The Sewing Machine Demon | Opinion

My mother’s old sewing machine sits in its dilapidated state in my back bedroom. The back layer of wood in the cabinet has started to chip with age. The old black pedal is worn silver where the feet have worked on it so many times. But if I open the top, pull her head out of her resting place, and sit in front of her, she purrs sewing like a cat when you stroke her fur. It’s timeless except that we can no longer buy needles or belts or other spare parts from him. Mom bought this sewing machine at Sears and Roebuck with the money she earned from threading tobacco. Belonging to my mother’s estate since 1938, it has long since survived its owner.

The old Singer sewing machine served my family well while I was growing up. Mom pedaled it so fast it could sew as fast as any electric motor I’ve ever encountered. Her right leg pedaling like a speed demon, her hand guiding the fabric under the needle, she created warm flannel-lined corduroy jackets for my sister and me. We wore homemade robes and pajamas all year round.

I learned a great life lesson one year on a cold winter day close to Christmas; I was curled up under my duvet, reading in my bedroom. The smell of field peas cooking on the stove permeated the house and Dad would soon be home for dinner, lunch. About 30 minutes after putting the peas in to cook, Mom went back to the sewing machine and guided not only the fabric but also her thumb under the tip of that needle. No cry came; no hysteria broke out. Stoically, she called me.

“Mary Ann, bring the pliers and come here. Hurry! They’re in the drawer of the dining room cupboard.

When I arrived I almost fainted at the sight. The shiny metallic needle had entered the thumbnail and protruded from the underside of the flesh, glistening silver amid the red blood. It had broken in his thumb.

I need you to grab the needle with the pliers and pull it out. I can’t do it myself, she said calmly.

“Mom, you need a doctor. I’ll call dad.

“No, we can’t wait. It hurts too much. You can do it. Just grab the underside firmly and shake it out. Do not let the clamp slip.

She held out her hand to me as if passing me a dish at the table. His calm demeanor calmed me down. Carefully, I closed the jaws of the forceps on the needle and grabbed it with both hands. Without a word, I pulled the foreign object from my mother’s flesh. She gasped, turned white as a fish’s belly, and collapsed into the chair behind her.

“Go get me the booze,” she whispered, grimacing in pain. “I don’t want him to get infected.”

She poured alcohol on the wound and went to the kitchen to prepare lunch. Later, as I sat on my bed trying to read, the image of the needle among the blood took hold. I couldn’t see the words for blood and needle. Nausea washed over me and the room toppled. What if the rotten thumb? What if I had broken the needle in his flesh? What if the clamp had slipped and I had to try a second time?

“Mary Ann,” Mom called from the kitchen. “Come do the dishes while I cook. Then there won’t be so many people after dinner.

When I walked into the kitchen, mom looked at me and grabbed a chair. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked. You are green as a frog.

I stabilized myself with the chair, looked at the bandage on his thumb, and the walls closed in on me. I woke up on the floor with mom fanning me.

“What’s wrong with you?” she asked me. “The emergency is over.”

That day, long ago, I learned that handling emergencies well and then collapsing would be the course of my life. But the sewing episode taught me something else: I keep my fingers well away from the needle when I sew, whether it’s on Mama’s old singer or on my own. Every time I sit down to sew, I always see that bloody needle sticking out of the flesh, and I can think of no better reminder to be careful.

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