The Roots of Sweet William

When my son asked me for a scarf, I knew exactly what its name would be.

William Henry, age 15, 1932. Aidan William, age 14, 2016.

William was born in 1917. He was the grandson of a Scottish immigrant, and was inordinately proud of his “Scotch” heritage, though he was a quarter German, as well. He worked all his life in train engines for Union Pacific Railroad, which had ruined his hearing by the time I was born. When he was 23, he met a my great-grandmother, a young divorcee with a 10-year-old daughter. He fell in love with them both and adopted my grandmother. They never had children of their own.

Newlyweds Ida & William and his half-sister Dot, early 1940s / My grandmother, 1942

William says he was raised by a difficult and undemonstrative mother, and often showed these qualities himself, but rarely to me. He had a special nickname for me, which he remembered even after dementia took my real name from him. He let me tag along with him everywhere. He taught me how to throw a punch, “in case a boy ever tried anything.” He spoiled me rotten until the day he died, and I continue to feel a deep connection to him. I miss his bristly soul dearly.

Behind the desk at the Union Pacific

The day I had the ultrasound that told me my first set of twins were boys, my great-grandfather William had had a stroke. Straight from the OB’s office, my husband and I rushed to the hospital’s cardiac unit to visit. We thought he was likely nearing the end, and this might be our last chance to visit. As an extended family, we gathered around him, our love for him filling the room. Hoping I might bolster his weak spirits, I decided to share our happy news: two healthy baby boys were on the way. He was groggy and tired, but smiled with gentle warmth at the ultrasound photo.
“Grandpa,” I yelled, so he could hear, “we know what we’re going to name him.”
He looked confused, and a little sad. I couldn’t quite understand why until he finally replied, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” .
Chuckling, we tried again. “Grandpa! We’re going to name him after you! We’re going to name him Aidan William!”
“After you!”
He stared at me quietly for what seemed like an age, his face blank. Then, simply, “Well.” His eyes brightened. “OK, then.”
From the lips of my grandpa, this was a ringing endorsement.

William went on to live an astonishing five more years, under the attentive and loving care of his daughter. He knew my boys, and was delighted by them. Every time we visited, he asked which of them was the one named after him.

Aidan, age 3, with his great-great-grandpa William, age 88.

When Aidan asked for a scarf with a diagonal motif, I knew it needed to be a scarf for the Williams. He and I designed the geometric vertical and tilted stripe pattern to represent railroad tracks, recalling the Union Pacific Railroad that was so meaningful for his great-great grandfather. Sweet William, though of course a popular flower, is also the name of an ages-old Scottish folk song. In designing this scarf, I’m extremely pleased to be able to honor the Scottish heritage my great-grandfather was so proud to bear, the work he loved, and the family legacy he built when he chose to love a young woman and her daughter so many years ago.

Sweet William | Deep Roots Knits

The Sweet William scarf is available now!
See this pattern on Ravelry


This pattern is named in honor of:

William Henry MacDonald


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