a napkin into a fan. The memories are bound up in the muscles and they bypass the conscious mind, like a back-street shortcut to your childhood home that you didn't even know you remembered until you heard the familiar crunch of gravel, saw the peeling paint on the gatepost, and wondered how the steps up to the porch got to be so small some time in the last twenty years.
Sometimes, trying to sleep, I close my eyes and imagine I'm cycling from Pembroke College to Lewell Avenue in the dark, on my way to a place I called home for a while -- across the University Parks, over the bridge, across the meadow where the cows slept at night (looming like shaggy icebergs in the sea of mist rolling off the river), a footpath, potholes, brambles, a fence, and then it all starts to blur as my bike rattles across the narrow bridge into sleep. I can't reconstruct the route, but I know that if I came that way (Taking any route, starting from anywhere, At any time or at any season) I wouldn't even have to think.
This is how we learn: drawing over the same pattern again and again, guided at first by the hand that our own hand will come to resemble, wearing crayons down to tiny stubs on the dotted outlines of letters. Everything is a map: every step, every word, every sound. It's a path worn smooth by generations of footfalls.
It's not that knowledge passed down from my ancestors is more real or more worthwhile than knowledge learned elsewhere; it's more like an heirloom, which after all is just a gift that's been given before, getting slightly bigger each time. And sometimes it grows like a wedding-cake, tier upon tier, and other times it's like a snowball chasing you down the hill as you try to outrun your heritage. Step sideways; let it roll past.
Aunty Mila (who wasn't anybody's aunt) taught my mum to cast-on and make paper stars; she also gave my parents her old shiny toaster when they started living together, and then when they got a brand new toaster for their silver wedding anniversary, I got the old shiny toaster to take to university with me. I'm still using it now, in another place that I've called home for a while, filling the spaces between the stitches in my scarf with the smell of burnt bread.
The finished scarf, modelled by addedentry.