Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Grandma's Thread

Last night, I did something I hadn't done in fifteen years: I sewed a button onto my husband's shorts.

I am not the kind of wife---or woman---who normally does this. When my husband, 43, has a hole in his sock, I say, "Throw it out." If he has a hole in his T-shirt, or a stain on his polo shirt, I say, "It's fine. Just don't wear it out to dinner."

But last night, I was feeling...I'm not sure, exactly.

We had spent the weekend up in Mystic, Connecticut, where we dropped our older son off at sailing camp.

Since ours is the kind of marriage that bends and stretches, depending upon the weight we put on it, I had packed my husband's, my kids' and my bag for the weekend. (Yes, it is still 1954 in our house, and I am Mamie Eisenhower.) I had thrown in a pair of yellow shorts that I bought for my husband maybe ten years ago. Since my husband hasn't gotten any fatter in the past ten years, I figured the shorts would fit him---even though I hadn't actually seen him wear them in...well, I couldn't remember the last time.

No matter. Into the duffel bag they went.

Our second day in Mystic, we were sitting in the hotel room, getting ready to go down to breakfast. My husband looked through the duffel bag, put on the shorts, and walked over to where I was sitting.

"Something's missing," he said, and pointed to his waist.

I looked at his stomach. Was he asking for something that involved his body from the waist down? We were sharing a room with the kids, so probably not. Then, I noticed. His button was missing. "Oops," I said. "Use a safety pin."

"No," he said. "I'll just wear my dirty shorts from yesterday."

I shrugged. Some days, I am accomodating and and fanatical about keeping everything organized and everyone happy. Some days, I just can't be bothered. At the moment, I was feeling the latter. And besides, wearing the same pair of shorts two days in a row wasn't going to hurt him. It had been a long weekend, and we were all a bit smelly and dirty anyway.

We dropped Matthew off at sailing camp, and when we got home, I unpacked our bags (Yes, I do that too, even though I know I shouldn't. But my husband would let his bag of dirty clothes sit on the floor indefinitely. He would quickly walk past it and I would slowly go insane.)

I put his yellow shorts on the Treadmill and thought about what to do with them. Perhaps the Treadmill would come up with an answer. Once upon a time, I would have shamelessly given the shorts to our babysitter, who is a handy knitter/sewer/crocheter. But our babysitter just had a baby, and though when we visited her last week, she had already crocheted one blanket for the baby and was starting on another, I knew we weren't going to see her again for a few weeks, and when we did, I didn't think I would have the nerve to ask her to sew on a button, in between nursing sessions.

I thought about bringing the shorts to the tailor, who I knew would sew on the button for free if I smiled prettily enough. But gas is expensive, and I had no other reason to drive to the tailor, so I just left the shorts on the Treadmill for another day.

Then, last night, I remembered my grandmother's old sewing kit. Actually, it is more of a sewing box---a round, blue, metal container that held cookies from Waldbaum's, once upon a time. The top is covered with pink daisies and orange roses, and the sides are covered with daisies and orange lilacs. I took the sewing cookie box down from my closet, and opened it up. Grandma died at 98 last year, but her needle was still threaded and waiting for me. I took it out and looked for scizzors. I couldn't find them, but fortunately the thread was the perfect length for sewing on a button.

I sat at my desk and for ten minutes, delved into the soothing motion of sewing on a button. Back and forth I went, eight loops on the left side of the button, eight loops on the right side, five tiny little stitches on the back, then knot.

At the end of ten minutes, I felt more peaceful than I had in weeks.

I spent a fair amount of time sewing as a kid. I sewed buttons, hems, and oddly-shaped pillows stuffed with my mother and grandmother's old stockings. I was never very good at sewing---I wasn't neat, and I didn't sew the tiny little stitches you were supposed to make in order to keep a seam neat---but I could do it. My mother used to sew all the time---she had a sewing machine set up in my father's office, she loved to use new paper patterns, and she made me wool skirts and black velvet dresses with lace collars and matching cuffs every year until I was four or five. But eventually, my mother went back to work full-time, and that was the end of her sewing career. But my grandmother, who retired from teaching when I was born, kept at it. She was thorough and methodical, and every fall, I would go shopping with my mother at Loehmann's and we would bring Grandma a pile of skirts and pants to shorten. Grandma would sit on the couch in the small family room in her Brooklyn row house, lean over and get to work. I would chat with her, and poke around her house, looking for things I could take home with me---pink lipstick, rhinestone pins, an old silk scarf that smelled of her hairspray and perfume. Occasionally, Grandma would ask me to stand up and try on whatever it was she was fixing for me, but usually, I just wandered around the house, or sat in the black vinyl chair next to my grandfather's old green desk, and watched her work.

I think I said thank you.

I hope so.

I handed my husband his shorts. "Look what I did," I said proudly.
My husband was not as impressed with my button-sewing skills as I was. He was an Eagle Scout, and he had to take home economics in elementary school so he knows how to sew just as well as I can. Years ago, he made his mother a pillow that says, "MOM." Upside down, it says, "WOW." My mother-in-law refers to it as her "Mom Wow" pillow and keeps it on her bed.

"Thanks," my husband said, not expressing the enthusiasm I was hoping for.

"Aren't you impressed?" I asked, fishing for compliments, love, desire---anything that said, "You are a domestic goddess and you rock!"

"It looks great," he said. "Thank you."

Okay, fine. It's not as if I ever said much more than that to Grandma. Still, it was a moment. Maybe not a moment of intense marital harmony, soul-shaking revelation, or even compromise. But a rare moment of faith restored. Times are tough, and while I wasn't about to darn anybody's socks, I was glad I could still briefly manage some of that Depression-era resourcefulness that my grandmother had embodied for almost a century.

Thanks, Grandma.


  1. Sniff...

    I wound up here becasue you mentioned Loehmann's and I stalk Loehmann's online.. but would up reading beacuse.. wow ( mom wow) .. I can so connect with your whole story.

    I never sew the buttons...and when I do.. it's a miracle..

    But I had a Grandma who sounds alot like yours..Every Sunday we would go over her house.. and I alaways come home with something pilfered from Grandma's..poking around, going through her stuff...

    I have her button box too.

    Thank you.. for reliving the memories for me.. and now I have tears in my eyes.

    I might have to have some discount clothing
    shopping therapy now to eliminate my emotional sappiness!

  2. Thank you! I think there are Brooklyn Grandmas everywhere, lurking in their granddaughters' memories.

  3. Congrats to you for sewing his button back on. And I know exactly how you feel and why you want your hosanas sung...the few times I've sewn a patch on my son's Levi's or fixed a tear in some favored stuffed animal (very sloppily I must add), I feel a perverse sense of...I dunno...maternal accomplishment...
    I have plenty of friends who are "professional" homemakers, and do this sort of thing as a matter of fact. But ME? C'mon. It's a really big deal for me to demonstrate any kind of domesticity at all...
    So again, as one flawed mom to another, I bow low...

  4. Thanks, Julie. I wrote that about a million years ago. Okay, two and a half. Anyway, how are you?