Ohhh, Memphis. What a town. Every time I looked up, I’d see the top of this bridge–a reminder that right over there is the mighty Mississippi River. People all the time compare and contrast Nashville and Memphis for one reason or another, but in my book, if you’ve got the Mississippi River rolling by, you win.
When I told one of my civilian friends (a non-knitter, bless her heart) that I was going to Memphis all by myself for the Southern Festival of Books, she said, “Oh.” Pause. “Isn’t that kind of . . . lonely?”
I said, “Ohhh, it’ll be OK.”
She doesn’t really understand the universal binding ingredient that is knitting. Knitting is to humans as mayonnaise is to cubed chicken.
If you’re a knitter, you can KNIT WITH OTHER KNITTERS. You can TALK ABOUT KNITTING WITH OTHER KNITTERS. You can show them pictures of knitting, wave around actual pieces of knitting–you can wallow in the glorious lifestyley lifestyle that is knitting. This hobby, this little pastime, gives you an excuse to open yourself up to new people–something that might otherwise be a dicey proposition when you’re, say, wandering around Memphis.
Consider a few of the knitters I met.
We’d swapped emails, and having begun reading her book Hillbilly Gothic: A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood, I knew she would be funny and smart. I did not know, however, that she would bring along glow-in-the-dark yarn. We made a blood pact that we would each attend the other’s session, thus ensuring an audience of at least one.
Adrienne’s memoir is about her experience with postpartum depression after the birth of her first baby. I finished the book while in Memphis, and I have to tell you, it is honest, unsparing, and a gift to anyone who’s ever worried that their baby blues might be something more complicated. Writing a book in which you lay out the road map of your mind, when you’re in a tangle, is brave stuff. I was pretty awestruck that she would tell her story, and tell it so truthfully. And to emerge from her experience with her sense of humor intact . . . fab.
Karen Purdy and Most of Her Family
Karen was the person responsible for inviting me to the festival. She is a family practice physician in midtown Memphis, which means half the people we ran into during the weekend were patients of hers. I began to wonder if I was a patient too, only she wasn’t telling me.
Or maybe I was an honorary Purdy. Her ma Barbara was up from Pascagoula, along with Barbara’s husband Harry and Karen’s sister Kris, the brilliant and well-shod chemistry teacher. By the end of the weekend I had the entire family history down. If I put a K at the front of my name, I think I’d be in.
Among the many gifts Karen gave me were several rides around town in her sweet set of wheels, light-up knitting needles (which really ought to be used with Adrienne’s glow-in-the-dark yarn, you know?), and juicy details about all the authors.
The Memphis Knitting Guild
What a group! Stephanie said these women were a hoot, and she wasn’t kidding. (Adrienne at the far right is an honorary member, and Karen, third from the right in the back, is behind on her dues so they kicked her out. OK not really.)
I’m pretty sure that Mason-Dixon Knitting is the first knitting book ever featured at the Southern Festival of Books. We had a fine time, especially considering that the competing session next door featured a book called A Deeper Shade of Sex: The Best in Black Erotic Writing.
After my talk, we wandered down Main Street which is filled with untold stories (do Murray and Jerry hate each other’s guts?), a wedding taking place in a little park, and a friendly guy sitting on a bench waiting to pay everybody just the nicest compliments.
We ended up at Slopout Louie’s or Sleepover Larry’s or Slipover Lenny’s, a very fine bar. Our long-suffering waiter
(that’s a kerchief he’s knitting for his friend who’s walking in the Atlanta Breast Cancer walk–oh wait maybe that wasn’t his project?) quickly let us sit outside in the beautiful afternoon which was great and meant that the twenty knitters would not interrupt the Mississippi-Alabama football game being watched with good-God-do-not-interrupt-those-guys fervor. Which brings me to:
Maria and Mary Heather
What a pair! These youngsters came up from Oxford, Missisippi, for an afternoon of yarnish behavior, and they totally cracked me up. Maria kept running inside to see how Ole Miss was doing, and Mary Heather kept a running commentary on Maria. I learned that Mary Heather takes the photos for Maria’s blog because Maria won’t or can’t take pictures; they’re both biologists; and they will ditch children and boyfriends if there’s knitting to be done.
We did the things that knitters do: we sipped, supped, dropped a few stitches, and talked the afternoon away. It was all anybody could ever want, unless, of course, a person was really into black erotica in which case it wasn’t so great.
Wish you had been there. I have a few noveltyies for you, but the light-up knitting needles? Don’t hold your breath.
And, tragically, I must report that Ole Miss came up short in overtime. Moment of silence, please. It was the only hiccup in an otherwise poifect weekend.