sewing

Excerpt from Chapter 3 – Dealing with her Past

I would like to introduce you to Letters from the Box in the Attic, a Story of Survival, Courage and Love, my labor of love. This book chronicles my mom’s war experiences as a young adult and how it changed her life. My first book is to be published next month and here is an excerpt from Chapter 3.

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While mom was alive and living in a nursing home in Illinois, my brother Andy and I decided it was time to sell mom’s house in Pennsylvania and deal with her possessions. There was a life time of stuff which she accumulated.  So much of what was in her house proved to be either in disrepair, or have no real value to worry about. Andy insisted that he did not want anything out of the house. Mom was proud of Andy’s art work which dotted her walls. They represented much of his portfolio from his college days at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He did not want any of it back. So knowing this, my daughter Stephanie and I drove to Sewickley, Pennsylvania, mom’s picturesque town along the Ohio River where I grew up. We pulled a small trailer, ready to deal with and take away what we needed to keep from the house.

Mom was a saver; not to be confused with a hoarder however. If there was the possibility that something could be reused, she kept it. If there was anything sentimental, she kept it. There was stuff everywhere! Mom’s living room was full of newspaper clippings, books and magazines, pretty much as she had left it the year before. She saved all things that represented family or a connection to her past.

My daughter and I found ourselves looking through everything, piece by piece, and found many old bound calendars and day timers filled with mom’s journaling; her written commentary about her life and life in general, covering every page. She never wasted any piece of paper while writing about this or that. Stephanie and I each spent hours pouring over stacks of materials, laughing and crying over what Grandma had saved and written.

Stephanie and I continued to look through the photos both loose and in albums, books and other recently saved memorabilia – deciding what we wanted to bring back with us. We then tackled the kitchen, dining room and her personal bedroom items and clothes. The kitchen, as small as it was, contained scads of paraphernalia as well, including small appliances, pots and pans that she had not used in years. Mom had no longer used the old Amana gas oven range, which was original with the house in 1963 the year my parents bought it. She used only one burner and never used the oven for fear of blowing up the house. The rest of her cooking was done in the little microwave or toaster oven, which Andy bought her years prior.

Stephanie laid claim to all of Uncle Andy’s art work, while I decided to keep some of her china pieces and a particular curio cabinet, as well as her old treadle Singer sewing machine. That sewing machine was the life blood of mom’s sewing business and it gave her many years of use, even after she was given a brand new machine one year for Christmas. The new machine would break down periodically, but her mending and sewing for others needed to continue forcing her to use the old reliable one.

Before Stephanie and I left that weekend, I went up to the attic which had been neatly organized over the years. I was drawn up there, somewhat as an afterthought, because Stephanie and I really needed to get on the road to drive home. Once up there I knew there was something I needed to find. We stumbled on additional clothes which we added to all the bags ready to give away. I began to open some of the cardboard storage boxes and there they were, the two boxes of precious memorabilia that mom kept. I knew she kept letters and documents from the war because she would often refer to some of the keepsakes, handwritten letters, documents, medals, photographs and books.

Those two boxes were full of precious items that needed to be in my custody, since I could not possibly abandon or discard them. To this day I can’t fathom how I almost left without mom’s treasures. They represented who she was. Had I abandoned the boxes, it would have been like throwing away pieces of her life, her youth, her heart and soul — saved for more than 70 years. In good time I would explore the contents.

The Blazer Lady, Memories of Mom

Shopping in suburban Chicago can be quite an adventure when you are from a small town in Western Pennsylvania. In fact I had made all my own clothes for years and even taught my best friend how to tailor a blazer. When my husband Alan and I were first married, and moved around for a while, we settled in Sewickley, outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, my home town. We were financially destitute so I made him a wool suite one Christmas and then a leisure suite, which were popular back then. I am dating myself with the leisure suite comment. The clothes I sewed for myself were for work, even maternity clothes when needed. My mom had taught me how to sew when I was in junior high, and after graduating high school, before going off to college, I made some dresses for a friend of mine. Growing up my mom sewed just about all my clothes.

After Alan and I moved away from Pittsburgh and entered the sizable Chicago shopping market, I discovered Marshalls, the off price store. It became clear that I no longer needed to sew my own clothes. The selection and the discounted prices were phenomenal. It would be more expensive to sew than to buy. And the time savings! That was added value. In the middle 1980’s, the town where we settled, Arlington Heights, got a Lord and Taylor Sales Store, which was a shopping extravaganza.  Periodically they had fabulous sales on top of their already discounted prices. Suburban Chicago became a shopping mecca for me.

When my mom would come to visit in the 1980’s, we of course would go shopping. Mom was a widow and very frugal, so every penny was important to her. She enjoyed and took pride in being a smart dresser. We would go into a Marshalls and she was amazed at the inventory and the prices. There were no such stores in and around Sewickley or even Pittsburgh at the time. She would repeat each time she entered a Marshalls, that she was like a homing pigeon. She would gravitate to the blazer and jacket section immediately. She loved her tailored clothes. At home she would do the same, but the only stores she could afford where she lived were resale shops.

So when shopping with me she would do a lot of looking and enjoyed the experience but rarely bought a blazer. The looking was half the fun. The other half was to buy some other small item and to enjoy the time. To this day, when I need my fix, even if I need absolutely nothing, I go shopping. The fun is in the hunt for whatever is on sale and while browsing you buy something to complete the adventure.

After mom had her stroke, while she was living in a nursing home in Arlington Heights, my brother Andrew and I decided it was time to sell her house in Sewickley. My daughter Stephanie and I drove to my home town on the Ohio River to see what we should keep and what to give away. For someone who was frugal, and who told me that she periodically gave bags and bags of clothes away to the charity clothing box at church, mom still had a lot of clothes for us to dispose. We also gave away bags upon bags to the clothing collection box at her church.

Stephanie and I put together one outfit which of course included a blazer with broach, accompanied by a stylish blouse and pants, as her funeral outfit, even though there was a chance she could be cremated. When she died over a year later, she was cremated, so there was no need for burial clothes. But I still have the outfit as a memory of mom and her blazers.blazer