Angels are spiritual beings, messengers of God, represented in human form with wings and long robes: at the holidays, they grace Christmas cards, nativity scenes, wreaths, and more. Many families top their Christmas trees with stars or angels, and, since we have been married, Roger and I have been searching for just the right one. For a while, we’ve skipped topping the tree with anything.
A second definition of “angel” is an exemplary person, one whose conduct is virtuous.
This is a story of one knitted angel made more beautiful by the many angels who have loved her.
As Jeremy and I were planning our Knit-mas Tree, I recognized that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary was going to be the tree-topper. When my creative and talented–knitting–godmother, Rosalie Hughes, visited Maryland for her high school reunion in October, I seized the opportunity to present her with pictures of all of the knitted ornaments I planned to make and to solicit her advice on our Knit-mas tree.
Buoyed by my enthusiasm about the tree and the Kennedy Krieger event, she impetuously volunteered to knit the angel as a gift for my November birthday. I was thrilled and gave little thought to the commitment she had just made. What’s difficult about knitting an angel—my aunt can knit or crochet anything!
Rosalie returned to Iowa and began to visit every yarn shop in the area (which, if you’ve ever traveled in Iowa, is a considerable distance). She Googled “Tree Toppers” and then settled on ordering a book on Amazon, Angels: A Knitter’s Dozen.
After Rosalie’s commitment to the project, I continued to make items for the tree, confident that the angel was under way, never considering my aunt’s labors. She, meanwhile, had to re-learn how to use double-pointed needles (used to knit round shapes) and to work with Cro-sheen, something she hadn’t done for 50 years. (For us non-knitters, Cro-sheen is the type of yarn/thread used to make tablecloths and doilies. It’s closer to a heavy thread or string.)
At some point, my mother mentioned talking to Rosalie and hearing that the angel was not being “angelic” in the construction phases. Rosalie said to Shirley (who repeated it to me), “If she was not my godchild. . .”
Friends in Rosalie’s prayer shawl knitting group knew about her struggles as she consulted their expertise—they agreed with her that this “labor of love,” this heavenly being, was not all light and air.
Then, one mid-November day, I got an urgent call from Shirley. The angel had arrived—in pieces—with pages of Xeroxed directions for her ultimate assembly. And this would require a brew of cornstarch. Mom said she wasn’t sure she was up for the task.
With the bravado of someone who has no idea what future is in store, I told Mom I’d meet her to exchange the Franken-angel’s body parts. (In the box, Shirley included a token bag of cornstarch for good measure.)
This is where my good friend, Gini (Angel #3, if you are counting) comes into the story. We had invited her for dinner and a movie, but I told her I needed her help with a special holiday project. She agreed, with the same foolish optimism I had exhibited. How hard can this be? When I unfolded the directions and the delicate white body parts, she reached for her reading glasses and rolled up her proverbial sleeves.
Oh, did I mention, we were just 48 hours from the tree decorating event? We starched our girl and placed her on forms, with Roger (Angel #4) offering vases, pots, bowls and other random shapes on which to let her dry. The dinner and movie were put on hold.
The next day, she was damp and rumpled. I was not hopeful. That’s when I decided she needed a careful blow dry. I put on headphones to listen to a long chapter of a Victorian novel and secluded myself in the bathroom. Hours later, shaping the stiff pieces with needle and thread, she was looking much more heavenly. It wasn’t until I sewed her hands together in prayer holding a pair of knitting needles that she was transformed into the perfect tree topper.
Indeed, everyone who stopped by the tree during the three days it was on display, remarked how the angel was amazing.
The tree was sold the first day, but the angel story doesn’t end there.
Angels #5, 6, 7, and 8 (my sister Barbara, her husband, and two daughters) decided that the Knit-mas tree could not go home with just anybody. A stranger could not properly appreciate my aunt’s efforts. The angel needed to stay in the family. Secretly, they bought the tree and had it shipped to my mother’s—to surprise me on Christmas Eve.
Nothing is that easy.
My mother’s house is outside of the 40-mile delivery radius. So that required Angel #9 and his family. My Catonsville brother took delivery of the tree and sent it on to Mom’s house, where it spent Christmas with all of us.
The Knit-mas tree has had a second life in Vermont, at my sister’s vacation home. The angel (and tree skirt) came home with me. She perched on our tree (with her head bent a little in prayer because she was mashed against the ceiling) until yesterday, when we filled her nooks and crannies very carefully with tissue paper and packed her away until next year.
My cousin Kathleen asked her mother, Rosalie, if she would be knitting an angel for Kathleen’s tree. Rosalie flexed her fingers (to which feeling is just now returning), and said, “When _____ freezes over.”