My Grandma was born in 1919 and grew up in a small farm community in Kansas. She lived along less than 20 miles of highway her entire life.
A friend introduced her to my grandpa, a rugged young army man who worked for the Santa Fe railroad, and they were wed not long after. Him in his snazzy uniform, and she in a sweet dress suit.
They settled into a small green farmhouse in the country. Had two baby girls. And, I imagine, a fairly simple life.
When I met my grandma she had curly graying hair and wore glasses. And that’s how she remains in my mind. Sitting in her lazyboy with her TV tray on her lap, meticulously rolling her damp hair up in curlers. Referring, occasionally, to the yellow flower-shaped mirror she held on her lap. Her hair was white last time I saw her in the nursing home. And they haven’t given her a perm in years. She would be devastated!
You see, grandma always cared about how she looked. She wasn’t fancy or wealthy or over-the-top. But she always wore lipstick. And she always permed her hair. In fact, she was of the generation that wore plastic-lined scarves delicately tied around their heads to keep the wind and rain from damaging their perfectly primped curls. And best of all, she always made sure my grandpa fit the part as well. Even though he preferred his grease stained overalls and wrinkled shirt that was missing a button, grandma never let him go long without a shower, a shave and a nice pair of pants.
Grandma sewed. She made me a baby blanket and brought it to California for the moment that I was born. I passed that same blanket on to my Sweet Pickle when she was born. And it’s that blanket that reminds me of my grandma. And the importance of keeping around at least a few things to remember beautiful people in life. And it reminds me of how much she loved sewing.
It was especially necessary for my grandma to hem and mend my grandpa’s pants. We are not tall people in this family, so finding pants has always been a task. But it never was for them. Because she would take them right back to her yellow sewing room, sit down at the sewing machine which looked out a window over their back yard and she’d hem them up in a jiffy- then make him change out of his overalls and wear them!
I’ll never forget the first time I saw my grandpa after my grandma forgot how to sew. He came into the restaurant wearing a new pair of dark blue Dickies he had bought up at the Farm and Home. My dad looked down and said, “Grandpa! What did you do to your pants?” He chuckled and replied, “Well. They’re too long! I had to cut em off!”
We laughed… but it hurt. And we missed grandma and her sewing machine and her curls.
Which is part of the reason I have taken up sewing (in lieu of getting a perm). Not only because grandma did it, but my mom did it, too. And I hope that one day we, together, can teach my little pickle how to sew.
Oh sure, it’s gotten fancier over the years with all the new machines and everything. But whether you get deeply involved in it or simply know how to make pillows and mend pants, you have to admit there is something nostalgic and wonderful about making something yourself out of cloth. In a world where everything is mass-produced and a dime-a-dozen shipped from Southeast Asia, the world needs more sewing machines. And more grandmas and moms sitting next to granddaughters showing them how to thread the needle. And more wives hemming pants for their husbands.
And when we get old and our hands forget how to sew, may there be lots of little girls ready to set their iphones aside and carry on this simple pastime… just like grandma.