Friday, January 2, 2009

My Mother's Singer

My Mother's Sewing Machine
Published in the Patriot and Free Press, Christmas Story Collection 2008

Cold passes through the kitchen windows and floats in a chilly gauze around my shoulders. Periodically I hear the rumbling of a snow plow on the highway with hard tires buzzing and the blade scraping through slush. Dwight’s snow blower growls in one driveway and Rob’s in the other but Rick isn’t clearing snow yet. No rush today.

Chickadees flutter in gray gusts from the feeders to roof and back littering the new snow in bits of seed for field mice to find later.

Inside red bows are splashed on the curtains while nutcrackers and wooden soldiers stand duty on the fireplace mantle. Em’s and Jay’s Kindergarten art projects, now faded construction paper held together with tape and memories, are in place on the doors and there are cookies (I hope not to burn) in the oven. It’s nearly Christmas and that’s when I want to get out fabric and listen to the sound of my mother’s sewing machine.

It’s an old Singer. I remember when she got it in the 1950s. She took a few sewing lessons at the store and modeled her dress in a student fashion show. She was proud and pleased. The machine was a major investment at the time, purchased “on time” and seen as a treasure. Mom said she would make clothes, save money, and be accomplished.

The first dress that I remember her making (55 years ago!) was emerald green with a square neckline and yards of skirt cut on the bias. The fabric was placed on the cleared dining room table, right sides together with pattern pieces carefully cut, pinned, measured on the straight then pinned more. They were cut with no small measure of concern for error. Her stress showed in the tight line of her lips as she snipped carefully on the lines.

The sewing machine later hummed, speeding over basted seams making neat and even stitches.

Eventually I was allowed to use the machine thus making my older brother a nervous wreck. “She’s going too fast,” he’d yell. “She’ll break it.”

My mother seemed unconcerned so I charged ahead with more interest in speed than stitches. Now and then I'd sew a stitch or two into my finger but that was the price of speed and I couldn't admit to any pain if my brother was there.

My own sewing machine was purchased in 1979 and it had lots of extra gizmos – nothing like what one can buy today but cams that could stitch a row of ducks or bring zigzag to new levels of art. Rick and I were looking toward the birth of Emilie so such a machine was sure to have great use and I expected it to be a last extravagance before children consumed our future earnings.

I sewed clothes, quilts and curtains and repaired all kinds of things but the “new” machine never sounded right to me. The plastic gears may be great for fancy stuff but the rows of ducks weren’t as important to me as that sound of smooth, well-oiled metal so when it was time to empty Mom’s house I wanted the sewing machine. I wanted to hear it sew. Precision pieces. Solid parts. Perfect fit.

Jay got interested in fabric sculptures in college so I picked up a used machine for him but working with leather, burlap and canvass he burned through the plastic gears in no time. When I mentioned to Aunt Florence that I was on the lookout for a solid, old machine for Jay she said she had one in her garage.

That sounded crazy to me. Aunt Florence had never sewn much more than a button. How could she have a machine? The answer was in her attitude against waste. When she saw her neighbor put a machine on the curb for trash she asked him to move it to her garage on the chance she’d find an owner for it.

Jay now has a rescued 1931 White in a wood cabinet and as soon as he heard the old parts purr through his work he understood what I was talking about. Solid. Strong. Just great.

No comments: