Will you laugh just like your mother
Will you sigh like your old man
Will some things skip a generation
Like I’ve heard they often can
Are you a poet or a dancer
A devil or a clown
Or a strange new combination of
The things we’ve handed down
— Marc Cohn, 1993
It has been nearly a month since my mother died. I’m still working on her obituary for the paper. We still haven’t buried her ashes or picked out her headstone. “Don’t rush,” Mom would say. “What’s the hurry?”
After she died, I photographed all the special things in her apartment; in place, untouched. I wanted to remember everything as she left it. Pictured above is her sewing machine. She owned several over the years, but it was on her old yellow Brothers that she taught me how to sew.
That machine was so heavy and got so much use. She used it to make me so many clothes, including Snowball and prom dresses in high school, and an entire wardrobe of beautiful jumpers and dresses before I headed off to college. Also, so many 1980s college formals out of velvet and taffeta. Man, they were gorgeous! There were also all the cute dresses she sewed for me as a child.
I was never a very good seamstress. Sewing machines don’t like me. When I attempted to make my daughter Bridgy a vintage majorette costume for Halloween a few years ago, I ended up sewing the entire thing by hand because, seriously, the sewing machine hated my guts. It was like, “Get away from me, you imposter!”
Still, my mom was so proud of me for my effort. She was such a good seamstress, and she got such a kick out of the fact I sewed the entire thing with a simple needle and thread. You can see the reaction her face in the following picture. She would have given me an F for sewing, but an A+ for improvisation. She actually loved improvising and it’s one of the gifts she handed down.
This picture really makes me smile, too. She was seriously amazed that I sewed this entire costume with a small needle. LOL! I’m a hopeless cause, Mom.
Mom may have been impressed with Bridgy’s hand-sewn costume, but she was totally blown away by Sullivan’s hummingbird costume, which I created from little more than felt squares and hot glue. I rock the hot glue gun, people!
She was possibly never more amused than when I told her the bird costume took me 40 hours to make. Forty! When I started, I thought I’d be finished in four.
Mom died on Christmas Eve, so she never got to see the Janome sewing machine Santa brought Bridgy. It’s lightweight, not heavy like the old Brothers, not heavy like my sorrow. I planned to take it up to her place so she could teach Bridgy how to sew. Now, the poor girl is stuck with me. You can see, however, by this video, that I do at least know how to wind a bobbin. There’s hope!
Bridgy loved the Dolly Parton movie Coat of Many Colors. She’s even learned to play a little of the song on her ukulele. She asked me the other day if I would make her a real-life coat of many colors. I said, “Sure. I’ll use your new Janome. It’s my speed!”
Oh, the things my mother handed down. Too many to count. All her pin cushions were hefty with sawdust and love. As a child I marveled at the pairing of the tomato and the strawberry because in real life they didn’t taste good together. I wish I could think for a day like a child again.
Bridgy’s favorite color is blue, so I was super happy when I found a blue tomato pin cushion to go with her blue Janome. When we sat down to sew yesterday, she asked me the same thing I asked my mother all those years ago when she taught me to sew: “What’s the strawberry for, mom?”
And so goes the answer, my mother handed down:
“It’s full of emery for sharpening your pins and needles,” I said.
Like Cohn’s song, there are things that skip a generation. Bridgette and Juliette are much more creative than I will ever be. Bridgy created an entire outfit – shirt, skirt and shoes – from felt she held together with small gold safety pins. She cut her first pattern with great patience and precision, attributes I’ve never had. And, Juliette is a painter, just like my mom and my grandfather, putting on canvas the dreams and inspirations in her head.
And these things that we have given you
They are not so easily found
But you can thank us later
For the things we’ve handed down
I don’t know what I am passing down to my children. I hope, faith, maybe. At night, I hold my hand to my son Sullivan’s chest. I pray the full armor of God will be upon him; the breast plate of righteousness. I hold my hand to his head and pray for the helmet of salvation. I cradle his feet and pray they will be shod in the Gospel. And so on and so forth.
My mom handed so many things down to me. Her faith was above all. By the time she died, she’d become so refined, her seams were as perfect on the inside as they were on the out. I have so far to go, still stitched together with thin thread and a single needle. But, I’m held together by her love and the hope that eternal life is not a fairy tale, and the universe fully inhabitable by the Spirit of God and the saints who’ve gone on before us.
You may not always be so grateful
For the way that you were made
Some feature of your father’s
That you’d gladly sell or trade
And one day you may look at us
And say that you were cursed
But over time that line has been
Extremely well rehearsed
By our fathers, and their fathers
In some old and distant town
From places no one here remembers
Come the things we’ve handed down
Here’s the Janome on Amazon that Santa brought Bridgy. They come in all different colors and range in price. My mother would have loved it. She does love it. She’s still here, guiding my hands by the footer, helping me keep the seams of life straight. Thank you, Mom. I miss you so much.