Tuesday, April 19, 2011


When I was 14 years old we moved from the old English Tutor house on Old Clairton Road to the high rise apartments down on East Bruceton. We had lived in that house from 2nd to 8th grade. That’s my perspective. George would see it that we lived there from Jr High through Graduation. Mom might see it as the time between hopeful denial and stark reality. We who lived there knew it as the charming but tumultuous era when Dad was there and not there; when you never knew if he’d come home happy or come home drunk or come home at all.

The walls of that old tutor can tell stories. They hint of Iron City beer and cigarette smoke in the basement going fist to cuffs with the April freshness of laundry soap. Dad sat in the chair in one room watching the Pirates in their hey day while Mom worked in the laundry room right next to it, forcing the cloth of our lives through the repentance process of baptism by water and fire, pulling pieces one by one from the dryer, warm and clean and innocent.

I don’t rightly know why we moved. I think maybe the landlord decided to sell the house we had rented all those years. Ann Marie and Libby would know this. I lived in my own little world. Still do, I guess.

I have a vivid memory of seeing my father for the last time in the parking lot of that apartment building. It followed a hefty argument on our way home from Idaho. He never spent one night with us in that place, just drove away in a cab without ever walking in. But that’s another story.

We four girls; Mom, Ann Marie, Libby and I, did the best we could to pretend nothing had happened. There was plenty of work to do, and school was just starting, so it was natural enough to push the piercing knife of rejection over to the side of my brain and just …just…exist, I guess. We had lots of stuff to deal with, shifting from a large home to a three bedroom apartment. In the week before we left for the west we made the trip from the house up and down the steep hill to the apartments countless times. It reminded me of a bouncy red rubber ball attached to a rubber band, which was attached to a wooden paddle. We bounced back and forth, back and forth- the same distance, the same motion, repeated and repeated. It quickly became obvious things were not going to fit in our apartment and the single storage unit assigned to apartment 101. In the bustle of volunteer hands moving things for us, Mom suggested people just put the stuff no one knew what to do with in empty storage units on alternating floors of the building. The units had simple padlock hinges. The apartments were fairly new, and many were unoccupied, so Mom bought a series of locks for the apartment numbers she knew were not yet occupied and we sort of “borrowed” the units until we got back from Idaho and could figure out what to do.

After we returned from the dry arid summer air to Pittsburgh smog and humidity; after we had hung the curtains and discovered what wanted to be where in the apartment; after Ann Marie had painted her bedroom dresser yellow; Mom needed something that must have been stored in one of those units. In the long search through the various closets, tucked in sections on every other floor, we discovered someone had removed one of the locks and replaced it with a new one. Turns out our cubby full of treasures had gone to Good Will, since the manager did not know to whom they belonged and new tenants were in need of the space. After that Mom negotiated with the manager to use empty units until new tenants moved in. Thus began the occasional Saturday scurry of shifting things between storage units. We’d get word that a certain unit was leased and we had a very short time to empty the storage unit. So we sorted and consolidated, shuffled and discarded. This process repeated until just about everything had to be given away.

In the end what we stored in the one storage unit assigned to our apartment was a couple hundred pounds of hard red winter wheat, a symbol of faith more than anything. It was awfully painful for me to sort through those storage units, not so much because I was a restless teenager who did not want to be sifting through junk on her day off (though there was no doubt a hefty measure of the grumps), but because I found everything to be useful, and desirous, and it was awfully painful for me to agree that something needed to go. It wasn’t until years later and I was standing beside my mother in the garage of her condo here in Utah that I figured out the psychology of letting go. Dave had loaded the old red truck with the dregs of our garage sale; all the left over items; things nobody wanted, even for a measly nickel. He picked up Mom’s old Singer sewing machine, hefted it into the truck bed, and turned to Mom, asking if she was sure she wanted him to take it to DI. She nodded her head, without hesitation, and said:

“Yup, take it. Someone needs it more than I do now.”

And so the truck drove off, up Sweetwater Lane toward Deseret Industries, where I hope someone wonderful bought and cherishes that machine and is currently sewing away all sorts of soft fabric delights for their family.

When I get that old panic, rising up from inside, at the prospect of giving some treasure away, I try to repeat Mom’s words. Like a mantra:

Someone needs that more than I do now.

I know, Dave, you are wondering when I am going to start using that mantra in a meaningful purposeful way! Sorry, Love. :)


  1. Ah,the Old Singer Sewing Machine, hind sight is 20/20. What I wouldn't give to be sewing quilts on it. But then again, someone else needs it more than I do. I made my first napkin and apron ont that machine, not to mention the pleated skirt and matching top I made for my Home Ec class that I got a D on. Yep, somebody definitly needs it more than I do. If I recall the old "A Story to Tell" book was also in that storage unit along with the little yellow 45's. Oh well, someone needed them more than we did.

  2. Yeah - that's the only way I can give things away, too. My mom bought me one of those Singers at a garage sale when I started college. I loved it because I loved the one she'd had my whole growing up. But snobbery came along, with its seductive zig zag stitches and I gave back the gift, moving on to the big time. Now, those machines are like gold. Mom even just gave hers away. She didn't know what they'd be worth - and not just in dollars. That straight set needle could sew through leather without a hitch. New machines can't come close. But more important, I know the feel of that machine under my hand - the smooth black metal and the little yellow logo. I know how the feeddogs work and how it sounds. It was sewing to me like my Pfaff never will be. How many things I let go that way, thinking they were only old. The someone who got your mom's machine probably fell on it with wild glee. And now it's part of a new life. And I suppose that's good.

    But one more thing. You save. I save. But here's the deal - there's an awful lot you could have saved from those years that would have kept you from being the generous, open, love-saturated person you are now. So if giving away included all that pain, and sense of betrayal and fear you could have brought away with you = then hurrah for the house cleaning.