The yarn shop was empty when you arrived with eight kids. You were the first customer, just past noon. You nodded hello but turned to the six girls and two boys, the oldest maybe 12, the youngest maybe 4. With a voice that braided patience and prompting with promise, you stated rules. Older children take the hand of a younger. Do not touch. Follow me.
Such obedient children. Long dresses, the boys in practical cloth pants and button-up shirts. Braids and bowl cuts. Were you Amish, or Mennonite, or Mormon? I did not know and could not ask.
You walked past mohair puffing out of a basket. Sweater wool cubbied by color. Silk looped and twisted like pastry to pick up off a glass shelf. My job was to display yarn so you could touch it. Touch is creativity, an idea, and the beginning of the self and possession. I did not think the children would follow your rules.
I was born with the bloodlines of touch. My parents owned a greenhouse. Fingers in dirt and moss, palms on thorns and blossoms, arms pressing terracotta. For so long I thought all parents owned stores and all kids could within them do as they pleased.
The children followed you down every aisle, touching nothing, saying nothing, a stunning success of proper behavior. But then the real test. The store’s mascot, a grey Maine coon cat, asleep on the couch. Her name was Blanche, like one of the Golden Girls. That cat was meant to be petted. You were supposed to choose a ball of baby alpaca yarn, infant blue, and sit with Blanche to browse patterns from the three binders. You were supposed to slide your fingers through Blanche’s long striped fur, her ruffly white chest, even brush the tufts on her ears and decide to buy a little extra yarn, just in case, plus this one extra pattern, and why not let all the girls pick out cotton for crafts, and Blanche would chirp her meow and stretch out her ridiculous fox tail, which you, all of you, could pet.
None of this happened. No one petted the cat, for the first time in the history of the yarn store.
At the door, you praised the children for listening. You turned to me and said thank you, it’s a lovely store, perhaps we will be back. Perhaps you never left, because I remember you so clearly now. I remember how your children grew up to listen and to respect, like those rules were longer bones in their hands, faster springs in their steps, tighter weaves in their worlds. I hope they also grew up to touch something decadent, something useless, and something luxurious, even though I admit there are days now when I wish you would stop me at the door, lay down the rules, and say, “follow me.”
Jen Hirt’s memoir, Under Glass: The Girl With a Thousand Christmas Trees (University of Akron/Ringtaw Press, 2010), won the Drake University Emerging Writer Award. Her essay “Lores of Last Unicorns,” published in The Gettysburg Review, won a Pushcart Prize. She is the co-editor of Creating Nonfiction: Twenty Essays and Interviews with the Writers (SUNY Press, forthcoming 2016) and Kept Secret: The Half-Truth in Nonfiction (MSU Press, forthcoming 2017). Her essays have also received the Gabehart Prize for Nonfiction from the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant, and two notable essay mentions in Best American Essays. Her work has recently been published in Hobart, Ninth Letter, and Natural Bridge. She has an MFA from the University of Idaho, an MA from Iowa State University, and a BA from Hiram College. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at Penn State Harrisburg.