Suzanne paused to sip her Starbucks mocha frappacino to stare out the store window. She seemingly gazed past the Akilah and the Bee promotion plastered on the glass, past the pansies dancing in the flowerbox next to the parking meter.
“My mom has slept with pattern instructions in her hands for as long as I can remember,” she said after a moment. “ I can even recall going into her bedroom at age 5 and asking for a glass of water late at night. There she’d be, her eyes closed and directions tucked into between her fingers, a half-smile on her face.
“Later on in high school, I had to come and buss her after parties and dances. That way she’d know I was home. One night I came home a little tipsy. I debated whether or not I should give her the usual peck on the cheek. I decided to do a quick, closed mouth kiss so she couldn’t smell my breath and dash out of the bedroom, so she wouldn’t come looking for me in the wee hours of the morning.
“Well, as usual, mom had pattern unfolded on top of her blanket. When I kissed her, she awoke, startled. ‘Oh, no, Suzanne. You weren’t supposed to see this!’ I jumped back, not expecting her to awake. I thought for certain my mother could smell the Budweisers I had been drinking. She’d ground me for a week! I wouldn’t be able to go on my high school graduation trip! I wouldn’t be able to drive! I felt weak in the knees.
Instead of fully awaking, my mother simply stirred, grinned, looked at me and impishly tucked the pattern under her blanket. Wonder of wonders, she felt asleep again.
Boy, was I relieved! Off the hook, I looked at the pattern instructions again, I couldn’t tell what she was making for me. Then I saw the pattern envelope on the carpeting - it was a Butterick Wrap and Go skirt as worn by my favorite model Jayne Modean.
My mother did end up making the skirt in a gingham print from Calico Corners for my birthday. I pretended to be completely surprised. She told me she had the oddest dream while making it. She dreamed that I read her the directions in German (her parents’ native tongue) while she was cutting out the pattern. I just laughed nervously. I actually ended up wearing that skirt quite a bit. It was a great cover-up over my bathing suit when I worked as a lifeguard at Flick Park pool.
I still had to kiss her goodnight when I came home from college. After I got my first full-time job I moved out of the house. I’d teased my mom about her night-time ritual. ‘So, mom, got any good patterns on the nightstand?” She laughed, and rattle off all the projects she was working on - a robe for my dad, half-slips for herself, and curtains for the bathroom.
I never got into sewing the way she did when I got married. I liked to read paperback novels from the library instead. But I often thought of my mother as I nodded off.
Mom continued to sew even after dad died when he was 61. It was carthatic for her She’d stitch up shorts and tops for my children, costumes for the local theater programs. I remember she took quite a lot of pride in a 1920s flapper dress she made for an Agatha Christie production.
When she started showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, my brother Billy and I decided to put her in an assisted living facility. She insisted on bringing her patterns, although she had stopped sewing. So I boxed up her patterns - Vogue Special Design, Kwik-Sew, Stretch N’Sew - all dating back as far as the 1960s. Off to Greenside Apartments, her new home, they went. While she didn’t use her Singer anymore, she still liked to talk about sewing with her new friends. And she still liked to sleep with a pattern. But housekeeping would often find them torn to bits on the floor the next day. That distressed me. I hope she wasn’t having bad dreams!
When she had a stroke a few years later, my brother and I disagreed about what to put in her casket. I wanted to put a pattern in her hands, so it would look like she was sleeping as I remembered her. But Billy thought that was disrespectful. He thought she should only have the traditional rosary. Besides, he was embarrassed. He was afraid of what his friends would think. I told him plenty of people get buried with their favorite objects - golf clubs, knitting needles, even baseball mitts. How different would a pattern be?
In the end, my mother was buried with a rosary laced around her fingers, her hands folded over a favorite pattern of mine (Simplicity 9973). Contrary to what Billy thought, so many people who attended the wake thought the pattern was a cool gesture. It was the talk of the wake.