With those first words out of her mouth, I could see right then and there that it might be a little too much for her. What with all the children, her acting, and her refugee work, not to mention Brad himself. My sigh caught her attention and she turned those eyes on me and looked me over. I soon realized however that she was looking at the sweater I was wearing that I had knit myself. She glanced at the children again as they mauled the dog before turning back to Brad. The stare she gave him became so long and drawn out that it made me want to crawl under the door and slip away. His enthusiasm for the idea still clung hopefully to his face as he looked from her to the knitting basket and back. You could see he wasn’t going to give the idea up without much persuasion and I briefly wondered about their relationship as I watched this little scene. Finally, after what seemed to me an eternity, she tilted her head back and stared at the frescoed ceiling before making her decision.
“Okay. I’ll give it a try. But you and the nanny have to look after the kids while I’m doing this.”
Nervousness and despair swept over me at those words. What if I couldn’t teach her a single thing? What if she was hopeless when it came to crafts? Who was I to be involved in this? I gave them both a wan smile as they turned their attention on me.
“Well now. This is going to be wonderful.” Brad said as he wrapped her and Shiloh in one massive hug. “Maddox, Pax and Zahara. I want you to say hello to Ani. She’s going to teach mommy how to knit.”
A collective ‘Hello’ came from the group as they took their attention away from the dog for a minute to glance dutifully in my direction. I smiled back and waggled a few fingers; their obvious happiness touching a spot in my heart.
“Can you start right now?” Brad asked once the introductions were over with.
It was my turn to raise my eyebrows as I looked in Angelina’s direction. She gave him one of those looks that made it obvious we were both an intrusion in her life right at this moment, and I quickly searched the entranceway for something to focus on.
“Ahh! Well then. How about I send a car for you tomorrow morning then Ani? Would that be all right with you Angie?”
A smile crossed her face for the first time and she reached over and put a long slender hand on his cheek and locked eyes with him. Whatever passed between them definitely didn’t have anything to do with me, and I bit my lower lip and turned a beaming smile on the children, who ignored me over the dog. Remembering me and my basket, Brad finally broke away and arranged for a ride as he handed me back my belongings. Later, as I settled in my little travel trailer with my knitting in my hands, I thought of that look for a long time.
The car picked me up promptly at 10 the following morning. I figured a midmorning arrival would probably give the family enough time for cereal and toast and a trip to the school to drop off Maddox. The day was a little cooler and threatened rain, and I was shown into the library where a couple of wing-back chairs had been pulled up in front of a large fireplace where a fire crackled and spit as it caught on some sap. A low footstool stood in front of one chair, probably in deference to my age, and I noted with appreciation the needlepoint on it had been done by hand instead of machine.
I jumped at the words and fumbled a hello as I recognized Angelina waiting patiently for me. She was seated in the wing-back without the footstool and I hadn’t seen her when I first came into the room being preoccupied with the decor. I set down the equipment I had brought with me and lowered myself into the other wing-back and clasped my hands, forgetting that I was the teacher in this room. “The children are with the nanny so we have the entire morning ahead of us,” she said without much enthusiasm.
Sighing inwardly I bent to my baskets and pulled out a skein of magenta colored wool and a pair of 6mm knitting needles. I had picked magenta as it is such a happy color to work with under any conditions, and it’s easy on the eyes when you’re looking for stitches. Taking the skein of wool, I held it up to my nose and inhaled the heavy aroma that only pure wool has, then I passed it over to Angelina. With a questioning look of doubt on her face she did the same, and I watched with interest as an understanding came into her eyes. “There’s nothing like it I find,” trying to show her my respect for natural fibers. When she handed the skein back to me, I showed her how to unwind it, and how they always tied a simple twist in it. As I stood holding the yarn in my two hands, Brad bounded in, eager to see how the lesson was going.
“Perfect!” I said as I held out the skein of yarn to him. “Would you hold this – just like this, please Brad?” Obligingly he held out his hands and I draped the yarn over it and told him to hold it taut. Then I showed Angelina how to wind a ball of wool from a hank or skein. At first the winding went fairly well. Then Brad seemed to lose track of what was happening and the ball was all distorted and falling apart. I watched as they tried to get in sync again – but Brad couldn’t keep the skein from tangling and I could see it was hopeless. “Wait! I brought some things – just in case this happened.” Bending back to my baskets, I pulled out a skein holder and a wool winder and set them up on a nearby table, making sure that nothing scratched the obvious antique I had chosen. Draping what was left of the skein over the skein holder, I unwound the ball and slid the end onto the wool winder, then I showed Angelina how it worked and let her wind the wool.
Brad couldn’t get over the simplicity of the two machines and wanted to try them for himself, so I pulled out another ball of periwinkle blue wool and let him go at it.
From there I introduced my pupil to the knitting needles and we spent some time forming a slipknot and learning how to do a knit cast-on – always my favorite. At first the going was slow as I showed her the positioning of the needles and yarn. We cast on a number of stitches and then I had her rip them all out and start from the beginning again; watching carefully as she made a slipknot – then froze. Once again we went through the technique and she shook her head, chastising herself underneath her breath. We repeated the process a couple of times until I felt she was ready to begin knitting. The fire crackled merrily as we worked away, me coaching her continually while Brad wandered in and out of the room or bent over the back of her chair and watched her quietly. Her fingers were long, and to me painfully thin, with dark blue veins running under the skin. When I had first held her hands in mine to show her the basic steps, they were cold to the touch, and I hadn’t failed to notice that she had on heavy socks and a fleece sweater. I was comfortable in the large room in front of the fire, but it was obvious that she felt the cold. When lunch came, she picked at it, and I came right out and told her she needed to eat more – something that would stick to her bones and give her warmth. She just smiled at me, those lips framing perfect white teeth - and went back to picking. I used that opportunity to explain the qualities of natural fibers, especially wool, when choosing something to knit with. I agreed that acrylics for the children would probably be smartest – wash and wear at its best – but for warmth – the wool. She admitted she liked the feel of it in her hands and of course there was the smell. We spent the afternoon knitting – or to us knitters – doing garter stitch. Row after row we knit. Back and forth - back and forth. As the daylight slipped away, I started to wind up the lesson; explaining there was more to knitting that just the knit stitch and without a moment’s hesitation, Angelina invited me back for the next day.
The next morning we started from scratch again – just to ensure she hadn’t forgotten how to cast on. She whipped several stitches onto her needles and knit a few rows for me like an old (although rusty) pro. From there we delved into purl stitches for a while and then moved on to increasing and decreasing. I had brought my encyclopedia of knit stitches just to show her how many different varieties there were. I then brought out a simple pattern I had picked up before I showed up that morning and we started chatting about following patterns. Knitting is just a variety of knit and purl stitches, and if you can follow the pattern, I figure anyone can do it.
As the afternoon dwindled again, Brad came in and invited me to stay for dinner with the family. As he was going to cook up his home version of Jambalaya I couldn’t say no. We moved from the library into the giant kitchen and watched as Brad bustled around frying alligator sausage and chicken in a huge skillet. He had a towel draped over his shoulder on which he absently wiped everything he got on his hands, and occasionally flicked in Angelina’s direction. A huge rice cooker bubbled away on a counter while he poured us each a glass of wine and we perched on kitchen stools at the island and looked through my binder of patterns.
Angelina was determined to make a sweater to show Brad she could do it, and eventually picked out a man’s simple cardigan done in a combination of garter and moss stitch. With her enthusiasm I was more than happy to let her have the pattern and even offered to help her pick out yarn at a local wool shop I had stumbled on in the Garden District. Ever helpful, Brad dug around in the junk drawer that everyone has in their kitchen and came up with a measuring tape. He posed and pumped his muscles for a bit while we tried to take his measurements, reminding me of his movie Troy. From there it was a matter of getting through supper without getting his incredible Jambalaya all over me, or holding my sides with laughter at the children’s antics as we sat around the huge dinner table and feasted.
The next day, true to her word, Angelina picked me up and we headed out to the wool shop to pick out yarn. With her hair tucked up into a Support New Orleans! pink baseball cap and wearing tight jeans, we wandered through the wool bins, holding colors to the light and checking yardage and weight. I have to admit, she was a quick learner and I was proud of my student when we dumped our selections of moss greens and browns with a dash of burgundy, onto the counter. The salesclerk kept looking at us as she rang up the sale, and thanked Angelina profusely when she handed over the large bag of wool, needles, skein holder and wool winder. We laughed together like lifelong friends as we watched through the window as an excited saleslady yelled into the telephone as we pulled away. We went back to the now familiar library, and I got her started on the back of the dropped sleeve sweater. I watched as she got well on her way with it during the day while I worked on my own creation. When the light was once more beginning to fade, I packed up my bifocals and my yarn and started to make my farewells. Brad gave me a hearty handshake and tried to push a load of money into my hand which I promptly dropped on the floor and ignored. Angelina hugged me hard and thanked me so sincerely that I almost cried. Two days later my time had run out and I was headed back to Alberta, Canada – my days of hobnobbing with the celebrities fading into an unbelievable memory.
About six weeks later, as I sat in front of my own fire with my feet on a footstool and a ball of wool unwinding itself onto my needles, the phone rang.
“Is that you Ani? It’s Angelina!”
You better believe I almost dropped the phone into the fire right then and there! A huge smile spread across my face as I listened to her sultry voice as it came across the miles asking me for help on that sweater. With her man’s birthday fast approaching, she wanted to finish the project, wrap it, and prove to him that she could do it. Would I fly to Zurich where she was on a film shoot – the ticket would be waiting at the airport in my name? Now – how could anyone say no to that – or to her? I did a quick search on weather in Switzerland, packed a small bag and headed to the airport. The flight was long, but first-class gave me plenty of time to get some knitting done of my own and I couldn’t have been happier.
A limo whisked me from the airport to the site where they were filming and some person with a clipboard escorted me to Angelina’s trailer where Brad and the kids greeted me like some long lost friend. Brad took me onto the set where I stood openmouthed like a groupie and watched his leading lady breeze through her script without missing a line.
When the scene was finished, we headed back to the trailer where Angelina shooed everyone away and we slid right back into our teacher-student personas. Solving the problem of casting off in pattern was an easy one and I could see that she was going to finish this project with plenty of time to spare before Brad’s birthday. She invited me to stay on the shoot with them so I could help her through the rest of the sweater during her breaks. And again – how could anyone say no to this woman? Three weeks later, Angie and I sewed in the last strands of wool and spread out the finished product to admire her work. Her stitches were smooth and the tension was even. No stressful days showed in her work whatsoever – and I was incredibly proud of her. One more shopping trip together found us loading up on wool again for her next project – something for Shiloh this time in a soft lavender color. I picked up a birthday card for Brad and addressed it “To my friend’s friend”, before slipping it into its envelope and handing it over to Angelina for safekeeping.
With the shoot over, we took the same limo to the airport where we were going our separate ways. I was heading back to Alberta and my quiet life in front of the fire, and the Jolie-Pitts were off to Italy to join George Clooney at his villa. As I settled in to first-class and picked up my knitting, I wondered if Mr. Clooney would be interested in learning how to knit.