Be silent, especially when steel

Be silent, especially when steel

My wife has taken up knitting as if it were a contact sport.

You can hear those needles clacking all over the house, and the sound they make is a little unnerving, like sleet hitting a tin roof.

She’s always been a determined woman, though, and I fully expected this kind of dedication to the craft, one that was taught to her by her grandmother more than 40 years ago.

Nana, as she was known, also was a no-nonsense lady, and she eyed me skeptically when we first introduced.

“And you do what, exactly?” she asked, puzzled and critical at the same time, taking my measure with the cold intensity of a jeweler eyeing a flawed diamond about to be exposed.

“He’s a writer, Nana,” her granddaughter replied, squeezing my arm and urging me forward into a hug I knew would be awkward.

“What?” she replied, her Eastern European accent thick as sauerbraten. “Like books? Stephen King? I like him. Scary.”

“No, Nana,” my wife-to-be-30-years-later said. “For the newspaper. Sports. You’ve seen his picture, I’m sure. He’s very talented.”

“Ach,” she practically spat, “I’ve got no use for that thing, except when other people die. I’d like to outlive them all.”

She almost did too, living well into her 90s, by which time Nana and I had developed, if not a close bond, then a tentative friendship.

“Nice,” she said, “that thing you wrote.”

“Which thing, Nana?” I asked, thinking she might have liked the piece I’d done on a visit to South Bend and a Notre Dame game.

“Who can remember?” she said with a sigh. “But it wasn’t bad.”

If you knew Nana, that was about as good as it got. She brooked no silliness and wasted little time on people who failed to meet her expectations, traits that her granddaughter certainly possesses.

I remember when we had first begun dating — this would have been the early fall of 1987 — and I was not exactly suave and debonair, having just experienced the jolt of losing a girlfriend of nearly a decade.

Oh, I admit my behavior was less than honorable, especially toward the end, as we dealt with what Woody Allen so aptly described as a “dead shark” in “Annie Hall.”

“A shark has to keep moving forward or it dies,” says Alvy Singer.

Still, it was a shock when she pulled the plug, which she did as gently as possible, knowing I had a tendency for lost causes.

But I let her go, knowing she’d be much better off without me.

I threw myself into physical jobs, raking the leaves, mowing the lawn and painting my father’s basement, which involved gallons and gallons of thick beige paint, which those concrete blocks sucked up like a sponge.

Dad knew that was best for me — protracted periods of silence and a task that involved patience — but every now and then he’d ask how I was doing.

“Fine,” I’d say, “considering.”

And then he’d climb the cellar steps and leave me alone.

Over the years we’ve been together, my wife and I have examined our first phone call many, many times. It was a Saturday afternoon. She knew from a mutual friend I was recently single, so she dialed my number.

Yep, she made the first move.

Me? I’d probably have drifted along like Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate,” which is not to compare my wife with Mrs. Robinson.

Just that my life changed drastically when I answered the phone.

A few weeks into our dating excursion, she arranged a casual get-together at a local pub where two of her closest friends would join us. I knew immediately upon hearing of her plan that I was about to be judged, but I was OK with that; in fact I was confident.

As faithful readers know, my wife is nothing if not thorough.

What happened next has always reminded me of the time I flunked my first driver’s test. I was 16 years in the summer of 1971 and had already pretty much aced the written portion of the exam.

All I had to do was negotiate the streets of my little town without screwing up too badly and I’d be a legal, licensed driver.

Again, I was confident.

And then I saw a flashing traffic signal, red on one side, yellow on the other, so I did what I thought was correct.

I slowed and then proceeded with caution through the intersection.

Turned out I should have come to a complete stop.

Similarly, when my wife-to-be excused herself to use the ladies room, I made a tragic mistake.

Thinking her two closest friends knew her better than most anyone else, I told them the truth when asked about her.

“She’s great,” I said, “smart, pretty, funny, an amazing woman.”

They nodded, smiling.

“But she’s, you know,” I continued, “a little manipulative.”

My performance, as you’ve already surmised, didn’t exactly earn rave reviews. The next day when she finally answered her phone, I was casual and, again, confident when she let me have it.

“Manipulative?” she said, steel in her voice. “You said that?”

“Well, yeah,” I said, searching for a life preserver as if tossed in a deep sea, “in the nicest sense of the word. You know what you want and you go after it.”

“And you think that’s you?” she asked.

“Isn’t it?” I replied. “I mean you called me, started this whole thing off in the first place, which is going fantastic, right?”

“Just be quiet,” she said.

“OK,” I said. “I’m good at that.”

“We’ll see,” she said.

And now my wife’s armed with steel needles. Wish me luck.

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