Chapter One: Knitwear designer Gwen Bjarnson invites would-be journalist Kyla into her design studio and prepares to recount the path she took to establish her career in knitting.
Some of my earliest memories are of my auntie Ollie knitting. Transfixed, I watched her needles magically stitch yarn into a myriad of items: sweaters, blankets, toques, and mittens.
As she worked, she spun stories for me alone. “Gwen, Elskan (dear), I had boy after boy, but then you came. Finally, our family was blessed with an adorable baby girl. You looked like such a little angel in the dress I made for you. Do you remember when I gave you that doll? You take such good care of her.”
Looking down at the doll in my arms, I wrapped the soft wool blanket a little tighter. “I love her, Auntie."
I was born in the agricultural community of Blondous, Manitoba. Some maps include it—a dot between Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, in an area known as the Interlake. In the 1800s, inclimate weather forced half of the population of Iceland to immigrate. The Canadian government encouraged them to settle in central Manitoba, on the shore of Lake Winnipeg. The area was to become New Iceland. Under Blondous’ scrub trees, among its rock-filled land, the new inhabitants longed for Iceland.
I was born in the Erik Baldursson Memorial Hospital—the same hospital where Mother doctored. Oh, those poor nurses. How taxing it must have been tending to her when she was pregnant.
“Of course, Doctor.”
“Right away, Doctor.”
I’m sure Mother kept them hoping.
All farming communities are perpetually in need of doctors. Mother remained busy morning, noon, and night. She was the only doctor in the entire municipality.
Returning home, she’d strip me of the dress and the doll and replace them with jeans and a toy truck, declaring, “My daughter will not be repressed. She will not be marginalized.” It was her raging battle cry.
Mother’s anthem: “I am woman, hear me roar.” She regarded my childhood as some type of feminist, conscious-raising experiment. She preached, “Beauty says nothing of the beautiful. Physical attributes are simply a blending of genes. It is the intellect which is the true judge of a woman. You must invest time in cultivating it. Be careful what you learn and from whom, for it will mark you for the rest of your life. And you don’t want to be marked by her. Your Aunt Olivia is fit to cook your meals, make your bed, and do your laundry, but remember Gwendolyn, she isn’t your equal. She is a poorly educated farmer’s wife. McNamaras are doctors, lawyers, corporate executes.”