Five years after the death of her mother, eighteen-year-old Dakota, now a freshman at NYU, is running the Manhattan knitting store Walker & Daughter part time with the help of members of the Friday Night Knitting Club, each of who is seeking solace in their friendship from their own challenges in life.
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Kate Jacobs is the author of The Friday Night Knitting Club and Comfort Food. A former magazine writer and editor, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It was after hours at Walker and Daughter: Knitters, and Dakota stood in the center of the Manhattan yarn shop and wrestled with the cellophane tape. She had spent more than twenty minutes trying to surround a canvas Peg Perego double stroller in shimmery yellow wrapping paper, the cardboard roll repeatedly flopping out of the paper onto the floor of the shop and the seeming miles of gift wrap crinkling and tearing with each move. What a disaster! The simpler move would be to just tie a balloon on the thing, she thought, but Peri had been quite insistent that all the items be wrapped and ribboned.
Gifts, smothered in bunny paper or decorated with cartoonish jungle animals, were piled in a mound atop the sturdy wooden table that was the focal point of the knitting store. The wall of yarn had been tidied so not one shelf—from the raspberry reds to the celery greens—was out of hue. Peri had also planned out a series of cringe-inducing guessing games (Guess how much the baby will weigh! Eat different baby food and try to determine the flavor! Estimate the size of the mother's stomach!) that would have caused her mother to shake her head. Georgia Walker had never been a fan of silly games.
"It'll be fun," said Peri when Dakota protested. "We haven't had a Friday Night baby since Lucie had Ginger five years ago. Besides, who doesn't like baby showers? All those tiny little footie pajamas and those cute towels-with-animal-ears. I mean, it just gives you goose bumps. Don't you love it?"
"Uh, no," said Dakota. "And double no. My friends and I are a little busy with college." Her hands rested on the waist of her deep indigo jeans as she watched Peri pretend not to fuss over the job she'd done. The stroller looked like a giant yellow banana. A wrinkled, torn banana. She sighed. Dakota was a striking young woman, with her creamy mocha skin and her mother's height and long, curly dark hair. But she retained an element of gangliness, gave the impression that she was not quite comfortable with the transformation of her figure. At eighteen, she was still growing into herself.
"Thank God for that," replied Peri, discreetly trying to peel the tape off the yellow paper so she could redo the edges. Whether it was operating the store or designing the handbags in her side business, she approached everything with precision now. Working with Georgia had been the best training she could ever have received for running a business—two businesses, really. Her own handbag company, Peri Pocketbook, as well as Georgia's store. Still, Peri felt she had done a lot to keep things going since Georgia passed away, and now that she was pushing thirty, she was beginning to feel a desire to move. In what direction, she wasn't sure. But there would be no more Walker and Daughter without her. Of that she was certain.
Sometimes it wasn't very satisfying to work so hard for something that essentially belonged to someone else. It was hers but not really hers at all.
For one thing, Dakota had seemed less and less interested in the store during the last year or so, grumbling on the Saturdays when she came in to work, typically late and sometimes appearing to simply roll out of bed and throw on whatever clothes she could find. It was quite a change from her early teens when she seemed to relish her time at the shop. And yet there were brief moments when her world-weary attitude would disappear and Peri could see the whispers of the bright-eyed, wisecracking little kid who loved to bake and could spend hours knitting with her mother in the store's back office or the apartment they had shared one floor above the yarn shop.
The shop was located on Seventy-seventh and Broadway, just above Marty's deli, amid boutiques and restaurants in Manhattan's Upper West Side. Only a few blocks from the green of Central Park, and the cool of the Hudson River in the opposite direction, it was a lovely part of the city. Oh, certainly there was lots of noise—honking taxis, the rumble of the subway underneath the streets, the sound of heels on the sidewalk and cell phone conversations swirling all around—but that was the type of commotion that had appealed to Georgia Walker when she moved in. She didn't mind the beeping of the Coke truck at 5 am bringing supplies to the deli on the street level. Not if it meant she got to live right inside the action, showing her daughter the world she had barely imagined herself when growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania.
Of course, now Peri lived in the upstairs apartment that had been Georgia's and the back office was no more. The wall had recently been blown out to make a separate showcase for the handbags she designed and sold; each purse was individually displayed on a clear acrylic shelf mounted onto a wall painted a deep gray.
The change to the store had come together after much discussion with Anita and with Dakota, and they'd consulted Dakota's father, James, too, of course, though mostly for his architectural expertise. But it made financial sense: Peri had turned Dakota's childhood bedroom in the apartment into an office so there was no need to tally up receipts in the shop anymore. Why waste the store's valuable real estate? And there had always been the understanding—with Georgia and with James and Anita after Georgia died—that her handbag business would have the chance to flourish. She had reminded them of that while purposefully avoiding the one ultimatum she knew everyone most feared: she would leave the store if she wasn't able to remodel. The concern hung in the air, and she saved voicing it unless it was absolutely necessary.
After all, what would happen to the store if Peri left? Anita, who turned seventy-eight on her last birthday though she still looked just barely old enough to collect Social Security, certainly wouldn't be about to take over. Though she continued to arrive two days a week to help out and keep busy, as she said, Anita and Marty spent a lot of their time going on quick trips, by train or car, to wonderful country inns in New England and in Canada. Those two were on a perpetual vacation, and Peri was happy for them. Envious, a little bit. Definitely. Hopeful that she'd have the same thing someday. And if that legal department coworker her pal KC kept mentioning was half as cute as he'd been described, who knew what could happen?
And then there was Dakota, who had nearly finished up her first year at NYU. It wasn't as though she could step in to run the store—or that she even seemed to want to do so anymore.
Not everyone wants to go into the family business.
Peri's decision to work at the yarn shop, and create her own designs, had not been popular within her own family. Her parents had wanted her to become a lawyer, and she'd dutifully taken her LSAT and earned a place at law school, only to turn it down and leave everyone guessing. Georgia hadn't been cowed by her mother, who flew in from Chicago to pressure Georgia into firing her, and Peri had never forgotten that fact. Even when difficulties arose over the shop, Peri reflected on how Georgia had helped her and she stuck it out. Still, the work of two businesses took up all of her days and many of her evenings, and the past five years seemed to have moved quickly. It was as though one day Peri woke up and realized she was almost thirty, still single, and not happy with the situation. It was hard to meet guys in New York, she thought. No, not guys. Men. Men like James Foster. Peri had had a mild crush on the man ever since he'd come back for Georgia, and he remained, for her, the very epitome of the successful, confident partner she longed for.
Of course, James had only ever been interested in the store from the standpoint of keeping an eye on Georgia's legacy to Dakota. And Georgia's old friend Catherine was surrounded by crap up in the Hudson Valley, thought Peri, where she managed her antiques-and-wonderful-things-blah-blah-blah store. Besides, Catherine couldn't even knit. And she and Peri had never really connected; it was more as though they shared several mutual friends but hadn't quite managed, even after all this time, to get to know each other. Peri often felt judged whenever Catherine glided into the shop, soaking in everything with her perfectly made up smoky eyes, every blond hair in place.
No, over the years the feeling had become more definite that either Peri would keep things going at Walker and Daughter or it would be time to close up the doors to the yarn shop. The desire to keep everything just as it once had been—to freeze time—remained very strong among the group of friends. So even as she advocated change, Peri felt guilty. It was almost overwhelming. Stemming from some natural fantasy they all shared but never discussed: that everything needed to be kept just so for Georgia. For what? To want to come back? To feel at home? Because making changes to Georgia's store, without her presence or consultation, would mean things were really final. Wouldn't it? That all the moments the members of the Friday Night Knitting Club and the family of Georgia Walker had experienced, the good and the bad, had truly happened.
That Georgia's yarn shop was the place where an unlikely group of women became friends around the table in the center of the room. Where Anita, the elegant older woman who was Georgia's biggest supporter, learned to accept Catherine, Georgia's old high school friend, and cheered as Catherine rediscovered her own capacity for self-respect and left an empty and unfulfilling marriage. It was at Georgia's that dour and lonely graduate student Darwin found a true friend in director Lucie, who had embarked on first-time motherhood in her forties, and that Darwin realized just how much she wanted to sustain her marriage to her husband, Dan, after a brief night of infidelity. It was at Georgia's store that her employee Peri admitted she didn't want to go to law school, and at Georgia's store that her longtime friend KC confessed that she did. It was here that Georgia's former flame, James, had walked back into her life and the two discovered their love had never lost its spark. And it was at the store that Georgia and James's only child, Dakota, had once done her homework and shared her homemade muffins with her mother's friends and flaked out on the couch in her mother's office, waiting for the workday to be finished so the two of them could eat a simple supper and go on up to bed in the apartment upstairs.
And if that all had happened, then it also meant that Georgia Walker had fallen ill with late-stage ovarian cancer and died unexpectedly from complications, leaving her group to manage on without her.
For just over five years they'd all kept on just as they'd done—still meeting up for regular get-togethers even though KC never picked up a stick and Darwin's mistake-ridden sweater for her husband remained the most complex item she'd ever put together—and Peri had left everything mostly the same in the store. Year after year, she resisted her impulse to change the décor, to redesign the lavender bags with the Walker and Daughter logo, to muck out the back office with its faded couch or to update the old wooden table that anchored the room. She kept everything intact and ran the store with the energy and attention to detail Georgia had demonstrated, had turned a profit every quarter—always doing best in winter, of course—and furiously created her line of knitted and felted handbags with every spare moment. She even found the energy to branch out in new lines, new designs.
Until, finally, she'd had enough working on her handbags late at night and never feeling rested. She put down her needles and jammed out an email in the middle of the night. She required a meeting, she'd written, had broached the remodel. It had been an impossible concept, of course, the idea of changing things. And it took a long while for Anita and Dakota to agree. Still, Peri stood firm, and ultimately the wall came down, some new paint went up, and even the always serviceable chairs around the center table were replaced with cushier, newly upholstered versions. The shop was revitalized: still cozy, but fresher and sleeker. As a surprise—and in an attempt to woo Dakota's emotional approval—Peri had asked Lucie to print an outtake from her documentary about the shop, the first film she had shown in the festival circuit, and had framed a photograph of Dakota and Georgia ringing up sales together, back when Dakota was only twelve and Georgia was robustly healthy. Appropriately, the picture hung behind the register, the Walker and Daughter logo next to it.
"She would have liked that," Dakota said, nodding. "But I don't know about the changes to the store. Maybe we should put the wall back up."
"Georgia believed in forging ahead," said Peri. "She tried new things with the shop. Think of the club, for example."
"I dunno," said Dakota. "What if I forget what it used to be like? What if it all just fades away? Then what?"
Tonight, for the first time, the entire group would see the updated store in its completed form. It was a pleasantly warm April night, and the Friday Night Knitting Club was getting together for its regular monthly meeting. Whereas once the women had gathered in Georgia's store every week, the combination of their busy careers and changing family situations made it more difficult to meet as often as they once did. And yet every meeting began with hugs and kisses and a launch, without preamble, into the serious dramas of their days. There was no pretense with these women anymore, no concern about how they looked or how they acted, just a sense of community that didn't change whether they saw each other once a week or once a year. It had been Georgia's final and most beautiful gift to each of them: the gift of true and unconditional sisterhood.
But if time had not changed their feelings for one another, it had not spared the natural toll on their bodies and their careers and their love lives and their hair. Much had happened in the preceding five years.
KC Silverman had made law review at Columbia, passed the bar with flying colors, and ended up back at Churchill Publishing—the very company that had laid her off from her editorial job five years ago—as part of in-house counsel.
"Finally, I'm invaluable," she had told the group upon starting the job. "I know every side of the business."
Her new salary was transformed, with some guidance from Peri, into a fabulous collection of suits. And her hair was longer than the pixie cut she'd had in the old days, shaped into a more lawyerly layered style. She'd experimented—for a millisecond—with letting her hair go its natural gray but she decided she was too young for that much seriousness at fifty-two and opted for a light brown.
"If I had your gorgeous silver," she told Anita, "it would be a different story."
Lucie Brennan's documentary circulating on the festival circuit had led to a gig directing a video for a musician who liked to knit at Walker and Daughter. When the song went to the Top Ten in Billboard, Lucie quickly transitioned from part-time producer for local cable to directing a steady stream of music videos, her little girl Ginger lip-synching by her side in footi...
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