I’ve mentioned our community’s Safe Harbor program a time or two here on the blog. We get to know many of our local homeless friends during this time. Well, once Safe Harbor ends for the season we try to maintain contact with our friends during the “off season.” One of the ways of doing so is to provide a meal every Friday night from April through October. As I was sitting here thinking of what type of dessert to bring to tomorrow’s dinner, I giggled at something I remembered from a night at Safe Harbor this winter.
One of my homeless buddies is this huge mountain of a man. At first I was intimidated by his stature. That is until I spoke to him for 5 minutes and realized what a teddy bear he really is–sweet doesn’t even begin to describe this guy. Now, I’m not going to share his real name nor exact details of his story because his is not my story to tell. However, I feel that I should call him something so that this story makes sense, so I’ll just call him Bear. You know–for Teddy Bear.
I’ve known Bear for a few years now. The first time we had dinner together, the conversation pretty much kept to small talk. That’s fine. I don’t want to pry, and he wasn’t offering more than that. I try to listen and wait for people to tell me their stories when they are ready. Some do. Some don’t. Either way, I am happy to share a meal and conversation. One night, Bear surprised me when he pulled out a bag of hot pink yarn and began to crochet. Apparently Bear has been crocheting for years, and he always gives away his projects. The hot pink yarn was part of an afghan for a friend.
I don’t know why I was so surprised at Bear’s crocheting because our homeless friends are a very talented bunch. We have a great group of artists, musicians, chefs, etc. You name it, we probably have a friend who can do it!
We continued our conversation while Bear crocheted. He was quite good at it! I’ll be honest, as a knitter, I wished I had brought a project of my own that night–my fingers were itching for something to play with yarn, too. Turns out, many of our homeless friends spent that evening knitting or crocheting. Working with wool is the perfect activity for a cold winter night. I went home that night laughing at my own assumptions.
I saw Bear several more times that winter, and he always had a crochet project that he was working on. My friend kept busy!
After Safe Harbor ended for the season, I spent many Fridays chatting with Bear at our summer meals. Every so often he would open up a little, but mainly he kept the conversation light. Later that Fall, when it came time to plan for our church hosting Safe Harbor that winter, I mentioned the nights I spent watching Bear crochet, which gave us the idea to have a craft night. When it was our turn to host, I brought a huge basket with with yarn, knitting/crochet supplies, others brought beads and jewelry findings, or scrapbook supplies. Thankfully, we had very generous friends that donated just about everything!
I didn’t end up dining with Bear on that first night, but I did catch him crocheting afterward. I brought over the big basket of yarn, and asked him if he’d like to learn how to knit, since he was obviously so good with a crochet hook. He replied,
Nah! I’ll just watch you.
Okey-dokey. Bear is a very direct guy of few words. So I asked him to choose a yarn color, confident that once I got started, I’d be able to hand the needles over to him and he would continue. Wrong. I cast on the yarn onto needles and knit a bit, all the while explaining in great detail what I was doing. After a few rows of garter stitch, I handed the needles to Bear. To which he said,
What do you want me to do with that?
I told him that I wanted him to try to knit. He replied,
Nah! I only crochet. I’ll just watch you.
Well that wasn’t going to be very much fun. This was not going as planned. Obviously, I needed a new tactic. Since Bear liked to crochet, maybe he’d be willing to teach me? So I asked Bear to teach me how to crochet.
I’ll be honest–I may be able to knit, but I am very reluctant to pick up a crochet hook. Sure, I can make a chain or single crochet an edge around a knitting project, but beyond that–forgetaboutit! I don’t like to crochet because I just can’t get into a rhythm with it. The whole institution just doesn’t make sense to me. (Insert whining and foot stomping here.)
So me asking him to teach me to crochet? HUGE!
Perhaps since Bear was so good, he would succeed where others have failed. He would be the one to teach me the intricacies of this fiber art that has eluded and taunted me for years. Thankfully, he agreed to try. I unraveled the knitting I’d done, grabbed a crochet hook, and looked at him for guidance. He stared right back at me and said,
And then he did feats of acrobatics with yarn and hook that have never been seen by this world. Well, maybe they have been, but I was no less impressed. The problem for me was, he did it so fast! All the while being absolutely. silent. Then after maneuvering the yarn into the Mona Lisa, he looked at me.
Just looked at me.
I stared back, very likely with my jaw still hanging open in awe of his mad skills. When he realized that I was waiting for something more from him, he rolled his eyes, sighed a big sigh and said,
WELL?! Try it!
So I tried.
Bear tried again to “show” me–about 7 more times. I failed with each attempt. I swear that he was crocheting the Taj Mahal in scarf form, which was the only explanation that made me feel even remotely better about that fact that I was grasping nothing of what he was doing. He paused only long enough to say,
Are you slow or something?
I just wanted to crawl into a fetal position for a week and eat nothing but chocolate. To make things worse, he was laughing at me. Hysterically! Oh, the inhumanity of it all.
OK, I’ll admit that I was laughing, too. The whole exercise was pretty hilarious. When he could breathe again, Bear wiped the tears from his eyes, and sighed his now-familiar Big Sigh before saying,
Geez. This guy wasn’t giving up! How much more humiliation did he have to dole out? How much more embarrassment could I take? Evidently quite a bit because if he wasn’t giving up, then neither was I!
After a giggle, and another eye roll, Bear proceeded to crochet the Eiffel Tower before looking at me with a smirk. I did my best to raise one eyebrow and give him a good hard stare. I must not have looked very intimidating because he burst out laughing. I accused him of intentionally doing ridiculously difficult crochet maneuvers knowing full well I wouldn’t be able to repeat them. His response:
Turkey. We had a good laugh over him playing me like a fiddle. Afterward, I picked up my knitting and knit alongside him as he crocheted. And then something amazing happened. After a year and a half of casual conversation with Bear, he opened up. He told me his story from the very beginning of his life as a little boy. Let me tell you–his story was unbelievably heart-wrenching. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing at times. I did my best not to cry because the last thing I wanted for him to do once I’d finally gained his trust was to make him feel awkward and stop talking.
So I bit my lip and listened. For hours. Bear’s story made me want to go back in time and hug that little boy that he once was and protect him when others did not. His story made me want to go home and hold my own little boys that were warm, safe, and asleep in their beds.
Before we knew it, it was time for “lights out.” We stood and I hugged Bear, thanking him for trusting me with his story. I also thanked him profusely for trying (in vain) to teach me to crochet. In typical Bear fashion he just nodded, picked up his gear, and started for the door. Just as he was at the threshold, he called to me over his shoulder:
Hey Kirsten! Don’t quit your day job!
And then he laughed all the way to his bunk.
**FYI: Bear’s name is a pseudonym. Bear is the name I gave him for the purpose of sharing this story while still protecting his privacy.**
**FYI Pt. 2: The sweater pictured at the top of this post was knit by me, and decidedly not crocheted. Obviously.**