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Sewing a Life


Recently I happened to read a couple of poems about sewing and they always remind me of my Mama who taught me to sew when I was a young girl. As the daughter of a tailor in St. Ingbert, Germany, she was an expert seamstress. Without many words she taught me to sew and at the same time, taught me lessons about life. We worked together in the dining room where her sewing machine occupied a corner. In the chapter of my memoir about her, I talked about the thrill of shopping for fabric and patterns, then coming home and laying out the pattern on the dining room table and cutting out the pieces. As a teenager, I loved the excitement of starting something new. Then we began sewing the pieces together into something I could eventually wear. From her, I learned to take my time with sewing projects, and proceed with care. I also learned to precisely read and follow instructions. When I made a mistake I learned to redo some part of the project, or in some cases, to start over. I gained confidence in my ability to accomplish difficult projects from her. The lessons I learned from sewing with Mama have stood the test of time, and helped me throughout life. My gratitude to her knows no bounds in spite of the short time she was on this earth with her family. She died of breast cancer in 1953 at the young age of 55. I was nineteen years old.

Here I am at age 16, wearing a turquoise cotton summer dress that I made with Mama’s help. That's my younger brother, Joe in the background, under the peach tree.

This poem expresses perfectly the lessons I learned from my Mama:


This Making of a Whole Self

This making of a whole self takes

such a very long time: pieces are not

sequential nor our supplies. We work here,

then there, hold up tattered fabric to the light.

Sew past dark, intent. Use all our thread.

Sleeves may come before length,

buttons before a rounded neck.

We sew at what most needs us,

and as it asks, sew again.

The self is not one thing, once made,

unaltered. Not midnight task alone, not

after other work. It’s everything we come

upon, make ours. all this fitting of

what once was and has-become.

Grateful thanks to Nancy Shaffer, for this poem from her book Instructions In Joy, published by Skinner House Books in 2002.

My UU friends will remember her as a beloved assistant minister at the UU church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, until her death in 2012 from brain cancer.

The Community of Writers at the Ann Arbor Unitarian Universalist Church is sponsoring a festival of readings on Sunday, December 18th at 1:00 PM. I’ll be reading from my chapter about my mother. The church is located at 4001 Ann Arbor Saline Road, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103


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