An alpaca rabbit

posted in: Creativity, Knitting, Travel | 8

What can you possibly do when you get a call saying that a good friend whom you have known for approximately two decades is in a medical facility, is expected to live maybe another two weeks, and wants to be at home?

For the first five days, you spend hours working in conjunction with her other friends, researching and phoning and doing everything in your power to get her home. You also figure out how to put critical deadlines on hold, you get plane tickets, and you pack.

You also think about what the heck you can do to set the tone of comfort and communication for both of you, even though talking is now physically difficult for your friend and you’re not at all sure what her energy is like or what will be most helpful.

This was me, getting ready to visit my friend Deborah Pulliam, knowing it was very likely this would be the last time we would see each other and still, of course, hoping for a miracle. There was one miracle already in the works—it was physically possible for me to get to Maine at this time—so why not another?

I’m a fiber person.

She’s a fiber person.

I could knit something.

What?

It would have to be small and fairly fast to knit, because I didn’t have much time, but not brainless, because neither of us is brainless. It would have to suit her present situation, whatever that was.

Years ago, I made my daughter a tiny angora bunny (from handspun dark-lavender angora), which she has often carried in her pocket during stressful times. I thought I might make Deborah a different sort of rabbit with a similar mission. It would need to be small enough to sit on her pillow or be cradled in her hand. It would need to be very soft. It would need to be made entirely of natural fibers. It would need to have personality and grace.

Under severe stress, I don’t create well. I needed a pattern. A good pattern. There are a lot of stupid patterns out there. Yarn. Stuffing.

The softest yarn I could locate quickly enough was what I was already knitting: a laceweight alpaca. I tried to find something even softer, and couldn’t. I did think Deborah might enjoy the fiberist’s pun of an alpaca rabbit. The most appropriate stuffing I could locate was, bizarrely, superfine Merino top. That touch of absurdity seemed to fit the situation.

Thanks to an Etsy search, I found the perfect pattern. Although the design was intended to produce a larger rabbit from aran, DK, or worsted-weight yarn, I figured my shift to laceweight would scale it down the right amount. I packed my project bag with yarn needles (one blunt steel, to use by preference, and one plastic, as backup in case TSA confiscated the steel one), blunt scissors, a crochet hook, short knitting needles, and scraps of black yarn for embroidering the face. No buttons for eyes. SOFT.

In transit from Denver to Maine by way of Atlanta, I had ten hours. While holding my friend in the Light (praying for her according to my practice), I knitted rabbit components. I started with the legs. I’d finish a limb, stuff it with scrambled superfine Merino, stitch it closed, and pop it into my work bag. The pieces were tiny. I hoped I wouldn’t lose any of them (and didn’t).

My final flight arrived in Maine too late to for me to make it to Deborah’s house before dark, and I called to confirm what I’d heard from another of her friends: Don’t try to find the town for the first time after the sun goes down. Deborah answered the phone herself and said, "Correct." I told her I’d see her in the morning and found a motel that was inexpensive because it was being renovated (the bed in my room was brand new!), finished assembling the rabbit, and snapped a portrait.

Bunnyimg_0208web

I hadn’t had any ideas about the rabbit’s name as I was making it, so when I gave it to Deb I told her that it needed a name. She immediately said what I heard as baggadoose, which I thought was odd, but this critter had been aimed at her from its first cast-on and she was extremely positive about her choice. So be it.

While driving back and forth between Deborah’s home and the nearest commercial resources to get things that she needed, quite a distance on beautiful two-lane roads, I discovered by watching signs that she had named the bunny after the Bagaduce River. A Mainer would have heard the word right the first time! And might understand the other ramifications of the term, which involve the Revolutionary War and the town where Deborah set down her roots.

On researching the name, I discovered disagreement about its etymology. One source says it’s "a corruption of Abadusets,
the name of a tribe of Indians from that area, and of Abagadusset, the
name of a tributary of Maine’s Kennebec River." Another says that its Native American source is Matchebiguatus, which apparently means "at a place where there is no safe harbor." Initially this disturbed me, and then I thought that even when we are in places without safe harbor we can look for small ways to give ourselves moments of safety.

If I’d had an opportunity to ask, Deborah would undoubtedly have been able to give me her opinions on whether the sources I found were reliable or not.

The bunny spent time in the pocket of her shirt. When I left, it was on a mantel keeping watch over her on my behalf.

The last afternoon when I was in Maine, when Deborah was resting, I went out for a walk to see where I was before I left the place. I know Deb walked the area frequently and it was easy to see why. As I walked, a light rain was falling along with dusk.

Down at the waterfront, I came across the schooner Bowdoin at its mooring spot. The ship was the only thing I took a photo of during my time in Castine, which is lovely and would be a nice place to go back to and explore with an eye for aesthetics.

So here’s an Arctic-exploring ship at rest:

Schoonerbowdoin0209web

It’s best to have good friends and good vessels nearby. One of the blessings of the past two weeks was seeing Deborah again. Another was the phone and in-person conversations I’ve had with a number of her other friends, whom I had heard about but not met.

Special thanks to another friend, Dale Pettigrew, for sending along with me the book and CD Graceful Passages, which helped me and also several of the support folks who made it possible for my friend to complete her own passage at home.

This post will not make more sense than it does because life does not make more sense than it does.

That’s part of why I like knitting. For brief moments, we can make sense and connection out of string and fluff.

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8 Responses

  1. Your post makes perfect sense. There is so much beauty and strangness as well as sadness at the end of a good life; you gave your friend a wonderful gift (not only little Bagaduce, but your time and your caring), and what wonderful tributes you’ve made to her here. She clearly was a very special woman, and was blessed to have equally special friends. I’m so sorry for her loss.

  2. I was very sorry to hear of Deborah’s passing. For over 15 years I spun without knowing another soul who was a spinner except for the writers that I found in the pages of Spin-Off which I would re-read until the magazines were ragged. I would glean little bits of personality from their articles, and I began to think of these writers as my “spinning friends”. Deborah Pulliam was one of these friends. Your posts are eloquent and tender. Deborah was fortunate to count you among her friends. And I’m sure she understood all the significance of the gift of the Alpaca Rabbit. Thank you Deb for sharing with us.

  3. Beautifully written, and it speaks to me on so many levels. I had a friend in a coma that I visited once a week for eight months. I brought a small knitted sheep to her room to watch over her. When I knew it was the last time I was going to see her, I felt impressed to turn the sheep to look out the window and towards the Light beyond the confines of that room I’d come to know so well.

    Blessings on you for taking such good care of such a good person.

  4. Deb, I’m so sorry for your (our) loss. I didn’t know her but have read some of her articles. I, too, love historical knitting and also fun things not related to history.

    An alpaca rabbit is perfect. You did all the right things in a situation that could not really be right at all. Loss is never easy. Please be gentle with yourself.

    At your suggestion, I stopped, drank some tea, finished an afterthought heel (a historical technique with self-striping modern sockyarn) and read on about your friend and your friendship. In honor of your friend.

    Thanks for the “time out” on a cleaning (work-at-home) day.

    Hugs, LynnH

  5. Deb,
    I’m a friend of the other Deb’s, and I was emailed about your blog and I’m so grateful. I think the albaca bunny Bagaduce was a beautiful thing to have given her. I am really ejoying reading the comments that others have made about my high school pal, Deb Pulliam — it warms my heart to know she was loved by so many others. Your links to her Spin-off articles are also appreciated.
    Janet Fry Schneider

  6. Thanks so much to everyone for your comments. Writing about Deb P has helped me cope with the fact that she’s gone (which it’s true that I still don’t quite believe). What a wonderful, widespread net of community is connected to her life. Experiencing that is indeed a pleasure in the midst of all this. I’ve met a lot of fantastic people, in person and through the internet, in the past couple of weeks. Deb

  7. mary alice baker

    Deb must have cherished the alpaca bunny and the love and thought behind him. I was stunned to read of her passing when I checked the Nutmeg spinning guild’s site just now. I took workshops with her at the Dec. meeting and she was looking forward to the possibility of attending a conference in England this summer. Too quickly. What a loss to the fiber world. Thank you for sharing an insight into just how great a loss. I will spend time this evening spinning and knitting in her honor-socks from romney in energized singles. I think Deb would approve!

  8. I bailed out of most of the knitting and spinning lists I was on after my mother died 18 months ago — in doing that, I missed everything about Deb.

    We had a good e-friendship about spinning and knitting socks, doing Masters degrees (we started at the same time), and silly things we always wanted to spin, dye, or knit, but never got to.

    There are no words to describe my pain at her passing, but I will create something for a show I’m in next month — a spun and knit breast.

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