Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Pin Cushion

Father Luke was the monastery tailor here for a long, long time.  It is more than “as far back as I can remember.”  He may well have been at it before I was born.  He has a fantastic memory.  I will ask him.  I do know that up until recently, he made every piece of monastic clothing here.  If it was white and black and had a belt and moved, Luke made it.
He has settled into a different routine these days.  He is still active, moving about the monastery, going to the offices, interested in everyone and everything.  But he has eased out of the tailor shop.  Brother Roger has picked up the reins, or, as the case may be, the threads.
I was in the tailor shop not too long ago and on one of the large tables there lay an assortment of outfitting necessities.  There was a scissors, several bolts of material, strips of cloth, a measuring tape, and what looked like a tomato.  But it really wasn’t a tomato.  It was a pin cushion.  A bright red pin cushion with little felt green leaves, and light green stripes down the side, and a lot of pins sticking out of it.
My mom had one just like it.  I stared at it for a while.  I did not pick it up, for as I looked at it, just the looking was enough for it to work its magic.
It brought me back.  Brought me back many years.  Mom used to keep it in her sewing box, along with a lot of other sewing stuff.  Spools of colored thread, scissors, hundreds of buttons, strips of ribbon – some which had the names of us seven kids on it.  She used to sew the names on the inside of our shirt colors.  It was by no means a fancy box.  In fact it was a shoebox, which was of just the right size.  Everything fit, and it was always easy enough to find.  When she wasn’t darning a sock or sewing on a label, I remember that the box was kept up in mom and dad’s bedroom, on her dresser top.  Sometimes she would ask me to go upstairs and get it, and I can to this day remember what else she had on her dresser, surrounding the box with the little red tomato cushion.  There was a porcelain ballerina whose delicate dress was broken, and mom’s silver handled brush and mirror, and a picture of dad, and her jewelry box.  As I looked at the red tomato pin cushion in our tailor shop here, these things from way back gradually took shape in my mind. 
I do not know whatever happened to mom’s pin cushion.  So many things have a fitting role to play in life, and then as we move on, they vanish, or get lost or discarded.  They don’t seem to find a neat fit into a changed world, and we leave them behind.  I guess that is inevitable.  But it is something how the sight of something so simple as a pin cushion can evoke in my heart days and memories that were, and somehow still are, a living part of me.
My sister Mary has a lot of mom’s stuff at her house.  I do not know – maybe she even has the pin cushion.  But I know it best to let it be.  If it is there, fine.  If not, well, that is okay too.  Everything has a life, for a while.  And then they and we all move on.
Yet I know that all those things at Mary’s were vehicles of love, real tender, human love.  The sewing box held simple but necessary things – things that kept us together, looking fit, patched, named, darned.  The work of God through a mom’s hands, eyes, and the careful threading of just the right colored thread through an eye of a needle.
Luke seems to have let go real well.  He did his thing for years, and is now about other things, other tasks.  I wear his love, as I once wore my mom’s. 
Pin cushions seem to hold more than pins, don’t they?  Memories have a point, too, and they stick just as well and stay for a long, long time, in the soft red cotton or the human heart.

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