August 4, 2006
Victoria is on the phone with my mother right now. She is telling her about her first sewing project. She is actually a little late in starting this. It was the summer I turned seven when I began sewing. I did an embroidery pig. It was pink, and I was very proud of it. When I finished it, my mother took me down the road to the little country grocery store where I showed it off to Audrey, the proprietor, and was treated to a double dip of the best peach icecream I’ve ever had in my life. After that pink pig, there was no stopping me.
I am not an accomplished seamstress. I have sewn curtains and made some clothes for Victoria and me–some quilts–some pillows. None of them are remarkable. None of them would win an award. But I’ve never doubted I could do it. It’s part of a legacy.
I watched my Granny sew EVERY SINGLE DAY but Sunday. She had to for exercise to keep her arthritis in check. She did most of her sewing by hand, but also had an old fashioned treadle sewing machine. She would pump the big, square, wrought-iron pedal with her right foot while my brother and I crouched on the floor and watched. Sometimes, if the machine wasn’t threaded, she would let us pump the pedal for fun. When she died at the age of 72 in the summer of 1985, she had never owned an electric sewing machine. She had several strokes over the course of a few months. After the first one, she was still able to speak. . .and she began sewing again. I have something she made during that time. The stroke had happened in the left hemisphere of her brain, so she was paralyzed on the right side and had to sew left handed. The stitches are uneven, and staggered, and each one was difficult for her, but she did it. She couldn’t help herself–she knew she had to sew.
I watched my mother sew–embroidered shirts, a flash card bag for me that I still have, new curtains every couple of summers for my room, patches on jeans, holes in well-worn shirts, more dresses and skirts than I can remember because I ALWAYS wanted my skirts much, much longer than the fashion of the day. She would cross-stitch, sew on plastic canvas, didn’t matter. . .a needle and some thread and she was good to go.
I have made some new skirts for school this year. I have decided if I cannot keep my 6th graders awake with my lessons, I will keep them awake with my clothing. Victoria and Thad hear me sewing. . .the hypnotic whir of stitching a straight seam at break-neck speed. . .or threading the bobbin so fast you think it might just fly off the machine. They stand, transfixed, and say, “Mommy, HOW do you DO that?” And I remember my brother and me asking my mom the same question.
We each have our own set of familial idiosyncrasies–quirks and preferences that apply only because of DNA. Some of them are useful, some annoying, some habit, all touchstones of identity. My husband had never EVER seen anyone make toast like me until we got married. (A pat of butter in each corner and one in the middle–cooked in a toaster oven so it’s toasted on top and soft underneath. My father-in-law says I eat my toast raw.) My Granny made it that way, so Momma made it that way, so I make it that way, and that’s the way Victoria likes it best–even though her blasphemous Daddy has tried to convert her to pop-up toast time and again.
Little legacies. . .we pass them on every day as a matter of course. We don’t think of what they are, but they all weave together to make this tapestry of home and family that we carry with us. Enjoy your own little legacies today.