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Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Sewing Machine by Mike Shaner

Her long brown hair slightly covered her bare shoulders. She looked at me from our satin sheets with wanting eyes. Her curves looked as if god designed her hips just for my hands. It should’ve been much harder not to touch her but the anger outweighed the desire. I just looked at her. I could feel my eyes burning as I tried hard not to show the lust. She spoke soft and knowingly, “Come here.” I ignored her and walked out of the room.

I turned down the hallway and headed for the spare bedroom where we kept my Nanny’s old sewing machine. I sat on the corner of the bed and just stared at the machine. Its old fashioned but not enough to be an antique. I guess that means it’s just old. It’s solid white with a blue sticker that says BROTHER LS 2125. After a while I cried. I cried like a spoiled 8 year old who had been told “no” for the first time. “I need you now,” I screamed to the machine.

I cried for a solid 30 minutes until I started remembering. I thought of the days after the funeral when we left Alabama. My aunt Sheila came up to us just before we walked out of the door, she looked Sophia in the eye and said, “I want you to have nannies sewing machine, she always thought so much of you and she’d want you to have it.” I don’t remember Sophia’s direct response but I know it was graceful. Everything she did was filled with grace.

My Grandmother raised me. She’s the only mother I had ever known and now I have no mother. I thought back to some insignificant day when I was a child playing in the sandbox. She just sat beside me and smiled and played. I can’t say for sure about anyone else but my grandparents loved me. It was a true unconditional love. I know because I spent most of my life testing it.

My biological mother had me when she was sixteen. Bless her heart, she tried but she’s just never had much good in her life. She and my father split before I ever said hello to him. We’ve still never exchanged the courtesy. She was married and had my brother by the time she was 20. A few years later she was divorced and he came to live with me at my grandparents’ house. Soon she remarried and had another baby. One year before Nanny died, her 15 year, 3 child marriage, ended in divorce. It was a cold marriage anyway. Her Husband would only work if he felt like it. Neither of them had any education to speak of, so after all that time, all they had to show were three kids, a rotting trailer, and some bad blood. I called her Mama and I loved her but she was always more like an older sister to me.

I was twisting through the memories as I turned the sewing machine on. It was probably the first time it had been plugged in since Nanny got sick. I tried in vain to thread a needle. It reminded me of being a child learning to tie my shoes. I thought back to that day in Mama’s trailer, I kept trying but I just couldn’t make the loops work. It always ended up in a tiny knot. I remember Mama’s frustration with my inability to complete such a simple task. “I’m not stupid,” I screamed. “I didn’t say you were...” and then she broke into tears. That was the first time I ever felt hate. Later the hate would turn to sadness and eventually back to love. Love between friends or siblings, but it was never a parent-child relationship.

Later that night Nanny worked with me until I got it right. She used a pencil in between the strings where my finger was supposed to go. She would pull the pencil out of the hole and put her finger in. Then she would pull the pencil out of the hole and put my finger in. Pretty soon the pencil was gone. I still don’t know how but as I was thinking of this I was able to thread the needle. It’s possible that I could do it again but I wouldn’t bet on it. I thanked her for her help with the needle as if she were in the room and then I put my head in my hands and stared off into space. I thought of that day in Tennessee when we had to say goodbye.

We all knew that Nanny was sick and time could be short so I took a job in Alabama to be close to her. Sophia was in school so she stayed behind. She was to join me after the semester. Unfortunately, I didn’t make enough money in Alabama and by the time Sophia made it, I received an offer back in California that seemed to good to pass up.

As a child my family took a vacation every year to the Smokey mountains of Tennessee, the family decided that before I left we should take Nanny there one last time. It was a tough decision because she was really too sick to travel but in the end it was the right decision. At times she seemed almost young again. She sang me songs I had never heard and laughed with her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. It’s a memory I will always cherish.

On the day we were to leave it was snowing. The family would head back to Alabama and Sophia and I to California. At the parting point we all stopped at a diner and had breakfast. I ate as slow as humanly possible, I think we all did. We didn’t want breakfast to end because that meant we had to say goodbye. Like everything else, it did end. We just stood out in the cold, staring mournfully at each other. Finally she broke; she buried her teary eyes in my chest and held on with all the strength her poor old body had left. We just held each other and cried

After what seemed like an eternity we broke our embrace and I quickly scampered to my car. After driving a few miles in opposite directions I began to cry. I must have cried for the whole 2000 miles. Nanny, had never been anywhere but Alabama and the Smokey mountains. I wanted her to see all the places I was seeing along the drive; the arches and the Mississippi in Missouri, the plains of New Mexico, and the Colorado Rockies. Especially the Rockies. She would have been in such awe. The mountains are so tall and eloquent. The muddy rivers flooding by were fast and intimidating. It was like a scene from some ol’ western movie. She would have been in heaven. “This is where she’ll be soon,” I consoled myself. And I cried.

The Sewing machine made a strange noise and I turned it off quickly. The sound died in an instant. It made me think of the day I got the call. My Papa’s normally strong voice was weak and trembling, “You better get here fast,” was all he could mutter before he hung up the phone. So I did. I walked into the room and I could barely recognize the skeleton like woman who held the soul of my Grandmother. She was awake but incoherent. I had known for a while that her mind was drifting. Our telephone conversations grew increasingly shorter and by the end she didn’t even know who she was speaking to. I was prepared for that but I wasn’t prepared for how she had wasted away. She looked up at me and smiled. She recognized me for a second and grabbed my hand. She lived for another day and for a brief time appeared to be getting stronger. “Now’s not her time,” I thought.

The next day I was out in the field playing football with my cousins and brothers when someone screamed my name. I knew what the call meant. I threw the football down and ran to the house as fast as possible. Just like when I was a child and she would call out that “supper’s on the table.” There were so many people there. The hospice lady remarked later that she had never seen such a crowd for any person in her whole career. I had to shove my way past some people to get into the room next to her bed. Later, I felt bad for my rudeness, but this was no time for manners.

She was lying there mumbling. Papa was holding one hand and my aunt Sheila the other. Her eyes were distant and glazed. She tried in vain to sit up right. She was struggling to rock back and forth. Sheila kissed her head, brushed her hair away with her hand, and told her “It’s alright Mama, we’re all ok, just go now,” and she did.

Sophia had a final exam and her flight wasn’t scheduled until the day after the funeral. She wasn’t there and I didn’t know it at the time but I resented her for it. The funeral came and went as funerals do. There were tears, prayers, and memories. The church was so full that people were lined up past the doorway. By the time Sophia arrived the crowds had dwindled down and by the time we left to come back home it was just the immediate family. We had our bags packed and were walking toward the door when Sheila and my Papa stopped us. Sheila looked past me and spoke softly to Sophia, “I want you to have nannies sewing machine, she always thought so much of you and she’d want you to have it.”

We took the sewing machine and one of the funeral plants when Papa gave us both a huge bear hug. The only way to describe that old man is to say “think of John Wayne.” He was tough. Not tough in a way that is describable today. He was mud and dirt and weather tough, so it took me by surprise when he spoke so tenderly and with such emotion, “when things get tough just be good to each other, just take care of each other, make sure when the time comes that you don’t have any regrets. I love ya’ll.”

I turned that old sewing machine back on and it ran like, well, like a sewing machine. It was smooth and honest. I never put a piece of fabric in. I never stitched a single thread. I just wanted to hear it work. I forgot the harsh words. The anger was all gone. I just felt a sense of peace. I realized that I still had my nanny in a strange sort of way. I was able to talk to her through that old sewing machine. She helped me find my way.

I walked back down the hall, it’s just a few short steps, past the study and the laundry room. I opened the double doors to our bedroom and I saw her crying. I silently pulled my boots from my feet and carefully folded my jeans. I pulled back the comforter and crawled up beside her. I put my arm around her with a strange nervous feeling. ”I’m gonna take care of you.”