Uncle Tupper

(As an aside…I can hear you all thinking “Tupper”? The Canadians might have a hint where the name comes from, for the rest of you here’s a hint, his full name is Charles Tupper McPhee.)

So my Uncle Tupper is my Mum’s brother and absolutely one of my favourite relatives. He’s a restoration/carpenter cool building guy now, but when I was a teenager he was an artist and a runabout. Back then, there were times when I didn’t know his address, only what province he was in. This sort of bad-boy “I’m so cool I don’t have to even tell you where I’m at” thing captivated me. Family Legend has it that he came to live in BC because he got loaded and his buddies tossed him on a plane. Woke up in BC with no cash to get home, so he lived there. One time he came to take me to his farmhouse (he wasn’t a farmer) and we stopped and rented a tv on the way there. He let me watch the Miss Universe Pagent, something that would have appalled my feminist/activist mother. See that? Flying in the face of authority. Can you believe it? My mother was the highest force in the universe and he didn’t care. I watched tv late at night AND it was degrading to women. We ate crap too. He did it and he lived to tell about it. At the time I thought that this was so brave that I can scarcely tell you of it. I thought my Mother would cut him out of our lives, maim him, write his name in the black book of doom…something horrible. Now that I’m a mother I know that she was just grateful that he took me away for the weekend. The morning after the TV we went walking in the fields. There was a thick fog over the farm and we were walking through it hearing cowbells – but seeing no cows, it was impossibly mystic and weird and I still remember it vividly.

If it weren’t for Tupp I wouldn’t have bothered to be a painter for as long as I was and I certainly wouldn’t have such a profound (and yet useless) education in Fine Arts. (What? I can’t be the only one who thought that Art History was going to pay off.)

Why is this all relevant? Why should any of you care who Tupper is? Today, The McPhee Clan celebrates Christmas (Again. We have real stamina.) There will be drink, there will be dancing…there will be a rare and awesome visit with Tupper….

And he will get one mitten.


I realized last night at 2:30 that I wasn’t going to make it. (No kidding? Really Steph? Seriously? You had one stinking mitten at 2:30 and that’s when you figured that even though the first one took you 10 hours, 2:30 was when you realized that you couldn’t knit another one before dawn?) Every year somebody gets the shaft. I knit and knit and warp the time space continuum and (last night marks the 15th night in a row that I have had no more that 5 hours of sleep) and totally lose my cool and pull what Tupper would call “A Kathleen”. Kathleen was my grandmother, famous for her berserk Christmas enthusiasm. She liked things to be “right” and despite never being particularly enamoured with housework or cooking was often found baking and polishing silver in the dead of night in the days preceding Christmas. (It is only because she did not knit that this was the focus of this energy) Tupp and Mum feel that I channel Kathleen every Christmas, and it does not endear me to them, but rather makes them sort of shudder a little as they flashback to 2am festive insanity from the Christmases of their childhoods. (Apparently the part where I scream “Are you trying to ruin Christmas!” when someone suggests that perhaps the happiness of the entire family does not hinge on my ability to flawlessly iron a tablecloth in the dead of night is particularly reminiscent of the Christmases of their salad days)

Despite my hysteria, sleep deprivation and screech (both of the alcoholic and vocal variety) Tupper is this years unfinished knitting victim. I tried to keep it from him, but now he knows. Not only did I pull a Kathleen….I didn’t even get it right.

On the upside…this last minute defeat means that I haven’t slipped at all. Tupp’s the only one getting a gift on the needles.

Party on.

43 thoughts on “Uncle Tupper

  1. oh steph. you are so the greatest! i have tears in my eyes … loved the image of your grandma. and pictured you thinking about your beloved uncle for 10 hours during the first mitten (which is gorgeous btw!) and all those memories and figure the second one will fly by 🙂
    thank you so much for being so real.

  2. Everybody needs an Uncle Tupp in their lives…
    One cool mitten…I’m sure he’ll be glad to wait for the other one…
    Merry 2nd Christmas!

  3. One mitten like this is worth a handful of lesser mittens.
    The sentence “We ate crap” jumped out at me. Would this be crap like, for instance, the ice cream Joe and the girls had while you were away?

  4. Party On, indeed! Tupp’s a very lucky man, and what do you mean Art History wasn’t a practical major? It was my fall back if I decided Musical Theatre might not lead to all the jobs in the world…. So basically I can sing you every song from Anything Goes and you can tell me what artwork would have decorated the set to be historically acurate…

  5. Stephanie, if anyone would understand a gift on a needle, sounds like Tupper is the man.
    I GOT YARN FROM MY HUSBAND!!!! Not Wal-Mart, or Hobby Lobby, or even Plymouth Encore….but 100% New Wool spun and mailed from County Donegal. It’s tweedy moss green with amber, sienna and cream speckles.
    Now, I’ve named the sweater I’m going to knit out of it–Arwen. I can’t sleep, because I’m designing her in my head. She must have travelling cables, and leaves, and a tree with stars, and something elvish that I haven’t pictured yet. Do I know how to do any of these things? Have I ever designed a sweater in my life? Do I have a useful degree in Fine Art to help me along? No I do not. But I have Harlot’s blog, with her inspiring stories, her fall on the floor laughing stories, her design and knit an Aran sweater in six days stories.
    Plus I have a husband WHO BOUGHT ME GOREGOUS YARN.
    Plus I appear to be the first commenter today–oh rare and lucky am I.

  6. He sounds great, and I’m sure he’ll understand.
    My boyfriend was shocked that I gave him a FINISHED (cross stitched ornament) gift this year. Since, umm, last year’s gift has yet to be finished. Yeah.

  7. useless art education? why, i have one of those! but i wouldn’t trade those four years of “endless possibility” for anything. i haven’t felt the same since. (though taking a “marketable” class or two probably wouldn’ta killed me like i thought at the time.)
    thank you for bringing Uncle Tupper to life for me… everyone deserves a role model who can help them see the other side of the “rules.” i think the knitting community would be all the poorer if you hadn’t been exposed to free-spiritedness at such an impressionable age!

  8. Knitting Art History Majors of the world unite! Do we all end up writing for a living?
    Your cowbell memory was very evocative � there’s nothing like early morning fog.
    Ah, we are destined to become (at least somewhat) like our parents are we not? See comment above regarding your autumn trip.

  9. I agree, this mitten is also quite large…. its is actually two mittens hiding in one….so technically you are finished….

  10. I recognize that mitten! My mother and I gave each other Folk Knitting in Estonia for Christmas. Completely uncoordinated! We’ve both been drooling over your mittens and said how much we wanted the book and each of us, unbeknownst to the other, had ordered it for the other. too funny! now we are going to challenge each other to a project! Which means I have to pick one. I’m not sure I can decide! They’re all too beautiful! Thanks for the inspiration!!!

  11. I have given many, many single socks. An appalling number of them, actually. It’s just so hard to bring yourself to start knitting for Christmas in the summer, isn’t it?

  12. Harlot: Tupp sounds like too unconventional a man to have a “Christmas stocking”. So attach a loop to the mitten up and fill it up with things like candies, a nini-Nutcracker and other stocking-type stuff and present it to him as a stocking. That way he won’t have to wait (what? 2 days?) for the other mitten.

  13. don’t worry–even those of us that have very “marketable” type degrees (a master’s in security policy) still don’t use a darn bit of it….I get more use out of the jewelry-making class I took for fun…
    party on, wayne
    party on, garth…

  14. I think that your next book should be “The Best of Yarn Harlot” where WE get to choose our favorite sections of your blog to publish and then YOU get to make it coherent and all hang together. Thank you for your description of the time and feeling which goes into knitting an object for a specific person. I made my husband read it- so that he may learn never again to refer to the hat I made him (handspun, handknitted silk and merino) as “a bowl of oatmeal”…humph!

  15. Oh, but what a BEAUTIFUL mitten. I’m smitten. I’m sure Uncle Tupp will be as well.

  16. That is an INCREDIBLE mitten. He should consider himself lucky to get one of them, and will be thrilled there is a second in the works.
    I’ve been knitting socks. I’m a slow knitter anyway, and these are on size 1 needles, and I picked a pattern that has a weird rib that goes all the way down the top of the foot. They are for my friend Mary, who is 5’10” and can’t find cute socks to fit her. I took the first one over on Christmas Eve, to see if it fit, before I put all the time into the second one. Well. It was too big. And then she said – “But I bet it will fit Jim!” her husband, who was right there. I know she has no idea how long it takes to knit a sock, and she had no idea of the horror I felt at that moment. (My little boy looked at me – he knew I had taken to calling it that damn sock and he graciously didn’t say anything.) It did fit him, and he even liked it. So now I have to knit *3* more socks, rather than one. *sigh* I’m sure I’ll get faster, I just know it.

  17. Stephanie,
    You have a rare and truely amazing gift for storytelling. I know it sounds silly and a bit stalker-esque, but I’m so grateful, everyday, for your blog.

  18. That one mitten is fabulous. I hope you get his address to mail the second one when it’s done! 🙂

  19. I’m so jealous of that mitten..i’ve yet to start any knitting from that book even tho’ i’ve had it 3 years!!
    I’m a lurker usually…
    I have a brother like your Uncle Tupper. My kid’s call him ” Bad Uncle Shad” but they love him like crazy. We’re all a little eccentric in my family anyhow 🙂

  20. Wow, what an absolutely beautiful mitten…again!
    These intricate mittens you knit are lovely and droolworthy. Question, what yarns are you using for these latvian beauties? Leftovers or newly purchased just for knitting mittens type of yarn?
    Needle size apropriately small too, right?
    I believe you are the most focused person I’ve “met” yet.
    who has a BA in Speech Communication and a minor in Theatre and who’s brain is all over the place.

  21. I love the channeling the “Katleen”, I must confess being allergic to anything relating to housework and cooking, about October something else takes possession of me and I then spend the lead up to Christmas wondering why everybody else is trying to ruin Christmas. I wish I was able to focus on my knitting, that mitten is awesome. I can’t sit still long enough to manage garter stitch without throwing it.

  22. My Uncle Tupper was Uncle Collie. He let me wander by myself on a strange farm when I was four. It was a sheep farm and the sheep started toward me (curious I guess) and never having seen a sheep, I started to trot away. They of course followed. I ran. They ran. I figured they were going to eat me and ran harder. Collie swooped me over the fence and saved my life. I figure all my knitting is by way of revenge on those sheep. He remembers absolutely nothing about this.
    Great mitten, and of course an Uncle Tupper will not care that there is only one. Sit down, put your feet up, and enjoy the screech.
    Barb B.

  23. I channel Kathleen too and I’m not even related. Its like the Event Demon possesses a few of us…..some are strong enough to resist. Party on Garth!

  24. I am a Kathleen! In a recent post to our blog, Irisheyeskntters.blogspot.com, I showed a little book called KATHLEEN FROM IRELAND, that I purchased at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, at their Christmas exhibit. I’ll send it to you, if I know where to send it!

  25. your uncle T sounds like a blast! I have no crazy uncles, and no children (yet… ) but I do have a younger brother well on his way to being that “Crazy Uncle Mike”
    Love love love the mitten

  26. Thank you for your hilarious accounts of life, knitting and all things Canadian! As a fellow Canuck, I am so enjoying reading your current entries that I decided to start at the very beginning (sorry, Julie Andrews is singing in my ear… Just saw “The Sound of Music” for the 57th time).
    Thanks for giving me something to do at work. I hide my knitting under my desk and have an excel spreadsheet open to hide your blog behind.
    (I’m rarely busy at work, in case that wasn’t clear)
    Anyway, Thanks!

  27. Loved your story about your Uncle. It must be great to have such great memories.
    I love the mitten you are making for him. I want to get into two color knitting. Any good books that you know of that would help me learn?

  28. Tup will be happy to have one now knowing he’ll have the other later, no?
    I’d take one mitten from you anyday.
    You’re production is mind boggling.
    Happy New Year, Stephanie!

  29. What will Tupper wear!!!! Norma, I love puns beyond reason 🙂 I should probably post this on your blog…
    My mother sold tupperware for a million years but his name was John Tupper. I wonder if he was related? I also wonder if Ms. Stephanie is related to a former prime minister, in addition to her own coolness and that of her majorly significant other. Happy New Year!

  30. I know how you feel – we got our scarves done just in time. Of course, I’m not nearly so accomplished as you are! I have at last posted details on my blog, so you can take a look 🙂

  31. [odd – my first attempt went missing]
    Anyway, I know how you feel – I completed scarves only just in time. Of course, I’m not nearly so accomplished as you are – you should be proud of wat you’ve done! If you want to see my scarves, check out my blog, as I’ve got them up there now!

  32. I would laugh harder if Kathleen did not give me visions of the Antichrist (my mother’s Christmas pet name). Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  33. Roggey et al — We absolutely take advance orders (www.athena-books.com) However, I’m torn. My understanding is that Harlotissima makes more if you order it from The Scarlet A. Should, however, this not be possible, or, for political reasons, undesirable, this brick-and-mortar independent – or your LBS – would be delighted to pick up the slack. Mwah. (Where =is= that girl? How hearty do those McPhees party? Must actually be a baby, dontcha think?)

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