Sunday, January 10, 2010

The A Word (and no, it's not adultury)

I bought myself a new sewing machine for Christmas. I already had one, given to me by my husband in 1975. It cost $400, a tidy sum in those days, and was the top of the Kenmore line at the time. It still works well, but it's so bloody heavy! Like all sewing machines of that vintage, it's made entirely of metal. I used it a lot for years, making the kids' clothes when they were little, and making curtains, etc. But more recently on the occasions when I've gotten the urge to sew, the thought of lugging that machine down the stairs has erased my creative impulses.

So I bought a new machine last month. Like many of today's vintage, this one is made of plastic. I'm not a big fan of plastic, but the machine is delightful to look at and has an excellent reputation. And it's light! Hoist with one hand light. "Wow--is there really a sewing machine in this box?" light.

I thought by now I'd be sewing. But I discovered that when the urge to sew strikes, it isn't only the thought of the heavy machine that squelches it; it's also the thought of climbing the stairs to go get it.

I go up and down stairs all the time at work. But there's something about being alone—even though I often say I probably do better living along than most people, given all the practice I got as an only child—that makes me feel my age and beyond. This is especially true when I've been away from civilization for a stretch of time. Tomorrow I go back to work after 25 days off.

When my mother-in-law was the age I am now, she looked at me imploringly and said, "It's hell getting old." I was 33 at the time, so I told her what I thought she wanted to hear: "Oh, you're not old, Mom!"

The truth was, she had aged dramatically over the course of a decade. When I first met her, she was a stunning woman with a beautiful face and a tall, elegant body that carried her expensive clothes well. Ten years later, she'd had back surgery, and didn't move around much. She lived in a big house in the desert, and had a lot of time to think about her aches and pains.

I had two little children, and not much time to think about my mother-in-law's ailments. It wasn't that I didn't care; it was that I did. It's not pleasant watching someone you love deteriorate. I remember the first time I saw my adored father shuffle like an old man. My initial reaction wasn't sympathy; it was more like irritation. What was he doing walking like that? This was my dad—my tennis-playing, bicycle-riding, marvelous natural athlete dad, the person who could make up any game if you put a ball in his hands. No matter that he was by then well into his eighties. He had never been old, and I didn't want him to start.

I plan to tell these things to my children someday (you think they read my blog? Ha!), to prepare them for their own feelings of irritation, of annoyance, to alleviate some of the guilt they are bound to feel, and also because I hope that being forewarned will enable them to summon patience when it is needed.

I often look back and wish I'd taken my mother-in-law's hand in both of mine. I wish I'd sat down next to her, and looked into those imploring eyes, and waited for her to tell me what she needed to say.

I guess it's a good thing I'm going back to work tomorrow.


crystal said...

I think I know what you mean - it's hard to let people we love get old. It's almost as if they were doing it voluntrily and if they really loved us, they'd not let us down that way. My mom used to keep her sewing machine in the kitchen for some reason. My grandmother had one, and my mom, and my sister has one, but I just have to sew by hand :)

Susan said...

My hands are not much good for sewing these days, especially my right. Lots of skin damage from the cold. I want to bind the edges of a hooked mat I made, and the instructions say to do it by hand. But I'm going to try doing it by machine.

Your mom probably kept her sewing machine in the kitchen so she didn't have to lug it up and down the stairs. :-)

Dona said...

Susan -- this is such a powerful post.

I know the irritation you mention when I see my nearly 82 year-old father shuffle between the couch, the bathroom and his bedroom.

Eulalia Benejam Cobb said...

I used to scoff at people who moved into single-level houses so they didn't have to climb stairs. Use it or lose it, I used to say, self-righteously. Now I'm beginning to understand....

Indigo Bunting said...

One thing I love about your writing is the brutal honesty about your feelings. I've felt that irritation...and felt guilty about it. Not even sure I'd allow myself to dwell on it long enough to name it.

Great post.

Helen said...

The irritation/guilt seems to a universal phenomenon. That's good to know (in a way).

So... how old are you now? If that's not too personal a question.

Susan said...

Lali, I felt the same way.

Thank you, IB.

Helen, I would say if you asked me over a bottle of wine in a private setting, it wouldn't be too personal a question. Maybe. But I'm 66. At this age my dad was riding a bicycle, playing tennis, and hopping into his boat. I am having a brisk sit.