Growing at 30 Green Street

My mother could make anything grow.  I was reminded of this yesterday when I drove to western Massachusetts to see my sister Teri. Teri still lives in the town where we grew up.  I arrived early, so instead of going straight to her apartment, I took a short detour and drove by the house my family occupied during my childhood.  I parked my car across the street and surveyed the outside of 30 Green Street.

I was struck by what a small house it is.  Certainly, when I was a child, it did not seem small, but it is around fifteen hundred square feet, with three bedrooms and one bath; hardly a palace for a family of ten.  When we first owned the house, it was painted gray, and then brown, and then, for many years, it was green. 

The little house is a delicate shade of yellow now, with lavender and white gingerbread trim, and the front garden is lined with a black plastic border and solar lights.  My mother and I planted flowers in that garden- holly hocks and snap dragons along the porch wall, portulaka, petunias and marigolds in the middle, and dusty miller and hens and chickens along the brick path.  In the back yard, there were vegetables- peas, tomatoes and beans, squash and cucumbers.  My mother’s gardens were robust and prolific, bursting with color and ripe with fruit.  The first year she turned up the earth, my father stood on the porch and declared, “Nothing will grow in that dirt.”  But my mother believed that she could plant a garden and let it grow.  A few months later, she had vegetables to feed her family and flowers to line the side walk.

When I was young, the north side of the house was shaded by a large catalpa tree that dropped its flowers and beans on the ebony earth where grass refused to grow.    We called it the side yard, and used the patches of bare dirt to play tic-tac-toe, scratching our marks with sticks.  My mother planted coleus that turned the barren areas to lush Persian rugs.  The catalpa tree was taken down and we planted a blue spruce seedling in its place. When my children were in elementary school, we paid a visit and I took a snap shot of the three of them, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of its huge trunk.  Yesterday, I was crushed to see that the blue spruce had been cut down.  Only its stump remained as a reminder of what was once a magnificent conifer.

I slowly drove down Dye House Hill, peering through wooded areas to see the river.  During the springs of my childhood, the river fervently rushed across its bed, bubbling and cresting around the rocks and along the banks. Down by the river was where my sister and I played Tarzan and made “medicine” for mosquito bites out of stem sap.  Down by the river was where we went to think, and explore, and push each other into skunk cabbage.  Down by the river is where our cats, Perfidia, Tuti-Fruity, Inky and Horatio hunted for mice and moles to triumphantly bring home and lay on the porch as gifts for their family.

But now, the river is gone.  The water is dried up, the banks overgrown with trees and shrubs. 

I drove slowly down the hill, past the bridge where I waited for the bus on rainy April mornings, past the church steps I climbed every afternoon on my way home from school.  The mill was abandoned.  The stores had new owners and new signs.  The pharmacy with its lunch counter was gone.  The Post Office had moved.  Nothing was the same.  

“Everything has changed,” I thought sadly.  “Everything has changed.”

I was sad for most of the ride back to New Hampshire.  Then it occurred to me.  The little yellow house is a building.  It is not the people who were in it.   Down by the river is a place.  It is not the people who played there.  It is not the granite retainer walls or the tree, or the flowers that I miss.  What I miss is the children who jumped off the porch steps two at a time, and played hopscotch in the driveway.  I miss the adventure of exploring down by the river, the contentment of snuggling close to a new baby brother or sister, and the delight of crowding all eight of us into the way back of the station wagon to go for ice cream on a hot summer night.  My soul does not ache for the walls of the house on 30 Green Street.  It aches for the people inside those walls, who filled it with laughter, who filled it with love.

So today, I am going to touch base with those people who lived with me at 30 Green Street.  I will tell my siblings that I love them.  I will whisper a prayer for our Mom and Dad and with a lump in my throat, remind myself that we will someday be together again.  I will make sure that my children know that it is not so important where you live as it is with whom you live.  Like my mother did, I will plant my garden and watch it grow.

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10 Reasons to Celebrate Spring

This Sunday is the first day of spring.  Although I would never have said that spring is my favorite season, this year I’ve eagerly anticipated it after a harsh and unforgiving winter.  If you’ve not thought about spring and what it has to offer, consider these musings:

1. Spring smells good.  The finest perfume can’t compete with the fresh aroma of budding trees, baby grass and sun kissed earth.  On windy April days, I love to hang my sheets on a clothesline to soak up the scent of those sweet breezes.

2. Spring invites us to get up off the couch and get our bodies moving.  When I was a child, my mother would go to Thorin’s Hardware Store and buy us kites, balsa wood gliders and paddle balls.  Like the weeks between the frigid New England winters and the dog days of summer, they only lasted a short while, but they heralded the end of icy sidewalks and snow covered back yards.

3. Spring means putting away winter boots and clothing.  As a little girl, it was a thrill to be allowed to finally play outside without winter boots. The sound of sandy pavement crunching under my leather shoe soles was amazingly satisfying, and I loved the lightness and freedom that came when I traded a heavy wool coat for a light spring jacket.

4. Spring holds surprises.  I love the serendipity of stepping outside on a spring morning to find that I do not need to scrape the ice off my windshield, or the realization that I can again take my snow shovel to the attic until next November. 

5. Spring announces change.  When I was kid, I loved to roam the neighborhood, especially down by the river that flowed at the foot of Dye House Hill.   In spring the river changed from ice to water.  The grass turned from ecru to emerald.  Skunk cabbage awoke and in the shade, the fine snow that fell in February had turned to crystals that glittered like giant diamonds when held in the sun.

6. Spring fosters creativity.  What child hasn’t crafted mud pies, drawn with sidewalk chalk and made up new verses for jumping rope?  These are all games of the spring. One windy April vacation when my kids were in elementary school, I bought kites at the dollar store.  They children ran through the neighborhood, the envy of their friends, trying to catch enough breeze for the kites to fly.  Dollar kites do not last long, and before the day was out, Gabe’s was torn and battered.  Undaunted, he pulled out a plastic shopping bag and with some creative cutting and taping, created a new kite, using the frame from the old one.  By the end of the school vacation, the neighborhood was filled with children who had fashioned and flown their own kites.                  

7. Spring paints the world in color.  Although I love the alabaster world of winter, the hues of spring bring welcome warmth to the world outside my window.  The shock of forsythia that appears to have bloomed overnight, the tender pastels of violets that dance on a hillside, and the grinning faces of crocuses popping their heads above the snow ‘s crust bring a cheerful lilt to the soul and a smile to the face.

8. Spring tempts us with delicious foods.  For me, spring arrives with its own cuisine.  Hard boiled Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies and hot cross buns are a breakfast treat only enjoyed in the spring.  Comfort foods give way to lighter fare- new asparagus, early peas, and roasted potatoes drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice.  Our palates crave fresh fruits and vegetables, and we comply, because enjoying a spring afternoon is far more delightful than standing in front of a hot stove.

9. Spring delights us with a renewed gratitude for life.  As a kid, I loved taking my shoes and socks off at dusk and sprinting across grass much too cold for bare feet.  It was an expression of excitement to just be alive- the same expression we see when spring lambs prance through a field, or baby colts gallop after their mothers.    Flowers nod in the breeze, swelling streams rush toward the gulf and all the world is in motion.  Spring creates the music for a choreographed dance of celebration.

10. Spring brings promises.  Promises that the seeds planted on the windowsill in March will become flowers in May.  Promises that the cold, dark days of winter have ended, the shadowed nights will give way to brilliant sunlight, tears will dry, and laughter will abound.  It’s time to celebrate.  It’s spring.                                                     

Momma G’s Bean Soup or How to Thaw the Gizzard of a Frozen New Englander

This winter has been particularly cold and snowy.   Today as I watch fresh snow drifting onto the banks outside my bedroom window I listen to the forecast- sub zero temperatures for most of the week.   I smile, thinking about the ways my parents worked to keep their family warm during the long Massachusetts winters.

The house where I grew up was a drafty old New Englander at the top of Dye House Hill.  On frigid winter nights, the wind would sneak through the cracks between the doors and their casings, blowing icy shivers down my neck.  My mother nailed moth-eaten woolen blankets over the doors in an effort to keep out the cold, and the cast iron radiators hissed and clanged, protesting the overtime.  We played a game of hide and seek with the sun, opening the window shades during the day to capture a little warmth from the pale January light, and closing them as soon as the drifts outside the window turned blue with shadow.

My father hung a thermometer outside the dining room window and at night he and I would shine a flashlight on its dial, watching the needle sink lower and lower, and announce to the family how many degrees below zero the temperature had fallen.   During winter storms, we watched snow pile in the backyard, occasionally measuring it with a yardstick borrowed from its home next to my mother’s sewing machine.

On frigid mornings my sisters and I laid our clothing on chugging radiators before slipping out of our flannel night gowns.  The aroma of fresh coffee lured us downstairs to the small kitchen that was my mother’s kingdom. There, the chill of winter was warmed by bowls of oatmeal and thick slabs of homemade toast slathered with melted butter.

My mother was not a gourmet cook, but she could take a few basic ingredients and make a feast that would fill the bellies of a family of ten.  On cold nights, her specialty was “Stone Soup,” named after one of our favorite folk tales.  The story goes like this:  Three hungry soldiers enter a village and finding nobody willing to give them food, fill a pot with water and stones in the village square.  As they light a fire under the pot, they explain to the villagers that they are making soup from a stone.   They convince the villagers that the soup would be even more delicious if they only had an onion, or a potato, or a cabbage.  One by one, the villagers volunteer a few vegetables, until a giant pot of delicious soup is created for all to share.   

My mom’s soup was much like stone soup in that she added whatever she could find from the refrigerator.  Leftover pot roast and potatoes that would normally serve two people could be stretched to feed a small army with a bit of broth and some onions, carrots, and parsnips.  Throw in a can of tomatoes and the rest of the corn from last night’s dinner, and the simmering pot would sing a tantalizing Siren’s song to a hungry family.  Homemade bread or muffins and a slice or two of cheese on the side would complete the meal.  A bowl of this hearty concoction thawed many frozen bellies that had been out delivering newspapers, or shoveling walks, or sliding on the hill beside Columbia Hall.

As a young mother on a tight budget, I learned to make my own soups.  I could get three meals from one chicken- roast chicken for Sunday dinner and chicken soup for Monday and Wednesday suppers.   Unlike other meals that require following someone else’s directions, there is freedom in making soup.  I could be as creative as I wanted, and the results were usually delicious.  I found that homemade soup not only nourished my family’s bodies, but also their souls.  Maybe it is the chopping and sautéing, or perhaps it is that my best soups are made while listening to Josh Groban, but I think making homemade soup is a labor of love and comfort food at its finest.

Recently, my daughter Elizabeth asked me for a recipe for soup.  Recipe?  How do you write, “A little of this, a little of that, add whatever you have in the refrigerator?”   I thought of my mother, and how I adapted her Stone Soup to create my own bean soup.  For all those readers shoveling, de-icing and cursing the wicked New England winter, here is Momma G’s Bean Soup.  Soup from a stone… Imagine that!

Momma G’s Bean Soup

What you need:

Large pot

3 cans of beans- black beans, kidney beans, black eyed peas…anything that looks appealing

2 stalks celery- cut into small chunks

2 carrots- cut into small coins

1 onion- diced

1/3 small cabbage- about 2 cups shredded

1 cup frozen corn

1 small jar of med heat salsa

1 can tomato sauce

1 can diced tomatoes (you can use the pre-seasoned ones, or southwestern style stewed tomatoes)

3-4 cans vegetable or beef broth

Ketchup (about ¼ cup)

Cajun seasoning (optional)

Oil

Heat oil in bottom of the pot and add onions, carrots and celery.  Cook until tender and add cabbage, tomato sauce, salsa and diced tomatoes.  Gently simmer until cabbage is soft and veggies are tender.  Drain all the beans and add to the pot.  Add broth one can at a time until the soup is the consistency you like.  Add ketchup and Cajun seasoning to taste (go easy on the Cajun seasoning- it will get spicier as it simmers.)  Once the soup has simmered about 20 minutes, add the frozen corn.  Simmer another 5-10 minutes and it’s done.  This freezes well, and should make a huge batch.

Love Notes

A couple of weeks ago, my son Gabe received notification from the University of Leeds that he had indeed met all the qualifications required for his Master’s degree.    This, of course, made my mother’s heart swell with pride, and I immediately conveyed my congratulations to him and emailed all one hundred of my closest friends to give them the good news.  There is an unspoken pact among mothers that when it comes to boasting about our kids’ educational milestones, all rules of etiquette are suspended for a twenty-four hour period, allowing us to brag ad nauseum without social repercussion or consequence.   I took full advantage of this.

And then,  this morning, while rummaging through some photographs, I fell upon a wrinkled slip of paper that made my heart swell to the extent that it leaked out of my eyes.  I unfolded the paper to find a note that my young scholar wrote when he was seven.  My thoughts flew to Gabriel in second grade.  He was tall and so thin that the other kids made fun of scarecrow physique and his missing teeth.  He loved to read, but he hated any schoolwork that resembled mindless repetition.  One day, while visiting his classroom, I searched the brightly decorated bulletin boards for my son’s work.  At one end of the classroom was a display of poems, obviously meant to be second grade gifts for Mother’s Day.  There were rows of papers, neatly penned, framed with hand drawn pictures of flowers, kittens, and bunny rabbits.

                “Roses are red

                Violets are blue

                Sugar is sweet

                And so are you.”

Where was my son’s work?   I looked back and forth across the rows of red roses and blue violets.  Surely he did one -he hadn’t been absent.  Perhaps he hadn’t finished.  No, the dates on the papers indicated that they had been done several days prior. Surely he had time to finish his work.  Maybe he didn’t want to participate in a Mother’s Day gift. I had yelled at him last week after stepping on his little green army men with my bare foot.  And I nagged him to clean up his room. Again.  And to stop teasing his little sister.  Again.

God.  Maybe my kid hates me.  

At last I found it, the last in the bottom row, scrawled in pencil, barely perceptible amid the riot of cheerfully crayoned pictures labored over by his classmates.   My eyes welled up then, as they did this morning. 

For the next several years, school was a challenge.  Gabe never learned to color, or to do the same work the same way that everybody else did. 

But you know, I’m kinda glad he didn’t.

How Sweet It Was

When I was a child, I loved sweets.  My siblings and I searched for coins in the gutters by the old Monson Inn, where wrinkled men sat on the cement steps, smoking cigars and drinking from little glass bottles.  Fortunately for us, the men often dropped change on the ground and inevitably, one of us would find a few pennies or a nickel – enough to fill a small brown bag with penny candy from Siren’s store.  

It was a short walk to the store – down Dye House Hill, over the bridge across from Ellis Woolen Mills, and past South Main Street School.  We would stop on the bridge to watch dye spill into the river from a large round hole at the bottom of the bridge, and play on the merry-go-round and swings in the school playground.  Finally, coins in hand, we would pull open the wooden door to Siren’s Store.  A hanging bell tinkled our arrival and the inside smelled of bread and State Line potato chips.  Across from the door and to the left was a huge glass display case, filled with a large assortment of penny candy.

The selection seemed endless; wax lips, Mary Janes, Bazooka bubble gum and candy cigarettes sat behind the polished glass, begging to be chosen.  There were Fireballs and wax bottles filled with sugary colored syrup, Pixi Stix that turned your tongue bright red and orange, Turkish Taffy, Boston Baked Beans and Indian Pumpkin Seeds.  There were candy lipsticks and candy buttons.  There were Sugar Daddys and Sugar Babies, Root Beer Barrels and Red Hot Bottle Caps.  We would stand on tip toe, smudge the glass by pointing at our choices, and ask the patient Mrs. Siren for “One of those,” and “Two of these,” until our money was spent.  Then, handing her the sweaty coins, we would slowly walk home, debating which candy to try first, and whether to suck or chew.

 When I was seven, I was particularly enticed by television commercials for Hostess Sno Balls.  The commercial showed delectable round cakes covered with marshmallow and coconut that when sliced in half, revealed a fluffy cream center.  My mother never bought this type of treat.  She made cookies from scratch – oatmeal raisin, molasses, sugar jumbles. She baked vanillla cupcakes iced with butter cream that was whipped with beaters we would beg to lick clean.  They were nice, but they did not have marshmallow shells and delicious cake with fluffy cream centers that came two to a pack; one to eat and one to share.  Every afternoon during the Ranger Andy cartoon show, there were commercials for Hostess Sno Balls.  I became obsessed.

Hostess cakes came at a price – ten cents for one pack! It took me weeks to scavenge enough pennies to equal a dime, but at long last, I did.  Instead of waiting for my sisters, I took the walk to Siren’s Store alone, ignoring the dye splashing into the river, passing by the empty swings at South Main Street School.  I opened the door to the store and looked for the shelf that held the snack cakes. There they were – Hostess Sno Balls, in all their marshmallow and coconut glory.  I proudly counted the pennies into Mrs. Siren’s waiting hand and stepping out the door, hurried to open the package.  Not wanting to wait until I got home, I took a big bite, eagerly awaiting the delicate marshmallow to melt in my mouth, searching for the cream filling in the center of the cake.  I stopped in surprise. The marshmallow was rubbery and the cake was not tender and delicate like my mother’s cake.  And the luscious cream filling was not fluffy and light like my mother’s whipped cream.  It was thick and tasteless.  I looked at the uneaten cake in my right hand and the one-to-share in my left.  I thought about how long it took to save up that ten cents and how many fireballs and Bazooka bubble gums I could have bought.  Now all I had were these spongy gobs that probably would have bounced, had I thrown them. 

I walked to the bridge and watched the brown dye empty into the river.  I looked at the Sno Balls and looked down at the water.  What more damage could a couple of Hostess Sno Balls do?  I threw them over the rail, one at a time, and watched them bob to the surface and float away with the current.  Then I hurried home.  There was still time to look for change in the coin return of the pay phone by the Monson Inn.  Maybe my sister Robin would go with me.

Saturday Morning TV

When I was a child, my favorite time of the week was Saturday morning.  We kids would rise early, tiptoe down the stairs and race to throw our pillow across the arms to our dad’s worn easy chair.  For the next few hours, our lives belonged to the heroes of Saturday morning TV.

Using my pillow for a saddle, I rode along with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.  From them I learned that people ate apple pie and coffee for breakfast and that the good guys did indeed wear white hats.  Roy was polite and upstanding, and although he occasionally threw punches or drew his gun, his freshly ironed shirt never came untucked and his crescent eyes never lost their smile.  Roy was accompanied by his amazing horse Trigger and his wife Dale, who rode her faithful mare, Buttermilk.  Not to be deterred by fringed skirts and perfectly coiffed hair, Dale Evans kept up with the boys without sacrificing a bit of her femininity.  I never doubted for a moment that the American cowgirl could do anything that the American cowboy could do.

Out of the western blue came Sky King and his niece Penny.  Penny flew a Cessna.  By herself.  And she was a teenager, which is, of course, what every little girl aspires to become.  I wanted to wear a cowboy hat and pony tail and fly the Songbird like Penny did.  From my back yard, any overhead plane became the Songbird and each time I swore that Sky and Penny dipped their wings to say hello.

Saturday morning television encouraged my sense of adventure and fed my thirst for excitement.  It also introduced me to foods never allowed in my mother’s kitchen.  Drakes Cakes were suspended in air while melted chocolate mysteriously dripped from the sky, covering the surface in a delectable cocoa confection.  Nabisco Wheat Honeys and Rice Honeys held intricate plastic Whee Ball games- free, of course!  The Cheerios Kid had “go power” and FlavR Straws were magic straws.  I craved cream-filled Hostess Snowballs and Chef Boy-R-Dee, instead of the home made raisin oatmeal cookies and beef stew that graced our table.  To me, nothing would be so exciting as to indulge in the sugar laden treats that were advertised on Saturday morning TV.

My mother, finally fed up with the pleas of “Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease, Mom, can you buy this?” would finally turn off the television and shoo us from the living room, telling us to “go outside and get some fresh air.” 

But in the back yard, our adventures continued.  Using sticks for guns, my sisters and I shot jump rope  rattle snakes and lassoed tricycle cattle like Roy and Dale.  We stretched our arms to become the Songbird and jumped off the top stair from the back porch to take flight.  And when I was alone, I pretended that I had a bag of tricks like Felix the Cat, humming to myself,

“You’ll laugh so hard your sides will ache,

Your heart will go pitter pat

Watching Felix the wonderful cat!”

By the time my kids were old enough to discover Saturday morning TV, cowboys were replaced by Power Rangers and Felix had disappeared, leaving room for Care Bears.   Like my mother, I would shoo them outside when I tired of hearing “Pleeeeeeeease, Mom, can you buy me a Power Blow Super Soaker  Water Squirt Gun?”  and I made beef and vegetable soup from scratch instead of serving SpaghettiOs.   But when I glanced outside and watched Elizabeth use a Perfection game as a time bomb and throw herself through the air like MacGyver when the “bomb” went off, I knew the torch had been passed. 

Happy Trails to you.

High Five for the Hifi

When I was a kid, my parents had a hifi in the living room.   It was a heavy mahogany lift-top console with a turn table that held stacks of records and automatically released a fresh platter after one had finished.  By inserting a larger cylinder, forty-fives could be played the same way.  I can still hear the plop of a new record hitting the turn table and the scratch of the needle as it caught the dust at the beginning of the first song.

Our hifi was in continuous use.  My father played country western and jazz.  My mother played opera and show tunes.  By the time I was five, I knew all the words to West Side Story, Lil Abner, South Pacific and Flower Drum Song.  I hummed the melodies from La boheme and Madame Butterfly.  I recognized Billy Butterfield’s trumpet, and sang hymns with Mahalia Jackson.  

45s were the most exciting records.  The first I remember had “Volare” on one side and “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” on the other.   My older sister and I bought 45s at the five and dime in stacks of 10 for a dollar.  They were mostly cut outs and outdated songs, but we played them all.  I still can hear my brother Scott, belting out “Last Kiss” and dancing to “White Silver Sands” before he was old enough to tie his own shoes.

One Christmas, my father decorated a wooden box to look like a Christmas gift.  He wired a speaker to the old HiFi, put it inside the box, and placed it in our front yard so people could hear Christmas carols while they walked to church on Sunday morning.  Nothing was so exciting as playing in the snow while the Ray Conniff Singers performed “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.”

The first record album I owned was The Beatles “Yesterday and Today.”  I had the version with Paul sitting inside the trunk and I kept it for at least twenty years .  It broke my heart to trash it but the sound had become gravely and it skipped during “Yesterday.”

I was given my first stereo while I was in high school.  My parents got it by subscribing to a record club.  It came with headphones that looked like giant brown mushrooms, and I would go to sleep at night listening to George Gershwin and Roberta Flack.

Music has been the back drop for the different phases of my life.  Scenes in my memory are punctuated by the songs that ran through my head at the time;   Splashing in the ocean while to strains of “June is Busting Out All Over” as a six year old.    Harmonizing to “Sweet Baby James” while painting with watercolors in a high school art class.   Lugging a back pack and guitar to Idaho to “Dust in the Wind” as a VISTA volunteer.     “Yellow Submarine” as I tucked young children into bed.  Dave Matthews Band echoing “Crash into Me” at the skating rink with my seventh grader.  And long stretches of cello music the week of my father’s last sunset when he faded from this life to the next.

Like most parents, we encouraged our children to make music important in their own lives. We paid for piano lessons, drum lessons, band camps, vocal lessons.  We went to concerts and performances.  We bought stereos, instruments, and IPods.  We listened to their music. They listened to ours.  Often times, strained relationships between parent and child can be bridged by sharing a favorite song, or going to a concert together.  And when the noise of the budding rock star turns to notes of the accomplished musician, it is truly music to our ears.  When we give our children music, we give them beauty.  We give them expression.  We set them free to sing, to dance, to fly.  I’m sure my parents had no idea how important that old hifi was.  Or perhaps they did.

Notes from an Old Sew and Sew

I’ve decided to start sewing again.  When my children were little I sewed all the time. It was a hobby borne from necessity. The kids needed clothes.  The budget was limited.  It made perfect sense to buy fabric at discount prices and sew what they needed.

 

In the early years we had a three room apartment.  I sewed in the living room, among toys and books and the TV set.  Abby played with her Barbie dolls.  Elizabeth stood in her play pen, throwing blocks across the room.  Gabriel perched himself on the back of my chair, hands on my shoulders, as if standing watch from the helm.  We listened to Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers while I stitched and clipped.  It was warm, cozy, peaceful.  

 

When Abby started first grade, she needed school clothes.  I had a budget of thirty dollars to provide her with a full wardrobe and new shoes.  Undaunted, I marched all three children to the closest Walmart, where I found a pattern for multiple jumpers, fabric remnants for a dollar a yard, and a package of little boys’ white tee shirts.  I sewed three jumpers, decorated the tee shirts with coordinating embroidery floss, and fashioned matching friendship bracelets.  I even stitched hair scrunchies and matching bows for her socks.  With a pair of pink shoes bought from a “Lucky Size” sale rack, she looked every bit the first grade fashion diva she was.  Her teacher asked me what boutique I shopped.

 

I continued to make clothing for my family.  “MC Hammer” pants for Gabe.  Dresses and shorts for the girls.  Flannel pajamas to keep everyone warm through snowy New Hampshire nights.  I sewed in the afternoons when the kids were awake.  I sewed in the evenings while they slept.  It was an outlet for my creativity.  An opportunity for me to paint the world in the colors and patterns I chose.

 

Sadly, as the years passed, my ingenuity faded.  Once I went back to working full time, there was little time for sewing.  The machine gathered dust, only to be used to repair split seams and fashion Halloween costumes.

 

But now that the kids are grown and I am finding myself with quiet, empty evenings, I have the desire to once again make something. Create something new. My sewing machine beckons from the living room.  Here is my chance to repaint my life once again. I bought fabric and a pattern, and set aside a full Sunday to begin.

 

To my disappointment, I could not get the bobbin to wind.  I tried over and over, but it just sat there. Empty.  I took apart the housing, cleaned it, and replaced it. I tried different thread.  I tried sewing machine oil.  I tried prayer.  Finally, I gave up, exasperated, and began to search on line for new sewing machines.  Mine was, after all, at least fifteen years old.  The new ones are far more technologically advanced.  It would be nice to have something shiny and new.

 

Something inside be balked at the idea of giving up so easily.  I often complain that our culture has become such a “throw-away” society.  Television home improvement shows tell us that entire kitchens and bathrooms need to be updated every fifteen years.  Smash the old cabinets. Put up new ones.  Replace perfectly fine white appliances with stainless steel. 

 

 How often have I made a trip to the cobbler, rather than buying a new pair of shoes?  When was the last time I washed out a peanut butter jar instead of buying a disposable plastic container to hold leftovers?  My gosh- I even buy plastic bags so I have something new and clean to dump my trash into.  Didn’t I start this whole sewing thing out of a necessity to live a more frugal and resourceful lifestyle?   With great effort and resolve, I decided to try to fix the old machine, rather than buy a new one. 

 

Locating a repair shop was easier than I anticipated.  Yes, they do repairs.  Turn around time is about three days.  I could anticipate a cost of seventy dollars. 

 

 

 Ugh. Seventy dollars! For a fleeting moment, I considered closing up the machine and donating the fabric to charity, or worse yet, giving in to holiday sale flyers from the local Singer center. 

 

Instead, I gathered up the machine, and lugged it to the repair shop.  It has gotten heavier as I’ve gotten older.  Sweating, I heaved it onto the counter and sputtered, “The bobbin won’t wind.”    

 

He took a quick glance, rolled his eyes, and said, “I can tell ya what’s wrong already.  Whatcha got here is the wrong bobbin.”

 

Being the sophisticated elocutionary master that I am, my response was,  “Shut up!”

 

Now, I have no idea where the wrong bobbin came from.  Or where the bobbins I used in the old days have gone to.  But the man at the counter sold me two new ones for a dollar apiece.  I lugged my machine home, plugged it in, inserted the new bobbin and tried it out.  It wound the bobbin effortlessly, then zipped along as I sewed a trial seam, making perfect stitches. 

 

For two dollars.

 

Sometimes we have to retrace our steps to remember who we are.  Sometimes it helps to remember how creative we can get when the situation demands that we find an alternative route. I liked that resourceful young woman who took scraps of fabric and pieced them together to fashion a dress for her little girl.  I think I will spend some time with her and see what we can create together.  

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