January 7, 2009

A Legacy of Wooden Spools and Cherished Wisdom

My grandmother had a rack of spools over her sewing desk in the spare bedroom of her house when I was growing up. Every summer I would spend a few weeks at her house and every summer she would take me to the fabric store, almost as soon as I arrived, to pick out a pattern and fabric to learn during my visit. I spent hours each summer in the room affectionately known as the waterbed room with it’s green and white butterfly papered walls, it’s wall size shelf of family photos, and my grandmother’s sewing table. When I wasn’t in the kitchen learning how to stew figs for drying or experimenting with pudding and gelatin or out in the back yard trying to work up my courage to attempt my aunts famous “death Drops” off the swing set, I was in the sewing room working on increasingly difficult patterns and never fully understanding the valuable skills I was acquiring.

The sewing room was a haven from the Redding heat. The shade from the house next door, the dark walls, perhaps even the waterbed itself made the room cooler than the rest of the house. In the cool quiet I could pin and cut and stitch, or lie on the undulating mattress of the waterbed, or in my tween years, watch Days of our Lives on the tiny black and white Television that was perched on the bedside dresser.

Sometimes in a fit of teenage self-righteousness I would do nothing but spin the spools of thread on their wooded pins or finger the gold stork handles of the delicate sewing scissors that hung from a ribbon on a hook. The wooden spools were always my favorite. It seemed she had hundred of them, but it was probably no more and a dozen, plastic spools were already taking over by then. When one of the wooden spools ran out of thread we made them into dolls or furniture or animals or spool crochet sets. My grandmother’s imagination was endless and she always had something new to make, to teach, to show.

When she moved out of her house after my grandfather died, a pair of wooden spools was among the treasures I took away with me. I have carried them across states and oceans and they now sit in one of the mason jars of thread on my sewing table, a reminder of the lessons of those long hot summer days of my child hood. Of sewing dozens of tiny buttons down the front of a dress and sneaking dried figs out of the freezer in the family room, of my grandmothers dried apple kitchen witch and the thumping of the dough hook on her beloved mixer beating away at her bread.

My Grandmother, who now lives in a second floor apartment and uses the Internet and has a Judi Dench haircut, continues to amaze me, to inspire me. And every time I sit down to sew or slide dinner in the oven, or set out on a new project, I am reminded of those summers, the rows of wooden spools and the cool of the waterbed room, and of my grandmother.