by Meredith Sonderskov
Seeing a photo in the Aug. 27 issue of the Local that showed Red Cross volunteers in a November, 1958, Chestnut Hill Herald issue reminded me of my first encounter with the ladies of the Red Cross office in Chestnut Hill. It was the fall of 1942, I was nine years old and a student at Springside’s Lower School, then located at the corner of Willow Grove and Seminole Avenues.
One of our teachers had been talking about a program called the “Junior Red Cross” and how it could be a good thing to have a group at the school. I indicated my interest but was told I was too young. Not one to be discouraged so easily, I decided to drop into the Red Cross office in Chestnut Hill in the Community Building, where Bird in Hand is now located.
I walked in and saw two ladies sitting in chairs and wearing Red Cross uniforms, knitting vigorously. (My grandmother had taught me to knit when I was four years old, and during the summer of ’42 I had learned to make a pair of socks as a birthday present for my father.)
Very politely, I introduced myself and said, “I can knit.” The ladies looked at each other with somewhat dubious expressions. After a pause one of them got up from her chair, went to a box and pulled out some navy blue yarn and a pair of knitting needles. She cast on 20 stitches, handed the needles and yarn to me, pointed to a chair in the corner and said, “Go sit over there and show me how you can knit.”
“Thank you” I replied and sat in the chair. I knitted back and forth, and after about 20 minutes or so, I had made quite a lengthy strip. When I took it over to show the lady, she looked surprised, “You really can knit! How old are you?”
“I am nine now, but I was four when I learned to knit,” I answered. “My grandmother taught me.”
“All right, let’s get you started. Here’s a kit with yarn and instructions for a scarf and watch cap to keep our sailors warm out on the ocean. Do you know how to knit round and round with four needles?”
“Yes I do. I made a pair of socks for my father this past summer.” There was a bit of pride in my voice.
The lady smiled, “Come back next week and let me see how you are doing.”
So began my hand-knit contributions to the war effort (World War II). I don’t remember exactly how many caps and scarves I made over the next three years, but I would guess about a dozen sets, all to be distributed to men in the Navy or Coast Guard. It gave me great satisfaction to think that my creations were warming a man on a ship on the cold Atlantic Ocean, protecting our shores.
Meredith Sonderskov, 81, grew up in Chestnut Hill, attended Springside School, graduated in 1951 and went on to Smith College, majoring in American Studies. She had three sons while married to her first husband for 23 years. They lived in Baton Rouge, LA, from 1958 to 1965, where she was active in the civil rights movement, ran for the local school board and lost. Her opponent labeled her a ” Yankee carpetbagger.” (“I guess I was,” she said.) She later managed book stores, sold real estate, taught modern dance and social studies and worked on the staff of three Girl Scout councils. Her son, David, died of cancer at age 37 in 1993, and son Brian died at 56 from a massive heart attack on July 10 of last year. Sonderskov married again in 1997 and now lives with her husband in a Chestnut Hill apartment. She has three grandsons, ages 9, 6 and 20 months. She is on the boards of the C.H. Historical Society and the C.H. Free Library and several committees at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.