A Stitch in Time

I sold a sewing machine last night, for far less than I’d wanted to, and found myself ever so emotional after the fact.

I remember the day my mother bought that 1917 Singer (Model 027) oak-cabinet sewing machine, some 30 years ago. We’d had a yard sale, with my parents constantly on their “reduce the clutter and make some bucks for the mortgage” kick. An old lady came by to browse, admiring a couple of the antiques my mother was trying to unload so she could obsessively pick up more antiques, feeding her  new passion.

They got gabbing, as yard-salers are so likely to do. Naturally the old woman started talking about this old sewing machine. In the end, Mom took a walk, bought the thing, and Dad got stuck not only cleaning up the yard sale, but taking all their earnings over to pay off the old woman and tote the heavy damn machine home.

I’m sad. I’ll miss the machine and what it represented. Memories of Mom hunched over and pumping the treadle, stitching together my clothes and bedding. A rolling shadow across a winter night’s living room wall: Mom and her mission to clothe us all.

The last time she ever sewed on it was sometime in ’98, making a fleece jacket for my almost-a-toddler nephew then, hunter-green with teddy-bears all over it. I found the patterns in the bottom of the machine yesterday, then decided to recycle those, too.

The woman who bought it was a new grandmother, moving into a smaller apartment and excited about the life ahead of her as she’s about to turn 60.

My mother never hit 60.

It was a bitter-sweet night. I fought some tears as I imagined how much my mother would approve of that woman taking possession of the machine. I remembered sadly the excitement she had for being a grandmother herself, the oath she made me give her about how good an aunt I’d always be after she died.

Our lives don’t go how we want them to, they never do. Little things around us can remind us of that. As much as I loved that machine, I think it made me remember sadness more than happiness. Never a good thing.

***

I’m 37 in about 6 weeks now. Sometime before then, I have to arrange for a windsurfing lesson. My mother did windsurfing only once, and I still remember it.

She went with my brother — it wasn’t my kinda thing (read: meant actually using energy and burning calories) — but I remember how the next few years began to be of rapid change for her, as if doing the windsurfing was her way of saying I’m Changed, I’m Tough, I Want More.

She then learned to sail, got her real estate license, separated from my father, climbed mountains in China, raced boats in the Mediterranean, and had an affair with a sailor who lived on his yacht, all in the decade before her death.

I would very much like to become my mother’s daughter, and look to be on schedule to do so 10 years earlier than she did. It makes me laugh that I now see what role her windsurfing may have played in her life, since I didn’t think of that connection when I seized the “70%-off” Groupon deal for a $15, 2-hour lesson — mostly because my goal had been to learn to surf this year, but becoming unemployed meant that couldn’t happen for financial reasons, and I thought “Windsurfing’s a good consolation prize.”

It’s funny how life works. I can surmise it was the windsurfing that threw open her threshold of change. I’ll never know for sure, but I’d like to believe so, as my lesson looms in the next two weeks.

I’m in this place of late where I’m thinking of where I’m going next — the long-term future I face in life, and what all might entail with that. My mother was in this place in the months before her death, before she even knew she was sick.

It’s a very weird place to be now. They say that the mid-30s are when a young woman misses her dead mother the most — because she’s now becoming the woman she saw her mother as being, a woman she never saw the “after” phase for, because her mother died too young. The loss, they say, can become more core-shattering and filled with a deeper longing than she’s ever experienced before, even years after thinking she’s done “mourning,” just because of that experiential transition between ages that we all go through. Without the corresponding parental figure there, it’s sort of a more bump-in-the-night experience, one of loss and wonderment.

I certainly understand that these days. Some of my recent accomplishments have rung painfully hollow, leaving me emptier than I could have imagined, mostly because I know it was so important for my mother to find herself as a stronger, more independent woman than she felt she’d been, and that she would really enjoy watching the process I’ve been going through. I can imagine the things she’d say, and that hurts at times.

It hurts today.

There’s nothing a child wants more than to show their parents just how far they’ve come. I never had that chance with my mother, someone I admired more than most people I’ve ever met. To get robbed of that is a lifetime of loss and “something’s missing”.

I’m not feeling sorry for myself, it just is what my life is. I wouldn’t be who I am with my mother alive today, so I’m not really wishing she never died. I don’t know what I wish. I just know I feel this whirlwind around how full of “searching” she was at her death — like I am now — and how torn she was about her obligations.

And it was all tied up in that little sewing machine that’d been eating up a third of my storage space for the better part of the last decade.

And now it’s gone.

But here I am, still on this journey to take me someplace that I think my mother could tell me an awful lot about, from first-hard experience, if only she was still alive.

But she’s not.

So I get to experience it all, and find myself in quiet moments at the end of the night, when I get to think, “Gee, how would Mom have felt today? What would she have learned? What would she tell me?”

It’s been eleven years this week that she died.

I always worried I’d forget her face, her smell, the way her hands felt when she held mine to console me. And maybe there’s an aspect I forget, but somehow it’s more real to me than ever before, it hits me deeper than it ever has.

They say the first sign of true adulthood is when you really start understanding where your parents were coming from, what they had to endure to get where they were going.

Lately, I feel like I was a child until this year. Now I really get it. I get what kept my mother awake at night, what made her want for more.

When youngins in their 20s tell me how mature they are, I keep chuckling, because I remember how wise I thought I was (because everyone told me I was) at such a young age.

I didn’t know jack. Still likely don’t.

Funny, selling an old antique and getting a little cash for groceries proved to be one of the most emotional experiences of the last year for me, and one of the largest lessons in how I’m Not That Kid anymore.

I’m not that kid. Not a kid. I’m a woman pushing 40 who’s learning more and more of the simple truths that makes quiet everyday-days feel A Little Bit More Meaningful.

Goodbye, sewing machine. Hello, wisdom.

And please, don’t do the whole “Oh, I’m sure your mother is watching” blah-de-blah thing, okay? It just rings so hollow sometimes, regardless of how you intend it. I know. Trust me, I fuckin’ know. But thanks. Just don’t.