Canterbury Methodist Church. Mountain Brook, Alabama. I was running late. I jogged through the parking lot. On the way to the door, I was greeted by a woman carrying a plate of sugar cookies. Her mane was white. She wore tennis shoes.
I tugged the door open for her.
“We’re so glad you’re joining us today,” she said.
“Proud to be here, ma’am.”
I was led through the bowels of the church. Past the framed pictures of blond Jesus. I entered a multi-use room where a gaggle of mature belles were gathered.
They were all knitting.
“Welcome!” said Miss Gerri.
She walked toward me with arms outstretched. Her hair was blazing white, tinged with the faintest traces of a bygone redhead. Her skin was freckled. Her smile was enormous. She gave me a hug.
Miss Gerri smelled good. Why do older women always smell so good? What sort of perfume do older women wear? Chanel? Estée Lauder? Lady Stetson? Opium? It’s like they all got together one day and agreed on the perfect smell.
It is a smell that reminds you of someone who loves you. Someone who cherishes you. Someone who cares. A grandmother maybe. Or a favorite aunt. It is a smell deeper than mere perfume. I wish I could bottle this smell.
“We are the Knit Wits,” said one woman. Her eyes never left her needles. “We’re a knitting club. We make prayer shawls, but we also make clothes and hats for the homeless people.”
“Knitting is fun,” said another.
“It’s very therapeutic,” someone added.
“Rosie Greer used to do needlepoint.”
“Robin Williams used to knit.”
“Russell Crowe knits, too.”
“I would drink Russell Crowe’s bathwater,” said another.
They passed around a plate of sugar cookies. A woman named Anne was sitting beside me. She removed her latest knitting creation, a prayer shawl she has been working on for the past several months.
These prayer shawls are special. They are thoroughly prayed over throughout every stitch. Each shawl bears the loving mark of a woman who was praying for you the moment she first crafted it. And each shawl has that wonderful perfume smell.
Anne’s shawl was woven with fine weight yarn. The garment had arm holes and intricate scrollwork. The craftsmanship was stunning. Or should I say “the craftswomanship.”
“I have always loved to knit,” she said.
“It’s very therapeutic,” said another woman.
“Frank Sinatra was a knitter.”
“So was Arethra Franklin.”
“George Washington Carver crocheted.”
“Did Arethra Franklin sing the song ‘You Can Eat Crackers in my Bed Anytime’?”
“No. Barbara Mandrell.”
“That was a good song.”
These lovely saints in tennis shoes meet each Tuesday in the back room of the Methodist church. They hang out. They laugh. And they knit. It’s as simple as that.
With their handmade wares, they clothe the homeless and the orphans. They do it because they want to. They do it so that people on skid row will know that someone out there cares. These women could be doing anything else with their talent, but they choose to give it away.
They knit prayer shawls for people going through difficult times. For cancer patients, for grieving persons, sick people, or anyone struggling to stay sane.
“At first,” said Gerri, “we were gonna call our club the Happy Hookers. But we didn’t think our preacher would like it.”
Light laughter circulated throughout the group. Nobody took their eyes off their strands of yarn.
“So we called ourselves the Knit Wits.”
The sound of clicking needles filled the room.
“Tom Hanks knits.”
“So did Cary Grant.”
“Vanna White crochets.”
“I love Vanna White.”
“Me, too. She looks like my cousin Charlotte.”
“Charlotte? The one who ran off with the Elvis impersonator?”
“No. Other Charlotte.”
I have written about prayer shawls four times in my career. But nobody has ever offered me one. Today, Miss Gerri changed all that.
During the meeting, she presented me with two shawls. One shawl for me, the other for my wife. She removed the garment from a giftbag. My shawl was knitted with University-of-Alabama Crimson, representing God’s favorite football team.
“I prayed throughout every stitch of this,” said Miss Gerri. “I prayed for you. Because I want you to know that you’re loved.”
And now, thanks to these wonderful women, I have that blessed smell whenever I need it.