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Sewing Desk

By Joe Rector

My work desk is an antique sewing desk. Its top is more than five feet long with a cut-out section to place a sewing machine. Both sides have drawers and pullouts on which to place a variety of things. One small drawer under the top is designed to hold spools of thread. This piece of furniture is one that Mother left, and for a long time, no one wanted the thing. Once, I almost sold it, but something tugged at my conscience and urged me to keep the desk. I’m glad I took that advice.

Mother didn’t begin her teaching career until Jim and I entered first grade. Daddy’s paycheck stretched as far as possible to cover bills and needs. To help out, Mother sewed for other people. It was something she had mastered, and her customers were never in short supply.

A parade of folks arrived at the house with requests. Over the years, she put together women’s casual and formal dresses, blouses, and slacks. She also undertook projects to whip up wedding dresses. A couple of her clients had daughters, and Edna sewed countless dresses for them. At other times, she became an interior designer and sewed curtains, drapes, and table cloths.

Mother kept us boys in shirts for school. She would sew up several of them for each of us to begin each school year. They didn’t have store-bought tags, but they looked just as good, and those articles outlasted anything that came from the store. When we were in high school and needed winter coats, she bought fabric and worked for hours to make ones that were warm, comfortable, and stylish. I remember one shirt-jacket that she made for me. It was a small plaid pattern with reds, yellows, and greens. Mother referred to it as “my coat of many colors.”

After some years, Mother’s sewing business ended. She devoted her attention to teaching school. Still, she made every stitch of her own clothing. She also made curtains and other things for the household, and on occasion, Mother still made clothing for friends or her daughters-in-law.

After retirement, Mother continued to sew, but not with a machine. She put together more than a dozen intricately designed quilt tops, and then she sewed them to the batting and backs. Hour upon hour was spent watching episodes of “Matlock” or “Heat of the Night” while she sewed those quilts for us. During the last months of her life, she sat on a patio couch on her back porch and worked feverishly to complete a hobnail quilt before her strength was sapped.

When mother passed, we went to her sewing desk to clean it out. The drawers were stuffed with pieces of material from past or for future sewing projects. Almost all of them were polyester, a favorite of hers. A couple of drawers also held patterns, and a box beside the desk was also packed with those old things that she used to spread out on the kitchen table to cut material for the items she would make. She owned enough spools of thread to keep all of us supplied for years to come.

I use that desk now. The hole for a machine is sealed; instead, my computer sits on top, along with speakers, a printer, and a half dozen remote controls for televisions and radios. The drawers are now loaded with a collection of writings, office supplies, and electronic cords. It is a center for a different kind of work: my writings. I enjoy the use of that desk as much as she did. Her efforts brought joy and comfort to friends and family alike. I’d like to think that the pieces that I put together on the computer do the same thing. Sometimes when I sit at my desk, I close my mind and see my mother working there. It’s a good way to bring back good memories of a woman who loved to use her hands to create wonderful things.

By the way:

1. I apologize for my poor proofing skills on the bicycle column. The word “peddle” should have been “pedal.” I suppose my mind saw the right one.

2. Thanks to Dr. Rodney Russell from Knox County Schools for reaching out to me about my column “It Gets Sadder and Sadder.” We had a good conversation, and it’s good to know that the system still has some folks who care about individuals.

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