Monday, February 26, 2007

more metaphor

One of my earliest memories of the creative process at work was watching my grandma sew on her Singer machine. She wasn't a seamstress, but she had two Singers and used them regularly. I don't recall anything she made - mostly I remember her figure, seated, working the treadle with her foot and holding pins in her mouth.

The little drawers in the machine's table were like treasure chests. One held scissors and measuring tape and various other little tools, the oil can and oil for the moving parts.

One held her buttons, the drop-down drawer held a rainbow of threads. Another held needles and the red tomato pincushion so full of pins it barely showed through.

Well before she died, she gave me the table-top and its ancient instruction manual. I actually figured out how to work it and made simple things like pillow covers and curtains.

Later, she gave me the Singer in its own cabinet, with all the drawers still stuffed with the things I remembered from childhood.

Sadly, when my own children came along, I was not vigilant enough and many of those little treasures were spirited away and used in various and elaborate play scenarios. But a few things remain.

I have the machine in my writing office here at home. I frequently think of weaving silver or magenta or iridescent threads through my novels, and something about the treadle and the beauty of the machine itself, and those treasure chest drawers across the room is inspiring.

It also reminds me of my grandma, who I stayed with quite a bit as a young girl. She was wonderfully inventive. There are no photos of her sewing but there are photos of her swimming and posing and standing on her head, and inside my head are many cherished images I wish I had on paper: her long and pale blond hair catching on fire one morning as she burned the trash - and promptly put the tall cylindrical trash can she'd just emptied on top of her head to put out the flames. Carefully plucking very large garden spiders from their webs in an effort to show me they were harmless. Sitting on the edge of the old porcelain bathtub in her house after my grandfather died, crying, while I patted her on the shoulder. Mixing Tang breakfast drink and spices and black tea and calling it "Russian Tea," which she served in fancy china cups on her red kitchen dinette table.

She wrote postcards and letters but to my knowledge she never wrote a story. And yet she didn't need to - she walked around with stories draped across her shoulders like scarves. A treasure trove I have not even begun to tap.

One thing I intend to do this week: go to a sewing shop and buy a new rainbow of threads to fill the drop-down drawer, and maybe some notions to fill the empty drawers.


shara said...

Oh Billie, this is the most beautiful story, I loved it, it made me cry, happy, sewing machines and grandmas and buttons, you brought back such lovely memories for me with yours, thank you.

billie said...

I'm so glad you like it.

It's odd how there are so many little stories quite literally staring us in the face in just the simple spaces we live in.

I have decided to use this blog space to tap into some of them.

My grandma, Bessie Atkinson Ragland Adams, was such a character, and I have so many memories of her. Everyone remembers her as a rather stern, harsh, willful woman, but she was never that way with me. My mother says I brought out the best in her.

shara said...

My mother started a family history, did all the genealogical research, I have boxes of photos, I don't even know where to start.

Joseph Gallo said...

I have to return tomorrow to read this. We had the same grandmother, only mine was of Basque blood born in Mexico.

I love the photographs and look forward to reading when dreams are not beckoning me to do their bidding.

billie said...

Would love to hear about the Basque version of Bess - when you get the chance!

I have not yet filled the drawers of the sewing cabinet. Am having trouble finding an old-fashioned piece goods/notions shop! Although on ebay there are numerous lots of notions that might work well since many of them are old notions that would match the era of my childhood.