Should you stop by 8 Elm Street in Bradford and hear Black Sabbath playing in one part of the house and The Hoppers in another, the strange fusion of heavy metal and southern gospel
music can mean only one thing: Richard Appleby is knitting.
Rich and 10 other men live in this handsome, century-old brick house at the top of the hill near South Avenue, one of Evergreen Elm’s three Supportive Living group homes. “A lot of dynamics in here,” says staff member Rod Woodhouse, being diplomatic. Those dynamics include wildly different musical tastes — Rich’s run toward the religious.
So when things in the house get too loud, or too hectic, Rich retreats to his second-floor room, locks the door behind him and puts on some music that really gets his fingers moving. “This is where it all happens,” he jokingly says while showing his room to a visitor. And when knitting is happening, the other guys know to stay out.
Rich settles into his well-worn knitting chair. Like his fellow knitter Rosey Grier, the old-time professional football player, Rich is a big guy, standing 6’4. He’s 50, cheerful and soft-spoken, with low-cut salt and pepper hair and a goatee. He’s dressed up a bit in a blue dress shirt, gray slacks and an argyle vest.
The somewhat cluttered room has only a limited view of the outside — of the house next door and a sliver of the street — but it does offer everything Rich needs to knit: his chair, his
supplies and a TV he tunes to the gospel music channel. Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” sits on the bed. It seems apt. Under a dome, or in a zone, or in a bubble, is exactly how Rich knits. “I pretend like I’m the only one here. Don’t disturb me!” he says. Rod says he has seen Rich knit while watching amovie; Rich surprises Rod by revealing that he also sometimes
knits in the dark.
Rich unfurls a finished four-footlong purple and pink accessory scarf that’s lacy and delicate and beautiful. It’s a gift for Rod’s wife. “I had no idea what I was doing when I started it,” he says. A friend had brought what Rich calls “rockababy” fabric. It didn’t go well at first. The fabric was thin and fell off, so he switched to a bamboo needle. A week later, it was perfect.
Now he’s working on a purple and gold baby blanket, and a red and black checkerboard piece that might not be wide enough for a baby. Rich says he’ll probably just add a border
to make it so. Rod’s two-year-old grandson will be getting a very cool camo blanket.
Rich sometimes follows a pattern, but usually he just wings it. He hunts for whatever yarn looks good at the dollar stores around town, then makes the best of what he has.
Life’s been like that for Rich. He went through a tough childhood and has had some rough patches as an adult, including mental health challenges. He came to Evergreen Elm in March 2009 and has spent most of those four years with Rod at 8 Elm. “We’ve become friends,” says Rod.
A medication reminder sheet hangs on the wall. Evergreen Elm’s Mobile Medication program worked well for Rich. After being in the program for a time, he now keeps track of his meds himself. Knitting also helps Rich manage. A lot of people find that the pastime is relaxing, and he says that’s true for him as well. But for Rich, it’s not all about helping himself. It’s also about helping others.
His “chemo caps” end up on patients undergoing treatment for cancer. He shows off a couple. One is burgundy and gold with straight road bars, the other red, white and blue with jagged, narrow stripes.
Baby blankets go to BRMC’s Healthy Beginnings Plus. Socks, like the hot pink ones he lays out, and gloves are headed for the Salvation Army. Tiny caps and booties make their way to the nursery at the hospital. “It’s nice to know that they’re wanted and will be put to good use,” he says.
When asked where his generous nature comes from, the answer is immediate: his grandmother. She brought Rich up in Eldred, raising him in the church. His faith has been steadfast. A portrait of Jesus hangs above a fancy clock in his room, and crosses adorn two of the other walls. Rich sings in the choir at St. Bernard’s.
When Rich was 11, his grandmother taught him how to knit. The first thing he tried was a black scarf. He zig-zags his hand, smiling, while demonstrating how ragged his first attempt at knitting turned out. His grandmother passed away when he was 17. “Sometimes when I’m knitting I get sad, but I know she’s in
my room with me,” he says.
It might sound like Rich hides out in his room to shield himself from the world, but that’s far from the truth. When the door is unlocked again, he opens himself up to the rest of the house, and the community, with gusto.
When there’s an issue with one of Rich’s housemates, Rod or another staff member often asks him to step in. Rich’s status as the second-oldest resident works wonders. “I take the
young guys under my wing,” he says. Soon, they’re coming to him for help. Rich even taught housemate James how to knit. James is lefthanded, so it was a little morechallenging, and at first he was selfconscious. He didn’t exactly turn into a devoted knitter, but he does pick it up from time to time.
Away from home, Rich is the former secretary and current vice president of The Guidance Center’s STEPS Drop-in-Center, a program that offers social and recreational activities to people who receive mental health services. He takes notes and runs the meetings when the president can’t attend, among other duties. Recently, he’s been organizing a mental health advocacy group with some of his peers at Dickinson Mental Health Center.
“I like being busy,” he says. And he is. Rich cooks. He does all sorts of arts and crafts. He decorates 8 Elm for practically every holiday. Just before the Fourth, the columns on the home’s spacious front porch were festooned with Rich’s red, white and blue creations.
It seems like the only things he can’t do are sing the Latin verses in church — and go camping. He shakes his head at the idea of camping out. “I tried it. I just can’t do it. I need locks. I need four walls,” he says.
But wouldn’t he enjoy knitting in the woods?
Rich puts on that sneaky little smile of his.