Her default setting was mending and hemming, so that even when she SAT she had a needle in one hand and a thimble on the other…
Sometimes when she sews I sit across from her in the breakfast nook and ask her about her “other” jobs “before us.”
Tell me how you made hats, Mama. You know, at college.
I was always on the lookout for ways to make money.
I picture a perky, Lois Lane type of Mama, shoulder bag swinging, high heels tapping, nose sniffing out yet another money-making scheme.
Hats were very important back then. You wore them everywhere. But women didn’t like to wear the SAME hat; so they either kept changing the appearance of their one basic hat, or they had lots of little hats.
I decided to teach myself how to make hats and then sell them to the other students. I cut cloth from the huge hem on my green Chesterfield. I layered bits of fabric around a metal frame, curving it nicely with lots of tucks and gathers. I tacked feathers, bows, buttons or sequins here and there.
Did you get much money?
Well, it wasn’t nearly as good as waitressing.
Almost always at this point she’d put her sewing down and stand to demonstrate how she hoisted huge, round, heavy trays. I wore a little white apron and a bright red dress with high heels. Patent leather.
I picture a red-cheeked Mama pirouetting around a busy restaurant amazing the diners with her beauty and gracefulness.
This image lasts only a moment though because the next part of the story horrifies. One day I trip and drop the loaded tray. From that point on I always held my trays like this. She shifts the tray from over her head to waist level.
I didn’t like waitressing as much as tutoring, though.
Before catching the 5:15 train back to Woburn after class, she’d tutor Latin at the Boston Latin School. The most predictable language! For 25 cents an hour I had order. I loved it.
The hem is almost done. Mama eyes me over her rimless glasses.
Watch; this is the most important part.
She takes a tiny stitch on the wrong side of the fabric and, before she pulls the thread all the way through, sends the needle into the loop of thread. Then she pulls the needle until a second small loop forms; she sends the needle through that and pulls the thread taut. She bites the thread off.
It’s all about the finish.
I didn’t get that then, and I don’t now: If it’s all about the finish, what about joy for the journey, Mama?
(But then, my hems come apart; so what do I know.)
My mother before she met and married my father and had that slew of kids pictured above.