Sunday, April 10, 2005

My Sewing Box

My sewing box is perhaps fifteen inches wide, eight deep and eight high, covered in quilted beige fabric with a kind of Amish flower-work design on it. It's large enough to hold everything I need, including the arcane stuff like my grommet setter and the various mutant needles for the sewing machine, six or seven tape measures (because I keep losing them, then finding them again), interfacing, seam tape, velcro in various sizes, and a rainbow of thread. Aside from its undoubted utility, I love my sewing box because it belonged to my Aunt Eva, and every time I use it I think of her.

My father was one of eight children. My aunt Linda was the youngest--until I was in my teens I didn't realize that her name was not "Baby," which is what her siblings called her. Aunt Eva was one of the middle kids, but she and my father, and she and my aunt Linda, were particularly close. Now: my grandparents came over from Russia in the last decade of the nineteenth century--one of those great American stories that could be anyone's. My grannie Annie came as a teenager, learned to speak English as she worked, met my grandfather Abraham and with him raised this huge family of hardworking, highly successful people--girls as well as boys, at a time when girls weren't expected to be successful outside the house. My grandfather was, I gather, a kind of Traditional Head of Family sort, but my grandmother was cuddly, approachable, and knew how to manage things in the family. So, according to legend, when Eva was finishing high school and said to her parents, "I want to go to college," my grandfather said something along the lines of "Girls don't go to college. Girls get married." My Grannie Annie took Eva aside and said, "We'll work something out," and lo and behold, my aunt went to college. Then, when the end of college loomed, Eva said, "I want to go to law school." My grandfather said, "Girls don't go to law school, they get married." Or something to that effect. And once again something was worked out.

Eva went to law school, and became a successful lawyer, and an arbitrator and mediator. She was assistant director of labor relations for the Borden Co. and deputy chairman of the New York City Office of Collective Bargaining. She was the President of the American Arbitration Association, and the arbitrator of choice for many firms and organizations, including, for many years, the NFL: she had annual seats for the Superbowl, and went, too. She was an indefatigable traveler and had a huge network of friends and colleagues, an extended family in addition to her own substantial one. She never married, but she was loved and admired by a host of people from all walks of life. She loved Wedgewood china and had a huge crystal owl in her living room--Baccarat or Svarovski or something like that--which I always thought was sort of her personal totem. She was wise, and funny, loved a good joke, and could be fierce--she didn't suffer, or forgive, fools easily, but she was deeply generous. She loved to shop and had wonderful clothes--I wound up with a couple of pieces, including her Blackglamma mink!--and knit beautifully.

And on occasion, she sewed.

When she died, my aunt Linda urged me to take something from her apartment as we were cleaning it out. Thus the mink, and a useful kitchen step stool, and a Wedgewood bowl currently holding several apples and a banana, and all her unused wool, and the sewing box. And every time one of the girls rips a seam or needs name tags on her camp clothes, I get to think of my Aunt Eva.


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