Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Stitch in Time

There was a man in my father's parish who owned a cabin cruiser.  It was a nice boat made by a company called Egg Harbor.  Every so often, the man would invite my father and his boys to spend a day on Narragansett Bay, the body of water that divides the state of Rhode Island into two unequal pieces.

I have a faint recollection of the actual vessel, but I can picture the man, whose name was George.  I remember the choppy waves from one particular day on the bay, and remember that George nearly had a seizure because I was whistling.  The high-pitched sound caused George to believe that something was wrong with engine, and he gave me a good talking to, which did my feelings no damage.  I came to understand that there were rules on a boat that didn't apply elsewhere.

George often brought his camera with him, documenting our outings with slides so they could be seen on a big screen.

Which brings me to my favorite memory of those days- my father's hat.  Hidden somewhere in the bottom of a box of unorganized photographs is a favorite picture of my father wearing a beat up grey fedora, standing in George's cabin cruiser.

The brim bent low in the front, its silk hem worn and frayed, grey as the late afternoon sky in October.  Its surface was pock-marked, having been gnawed on by a moth or two, and the black band around the crown was stained by the salty sweat of a hard working man.

My father was a frugal sort of man when it came to his possessions, yet generous when it came to what he could lavish upon others, usually in the form of love and kindness.  A pair of new dress shoes would serve him professionally, and when finally unpolishable, would become his casual shoes when he mowed the grass, worked around the house, or went to bat on the church softball field.

Dad was no Imelda Marcos.

I'm sure he bought the hat new before I was born.  Like me, Dad was bald, and a hat would have been a necessity more than a fashion statement.  With Dad, there was never a fashion statement other than 'let modesty prevail'.

I am thinking of these things because this morning I got out my sewing kit and mended a favorite shirt.

It's a denim cowboy shirt I bought in England in 1996.  I was there with my friend John Hartley, playing music as always.  Somewhere near Nottingham, I happened to walk into a shop where I found a classic western shirt by Wrangler, slightly different than what was available in the States.   I liked the oyster colored snaps, milk white circles disturbed by India ink.   Indigo is a color I find hard to resist, and cotton is pretty much all I wear, and unlike my father, I guess I might have a fashion statement to make, low-brow as it might be.

So I bought it.

One morning, 16 years after buying the western shirt, I looked at the holes in the elbows and decided it needed another patch job.  I've taken a needle and thread to it before, and it was time for another repair.  The iron-on patches I bought at Walgreen's were applied from the inside of each sleeve, covering the holes my elbows had created.  The ironing was the easy part.

The sewing was the enjoyable part.

Call me a seamster.

My mother taught me to sew so long ago that I can't remember when it was, just that she sat patiently with me and explained how to thread a needle and how to stitch a nice, neat seam.  She also taught me to iron, rightfully thinking that every young man ought to be able to take care of his own laundry.

I had patched up the pockets and flaps on this favorite of shirts once before, and the time had come for reinforcement.  I threaded the needle, knotted it as Mom had shown me so long ago, and repaired the damage that my enjoyment of the shirt had caused.

About 10 minutes later, I put the shirt on and went out for coffee.

This shirt has been all around the world with me.  I guess I can say the same thing about a few other shirts, and even my socks and boxers, but there is something about this shirt that makes it worth fixing, and worth writing about.

I like fixing things.

My maternal grandfather Beckman was a clever working-class Swede who was constantly inventing, repairing, and tinkering.  I think some of his handiness was passed down to me, as my father's people, while industrious, were not notedly handy.

Morfar, which means "mother's father" in Swedish, was brilliant when it came to putting things together.  While I never met the man, whenever I swing a hammer, sew up a hole on a screen door, or fix an old piece of furniture for my Southern Born Woman, I am reflecting his image.  I like employing my imagination until it yields a plan of repair, invention, or discovery.  I guess it's not much different than writing a song.

I don't know when Dad parted with his old chapeau; I know my mother wasn't overly fond of the hat as it gave him the appearance of "a bum", so perhaps she sweetly convinced him to let it go.  These days, a hat like his would wind up in a vintage clothing shop, but I'm sure it was relegated to the waste can that was submerged on the far side of the garage.

Whatever he felt about that hat, perhaps I feel about this shirt, and I'll wear it as long as I can repair it.  When it’s beyond repair, my daughter Kate will no doubt find it useful as a canvas to embroider on.

I wonder about the word "disposable".  How old is the word?  It seems like a modern concept, thus a new word.  "Disposable" can apply from razor blades to relationships.  We are a society that doesn't have time to make do with what we have, or to repair things that are retrievable.  That sad fact makes me appreciate Peabody’s Shoe Repair on 21st Avenue in Nashville, where I’ve brought my old Dingo suede cowboy boots for new soles at least 4 times in the last 25 years.   They are shot to hell, but I can’t give up on them.

Or the shirt.

And I'm even less willing to give up on my relationships~ my woman, my children, and good friends.

And myself.

In deference to those most essential relationships, the sewing kit needs to be within reach most of the time.

I'm full of holes that need to be acknowledged and measured, closed up and stitched shut.   And then there are the holes behind my back and under the collar that I don't know about unless someone tells me.  Hopefully, someone loves me enough to let me know.

Thread bare and worn down, I'm still here, and hopefully useful.

Redemption is just a stitch away.