do not read ahead

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The small cedar box sat on the floor of my parents' bedroom for as long as I can remember. My mother knit for each new baby in the family, and afterward, she tucked any leftover yard into the box, where it would be safe from moths.

My siblings and I hung out in my parents room on weekend mornings. My brother always seemed to be in the middle of the action, snuggling between Mom and Dad, or wrestling with Dad on the carpet. Sometimes I lay next to Mom as she quietly sipped her coffee, but more often than not I sat on the floor, near the box, beside the glass door that overlooked the garden. What was going on in the room was often just too loud, or chaotic, or too sweaty for me; I preferred the quiet corner where I could look out the window, or crack open the lid of the box. I loved the cedar and wool smells that wafted up, the feel of the soft yarn on my fingertips, all the beautiful colors. There was a soothing beauty in the box that always drew me in.

When my parents died, my siblings and I cleaned out their house. My sister chose some artwork and vases that she loved, my brothers took some of Dad’s tools, and I took the box. I brought it home, and set it in my bedroom, next to my reading chair, where I sat this very morning, worrying myself into a vortex of anxiety about my kids, the virus, online school, the democracy.

On instinct, I leaned forward, and ran my hands across the top of the box. For the first time in years, I cracked open the lid. Up came the wonderful, familiar smell. There were all the delicate balls of yarn I had loved as a girl. I picked one up, and underneath found a single pink and white baby sock that my mother must have knit. But why only one? Also, a small square of pale pink calico, which I recognized immediately. When my grandmother came to live with us, my mother understood that she would need a project to fill her days. She bought a few yards of the fabric, laid it out on the dining room table, and cut it into small squares, using her silver sewing scissors, the ones we were never allowed to use for wrapping paper, or school projects, or anything but fabric. My grandmother sewed the squares together by hand, making small crib quilts she could give her great grand babies as they arrived. She wore a golden thimble on her finger as she worked, often beckoning me over with a smile and asking me to rethread her needle, because I had young eyes.

I held the tiny square of cloth to my lips, missing my grandmother, missing my mother, wishing I could still have them here with me, to help me with this tricky business of living. Then I plunged my hands deeper into the yarn, just for comfort. I was surprised to feel a dry piece of paper underneath. Moving a ball of yarn, I saw the edge of an old, yellowed knitting pattern. It had a bold headline, written in all capital letters.

Do one step at a time, it said. Do not read ahead.

I smiled. One last piece of maternal advice.