I sewed a button on a pair of shorts today, which was a momentous event. Simple mending at our house can linger for months, perhaps years, just like clothing that needs to be ironed. I have found myself ironing a sleeveless blouse on a snowy day in February, simply because the OCD part of me can no longer stand to see it hanging wrinkled and abandoned, in the back of my closet.
I despise sewing and have no skills whatsoever with a needle and thread, despite the best efforts of my mother and grandmother to teach me. I can remember the hideous maroon jumper that I hemmed with scotch tape for a high school Home Economics project (that’s what it was called back in the day) which caused me to receive the only failing grade of my school career.
When I must sew on the occasional button, I grit my teeth and stitch through those little holes with a vengeance, anchoring it with an ugly glob of thread on the inside of the material. You better stay on this time, damnit! Anything beyond a button goes to the magical hands of the lovely seamstress at the dry cleaner.
I still use my mother’s little sewing box—a battered green tin once containing “Bowers Old Fashioned Creamy Mints, manufactured by Earle S. Bowers in Philadelphia” a company that according to Google, was in its heyday in the 1940’s. Nestled inside are two spools of cotton thread from McCrory’s, one of those great discount emporiums of the past and a cardboard packet of needles that came from Food Fair. There is the standard tomato of a pin cushion and a spool containing a yellowed strip of ribbon printed with my childhood last name, which I suspect was sewn into coats and sweaters to avoid confusion in the kindergarten cloakroom. There is a tiny scissors and a thimble or two and an embroidered “R,” one of my mother’s initials from a mink jacket she owned. During the last year of her life, she removed her initials from the jacket, replacing them with mine.
My mother died in 1980 and I am still using her mending supplies, partly because I do so little sewing, there’s never been a need to purchase anything new. Fifty-year old needles and thread still work. I guess you can buy sewing supplies on Amazon now, but the five and ten was more fun.
I wonder how many junk drawers that little candy tin sewing box has been stowed in over the years. I wonder how many bell bottom jeans, polyester dresses and leisure suits were hemmed or repaired from its contents. I can still see it on the table beside my mother’s chair, where she sat in the evening, doing a little mending while she sipped her Carling Black Label and watched Bonanza or Perry Mason.
It’s ironic that something as ordinary and mundane as an old candy tin filled with supplies for an activity I detest, connects me to the parent who has been gone from my life for so long. That once or twice a year, when I grudgingly open that sewing box and rummage around for a needle and thread, my mother comes back to me.