When my mother died, we — all four of us plus a cat — lived in a tiny two-bedroom apartment in an Atlanta suburb. Honey was in law school and I was the sole source of income, with the exception of the living expenses included in our student loans. We didn’t have the space to store much of anything, having pared down our own belongings quite brutally before the move from Florida. I was forced to perform a similar exercise with my mother’s possessions, pruning a household full of memories down to a few boxes and plastic bins that had to be culled during weekend trips to her home four-plus hours away.
It was a tear-filled chore made more difficult by the fact that much of it was done alone. Me, in a house that was full of everything that surrounded my mother but not her. Seven years later and it still makes me weep.
To have to whittle down your memories like that really makes you value the mementos you do keep. And one of my greatest treasures is my mother’s sewing machine.
My father likes to tell me the story of buying her this machine. He’s gotten to a stage of life where he tends to repeat himself, and while I’ve heard the story so many times, I am so hungry for the things that tie to my mother that I listen to it again and again. It’s hard to say how true it is; I’ve noticed that Dad’s stories sometimes veer away from what I remember. Could be a matter of perspective or maybe he’s just romanticizing the past. Regardless, the story my father relates goes something like this:
The two met while my father was stationed in Germany with the Army. My mother — a native German — was working on post and eventually gave in to my dad’s persistent requests for a date. They were married maybe three months later. They were really young, I think he was 19 and she was 18, and setting up house for the first time. Mom told him she could cook and sew, and Dad promptly bought her a Betty Crocker cookbook so she could cook traditional American fare and a sewing machine so she could make her own clothes. And my mother promptly learned how to cook and sew since the truth was she could do neither.
True? It’s entirely possible that my mother did not know how to do either: she was the fifth of seven kids and the second daughter and probably had fewer of those chores than her sister. And she never was afraid of a challenge.
Her trusty Singer sewing machine, purchased at AAFES in the late 1960s, moved to the States and back to Germany, then back to Alabama. Mom sewed entire wardrobes for herself and me on it, including T-shirts and wrap skirts and everything a child of the ’70s could ever need. I learned how to sew on that machine, although in my mother’s lifetime I never operated it with her finesse.
Tossing it was never an option. I look at it and can recall my mother seated before it, the needle zipping through probably thousands of projects. At the time it came into my possession, I had no interest in sewing, and certainly no room for the hobby, so into the closet it went. It wasn’t until March that I tugged it from its lonely shelf, nostalgic and optimistic. All the years in storage, however, took their toll. I took it in for a cleaning, afraid that it was beyond repair.
Luckily, my worries were unfounded, although my father seems to think the $158 I paid to return it to working order is more than he originally paid for the sewing machine. Me, I think it’s worth any price to preserve my mother’s legacy.