Book Review: “Double Knit” By Diana Jane Hayes


By Judith Toy


Double Knit: An Autobiography – The Beginning & Double Knit: An Autobiography – The Conclusion by Diana Jane Hayes


“Categorizing my book is difficult. It has a love story, historical events, and the trials of dealing with a debilitating disease. Some readers say that I have inspired them.” – The Author


DoubleKnit1Unlike many relatives, including me, who never asked about family history while the opportunity still existed, future generations of the Hayes’ clan will be forever indebted to the author’s granddaughter:


Thank you, Lynnze, for bugging me five years ago to write my autobiography about how I became an “awesome grandma.” That she accepted the challenge and completed the task lauds Ms. Hayes’ grit and tenacity.


Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 44, Ms. Hayes has been a quadriplegic since 2005. With admirable foresight, her brother Lynn, in 2002, gave her Dragon Naturally Speaking to begin learning with functioning arms and hands. After three years of diligent study and muttering—she declares with a twinkle in her eye, “Cut-and-paste still bugs the crap out of me,” — Ms. Hayes completed a 130-page draft. Assisted by an online editor, and working ten hours daily, she published two volumes in 2009.


As the youngest of four children and the only girl, she was happily spoiled by her father. Ms. Hayes, a tomboy, … never cared enough about academics to excel, but she succeeded splendidly in tag football, swimming, canoeing, water skiing, and competing with her brothers. In third grade, Charles “Chuck” Hayes invited her to a diner for ice cream. Attracted to his … good looks … conversation, good manners, neat appearance, and personality, she told her mother that she intended to marry him. And she did!


Her parents, in 1965, announced that they were sending her on a world tour for her high school graduation gift. Then, shortly before graduation, a heart attack claimed her father. She writes that … life did go on but was never the same as when Dad would sit at the head of the table, take us to sporting events … and urge us to complete tasks at the cabin. … Some losses are just too great.


DoubleKnit2Because her itinerary included cities that her father had visited as vice president of Carrier (air conditioning and heating), her brothers suggested that their mother accompany her. Carrier employees in Japan, China, and London extended gracious hospitality and recalled Mr. Hutton as a highly esteemed businessman and a respectfully kind person.


Undeterred by male domination of the 1960’s business world, she graduated from Boston’s Cambridge School of Business in 1967 and married Chuck later that year.


Volume II opens with their divorce in 1980, plunging her into alcoholism and a disastrous new marriage. Encouraged by her son Lee, she stopped drinking, but terminating the marriage proved difficult. Six years later, again thanks to Lee, Diana and Chuck reunited. She writes that Our love for and commitment to each other have been tried and tested like no other, and the Hayes are here to stay. Her battle with multiple sclerosis is, in fact, “their” story.


Boston’s Lahey Clinic, in 1993, diagnosed her inexplicable pain and decreasing mobility, but tests revealed that her vision, hearing, and spinal fluid were still unaffected, granting her a grace period before the onset of paralysis. Asked by Chuck what she would do if a wish could be granted, Ms. Hayes replied, “Travel!” “Your wish is granted,” he gallantly pronounced. “We’ll get a motor home and travel around the country.”


For the first four years, they worked at installing modular homes on Lake Erie islands, managing a bed and breakfast in Maine, and painting houses in Michigan and Minnesota. At each site, Ms. Hayes completed tasks suited to her decreasing abilities. Realizing that her mobile days were limited, on May 25, 1999, with grandchildren Lynnze (10) and Nathan (8), they went on vacation. She recalls that … the trip was the best 2-1/2 months, thirty-one states, and seventeen thousand miles we ever traveled.


In 2003, Ms. Hayes decided that a nursing home was her only option because … the spasticity [stiffening muscles] and the loss of use of my legs and my right arm made caring for me too hard for anybody. Four days later, as she ate breakfast, a nurse announced that Chuck was packing her room and taking her home because, “He said he can’t leave you here.”


Their ensuing battles to comprehend the full impact of multiple sclerosis were so hard-won that Ms. Hayes laments: No matter how hard we fought, we seemed to always be battling the MS and losing. Sometimes I prayed for life to be over. Their small triumphs leading to a victory of successfully living with multiple sclerosis will hearten disabled people, their families, and their care givers. Not that their life is always easy, but the unexpected no longer overwhelms the Hayes.


For Ms. Hayes’ three grandchildren, her story, related with diligent detail in journal form, is easily accessible as family history. Certain photographs will spark interest beyond familial curiosity. On page six, for example, her maternal Grandmother Cowan, in 1950, sits at her switchboard. Switchboard? The research assistance of Chuck and Lynnze enabled Ms. Hayes to include historical events for a wider perspective.


I suggest, Reading Friends, that you begin with Quilt Scraps: Personal Reflections, the final chapter of Volume II, so that the woman Ms. Hayes is today, as pictured at home in Hendersonville on page 235, guides your reading. As in the picture, she is so animated and lively that guests, including me, forget that she has multiple sclerosis.


In a van fitted for her wheelchair, Chuck drives to Rangeley, Maine, for the summers where she “goes for walks” in a Quantum wheelchair controlled with her head. At home during the fall and winter, Ms. Hayes cheers for baseball’s Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Chicago Cubs and football’s New England Patriots; watches movies; reads; and plays cribbage with anyone brave enough to challenge her.


Ms. Hayes’ writing plans include a book about the … inadequate design of handicap facilities, a topic on which she and Chuck expound with expertise. Nowhere is their progress from bewilderment to victory more evident than in Ms. Hayes’ reaction to conquering a particularly challenging facility: We laughed so hard that I almost fell off the seat.





Catio-newView from My Catio
Buddy, T.C.P.E.
(Tuxedo Cat Par Excellence)


As you can see, I am learning how to print, a skill that I will pass on to Tooley when he’s released from the dog house for destroying one of Roy’s big violets. And I do mean destroy. Yikes! But, since Roy believes that It’s never the cat’s fault, Tooley may soon be paroled.


Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker