Nancy’s Christmas stocking was the biggest. When we three little girls hung our stockings from small hooks in the fireplace mantel each December, my middle sister’s stocking unfurled an extra turn – it was at least two inches longer and wider than either my own or my youngest sister’s – and it therefore always stirred some controversy. Everything else was equal across all three: each woven of the same green, red, and white yarns; each with a Santa dancing on the front; each with our own name stitched in block letters at the top. But Nancy’s stocking was undeniably bigger, and the other two of us fretted that Santa would be tricked into giving her more. (And we worried that this proved she was the favorite.)
My great-aunt Gloria had knitted each of our stockings, from the same bundles of yarn, following the same pattern for each. She had five children of her own; she knew the necessity of equal measures.
But life does not unfurl in equal measures, and Gloria knitted each stocking at a different time, as each one of her grand-nieces was born. She cast-on Nancy’s stocking in a hospital waiting room while her husband had open heart surgery. I imagine her tiny four-feet-some-inches frame, perched in a straight-back chair, her dark bob of hair falling alongside her tilted head, and her hands clicking wooden needles, again and again, giving shape to her waiting as the yarn unspooled. I imagine the release of her fingers when he awoke.
That stocking made our Christmas row uneven, but it had steadied Gloria’s mind while she created it. I did not recognize as a child that stocking’s true outsized capacity. It has room for heartache, and for hope.
We need this capacity, and stories offer it beyond any stocking: Each turn of a book’s pages can help knit the messiness of our days into a pattern. A string of words can help hold the weight of waiting as another year unfurls. A story stretches our capacity to hold more than we could hold alone.