I’ve always been a bit of an old soul.
When I was not quite 21, I’d head down to a local bowling alley that had a swing band play on weeknights on their outdoor patio. I’d sing with the band. “Don’t get around much” and “Tangerine” were my favorites. Yeah, they’re old. That was during my Benny Goodman obsession when I’d play Benny Goodman CDs non-stop in my tiny little Geo Metro. That was when I bought, and attempted to teach myself to play, a trumpet from a thrift store. My mother hated that.
I listened to the AM station out of Canada that played old songs from the 40s and 50s. I drug a friend to see the Glen Miller Orchestra (Thanks, Charlie.). That wasn’t my first foray into the past. See: that La Bamba problem circa 1988. I think that ability to connect to the past so well as put me in a position where I always saw the value in things done the old way. The slow way. I knit. I sew. I like to make things with my hands. I like to do things the long, slow way in the kitchen. I like old things and stories of old days. I used to beg my great-grandmother to tell me stories from when she was a little girl. She always obliged.
My grandmothers sewed. My mother didn’t. She was a whiz at housekeeping ( my mother washed the walls. Twice a year!), but not so great at crafts and cooking. That was my Dad (he constructed a tiny Navajo hogan out of twigs and glue for a diorama when I was fourth grade). Dad stitched and cooked and made and my grandmother’s did too. I still curl up under a quilt my Great Grandmother made for me in 1982. I wore clothes and costumes created by my grandmothers. I still use notions and buttons from my Great-Grandmother’s sewing kit. That gene that allows me to make something the slow way seems to have skipped my mother and landed right on me.
To me, there is is a peace that comes with laying out the fabric and smoothing it until it is flat and perfect. I find solace in the sounds of my scissors sliding through the fabric. The sound of the needle punching through the fabric is a balm to my soul. It allows me to disconnect from whatever I’m feeling and just be in that moment, focused just a few inches in front of me as the needle pushes the thread through the fabric and the thing I’ve made comes out the other side.
When I’m in that moment, I can’t be anxious. My brain can’t sustain the thought process it takes for me to sew and anxiety at the same time.
But more than that, all of my grandmothers are gone and have been gone for nearly a decade, my final grandmother dying just days before my Mom. When I put down the presser foot and wind the bobbin, I think of them. Of velvety pants in bluebird colors when I was in campfire. Of an Indian Princess dress with fringe. Of a quilt. Of the little certificate I keep among my keepsakes that certifies my practical great-grandmother completed sewing certification. In those moments, with the needle and thread and the smell of new fabric, I’m with them again. And, more than that, I think they’d be proud of me in their own ways. For my practicality and economy and creativity.
Littlebit has asked for a sewing machine for Christmas. She took two sewing classes this summer and loved the process. I’m sure Santa can be persuaded to give her one and then she will sit down and press the pedal and needle will punch through fabric and she will find peace like her mother and grandmothers before her and the circle will be unbroken.
P.S. This story wouldn’t be complete without a nod to my mother-in-law. While my grandmothers all sewed, it was my mother-in-law who actually taught me to do it. She was patient, didn’t mind errors and didn’t mind that I would forsake chatting around the kitchen for her sewing machine and the patchwork quilts she liked to make for Christmas. She sews like her mother before her and both of them worked to fix the skirt on the Princess’s communion dress when I got in over my head.