Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Most Cherished Christmas Gift

Christmas stories are a tradition in our family. Stories of times past are especially enjoyed and appreciated. Recently I found this story, typed and photocopied, in my mother's files. It was the prefect story to share with you! I think I especially appreciate this story because it reminds me of my own childhood days. The author, Dorthy Ross, was a contemporary of my mother. Like Dorothy, my mother's sewing machine (a wedding gift from her father) was an important piece of furniture in our family and one that stitched the family garments and home decor routinely through all my years at home. Here it is, shared thoughtfully and expressed to help you realize that dreams really can come true.

It began with a small strip of cloth, approximately two by eight inches, on which someone had stitched lines of bright thread in hither and thither design. The stitches were all equal in size and tension --- the product of a well-operating sewing machine.

It was 1953, a time of magic, for love turns everything to magic and we were in love. It was also my first time to share Christmas with the family of the man who was to become my husband the following Valentine's Day.

When I opened the small box (I expected it to contain a bracelet or necklace), I stared at it in amazement and a bit of disappointment, wondering about that tiny bit of cloth.

"There's more!" he told me, the now-familiar gleam in his chocolate brown eyes. "In the basement!"

"The basement?" More amazement.

So we all trooped down to the old basement beneath the warm brick house and there, standing shiny bright on clean newspapers, was a sewing machine.

It was not a new sewing machine. New sewing machines were things dreams were made of, and much too expensive for new brides. It was a sewing machine, nevertheless, stripped of its old scratches and varnish and treadle. It gleamed in oaken splendor as a result of loving labor in sanding and polishing. The old machine was even revitalized with a new electric motor, straight from the pages of a mail order catalog.

We came from families where it was taken for granted that you canned and preserved most of the food which went on the family table, just as you cut and sewed almost every item of clothing which went on the family's individual backs. His gift to me was a way of sustaining a tradition, and our first piece of furniture.

With it I sewed the curtains and cushions which first graced our humble four rooms. I stitched away many a long night as he slept in the next room, exhausted from his long day in the fields. There were dresses for me to wear to the office and new sports shirts for him. And soon, I was planning tiny things, piecing them together on that sturdy old machine, adding teddy bears and flowers with hand embroidery. Twice the small gowns and sacques and blankets were tucked away in a bottom drawer with the pastel shades of pink and blue dampened by tears of broken dreams. All that changed one bright February morn, and the sun shone so brightly at our home we hardly needed to turn on the lights. Our daughter was born and two years later, a son helped brighten our home. To our surprise (somewhat), five years later another beautiful daughter was born.

The old sewing machine kept me busy. We spent many intimate hours together; stitching ruffled dresses in progressive sizes, struggling with the corded seams of pint-sized cowboy shirts, fitting pattern pieces very carefully onto remnants, and turning all the leftover scraps into minute doll dresses and shirts for teddy bears.

Later, there were Halloween costumes: a comic book hero, a witch, a leopard, a toreador, and even a perky black and white skunk with a (thanks to Daddy) wired tail which made it every bit as handsome as any of Disney's creations!

Like my mother before me, I became a 4-H leader, and little girls from fancier homes than ours learned to sew on that kindly old machine. It insisted on straight seams, though, and did cause a few tears. Later, those same little girls entrusted me with making their prom dresses and wedding gowns, knowing the seams would be as straight as only that old machine could do.

Paper patterns grew tattered and torn as we used them over and over with variations and adjustments. The spool box became cluttered with tangles of every conceivable color. Buttons found their separate ways into a tin fruitcake box which rattled delightfully when shaken. Its contents were used not only to march proudly down the front or back of a sewing project, but also as farm produce carried to market in small metal trucks and as delectable morsels served up on tin tea sets. Rows of buttons on the rug were carefully counted, one, two, three. . .and colors were learned, blue, yellow, green, red.

Pants knees were patched and patched again. Hems were let down and trim stitched over the white lines to cover the fade marks. Collars on work shirts were turned (oh, how we hated that chore). And pockets, which had been made untrustworthy by more important things than coins (such as nuts, bolts, and colored pebbles), were reinforced.

Yes, we spent many hours together, that sewing machine and I. As the needle plunged up and down, thread paying out from the wooden spool, I planned menus and surprises and wrote invisible poems in my mind. I worried over finances and stewed over the United Nations veto powers and my choices in the next election. Some hours were delightful and fun-filled, and some were just plain work.

But that old machine never let me down. All it asked was an occasional squirt of oil and once in a while, a new light bulb or belt. Seldom does a woman find as true a friend. That old machine was there when we became one. It helped turn a house into a home and it dressed our babes far beyond what our meager financial means would have permitted if we had purchased "ready-mades".

Years later, I received another sewing machine --- the very best, top of the line model. Its cabinet had never been kicked or scratched, and it purred every stitch in quiet splendor.

By now, however, we could afford to buy draperies and slipcovers, and teenagers don't always appreciate Mother's choice of pattern and fabric. The promised magic wasn't to be found in those fancy zigzag stitches; not for those who had known and lived by the purity of the straightforward. That beautiful, fancy new machine, though no longer new, still has very low mileage.

My old sewing machine wasn't fancy, but it was special. It wasn't just a Christmas gift of which dreams were made. It did much, much more. It made dreams come true!


  1. This was a lovely story.
    My own mothers old Singer machine was much the same. I learned to sew on it and used it until I got my first machine for my sweet sixteen birthday I've been sewing ever since and on different machines, but I still fondly remember that old Singer.

  2. Beautiful story! Thanks for sharing! :)

  3. So true and I remember this well. I still sew on my old machine that I bought when my children were first born. It has served me well and really, I don't need a fancy machine when I can still get it to purr for me.

  4. This is very special to me this year. I'll be able to tell you why later. ☺

    Oh I thought of turning collars earlier this morning when I looked down at my hubby's frayed one. He so loves that red flannel shirt and if I knew how to go about that task, he'd have so much more wear in it. Sigh.

    Thank you for sharing this piece!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this. The central part of our family room growing up was my mother's singer sewing machine. Back then it was even larger than the TV LOL!
    I remember my mother up past midnight on Christmas Eve and the night before Easter finishing our new dresses to wear...

  6. What a wonderful story about a wonderful lady. I wish I could have know her. There is something really special about things that are sewn with love. I am sure everything she made was just that. I think the things we take the time to make now are too. Merry Christmas.

  7. I totally love those old machines. I have a Singer 401 and a Singer 301--both from the fifties -- and the feel of them as they sew is so good. Thank you for your story!


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