The Magic House
March 26, 2016
Every time my husband and I visit our daughter and her family, we walk to the shopping area which is less than a mile away. On the way, we pass three attached houses that have a street running on both sides. The houses on both ends are in beautiful shape; fresh paint jobs, solid roofs, manicured yards and inviting entrances. The house in the middle is an entirely different story.
This visit, I stop and give it a really good look. The grey shingled roof is in surprisingly good shape as is the red brick exterior. However the windows, garage door and front door are encased in a solid wall of dirty grey concrete. Much of the house is shrouded by overgrown trees, shrubs and vines that trail over brick surfaces. Weeds are winning the fight for dominance and the brick steps that lead to street level and the area beneath them are covered with trash. Several large stones are barely visible on the overgrown lawn and once prominent plants peek through, looking in vain for a space to grow as warm weather approaches.
My granddaughter, S, stops with me. “Look at that house,” I say to her. “Every time we visit, I wonder what happened to the owners and why all the windows, the garage door and the front door are cemented shut.”
Her eyes grow large and I realize she is seeing the house for the first time even though she walks past it frequently. “Let’s take a look at the front door,” I say. I start up the front steps, watching for loose bricks. S follows me, an expression of both fear and anticipation on her eight year old face. I am having a great time, engaging her imagination.
We walk to the front door and look around, my husband shouting warnings to be careful behind us. S takes my hand and we examine the front door: definitely no way in. The cement is solid. So we turn and make our way down the steps, my husband offering a hand because there is no railing.
“Maybe the people had to leave in a hurry,” S says. “Maybe someone was sick or they didn’t have any money.” She is hopping from one foot to the other, animated and engaged in this game we are playing. All the way to the shopping area, we talk about the house and wonder why the people left. Maybe they had to leave in a hurry and couldn’t come back or there was a fire in the house. Or maybe they are still in there and have a secret opening to get food and water.
On the way back, I open the mailbox and take out the one piece of mail, a card covered with dirt and cobwebs. It has been here for a while. S and I look at it: it is dated October 2015 and it is a notice to appear in court for creating a nuisance. Of course! What else could it be.
That evening, we go to S’s other grandma’s home for dinner. At the end of the evening, the subject of “the house” comes up for discussion. S tells the story, her voice raised and her face animated. I love watching her.
We all wonder if we could find any information on the house. One guest suggest that we look at the public records. She thinks it would be hard to sell because whoever bought the property would have to pay off the creditors. Also, there might be lots of liens against the property. Someone else explains that the foreclosure process is initiated by creditors and a foreclosure sale would pay off any liens and not encumber the property for new owners. But we are all curious to find out what happened to the house and the owners. Our circle of detectives has broadened.
We talk about what might be inside. Someone suggests there could be rats floating in a flooded house; the floor boards might be giving way so the door had to be cemented for safety reasons; it most probably had been abandoned and become a pot house. Everything seems plausible.
The next day we take another walk to the shopping area. This time S takes her camera (a Hanukah present) and I take my iPhone. At the house, S and I begin snapping away, even taking photos of the mailbox. When we are home, we send our photos to each other. Then S motions to me to follow her to her room.
We sit on the bed and get comfortable.
“I know what’s in the house,” she confides.
“What?” I ask.
“It’s a magic house.”
“Magic?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says. “You have to know the magic word to get in the house and only the special people know it. And when you are in, you can float in the air and order food and eat it while you are floating.” She giggles “Then you might get nauseous!”
We both laugh. “I think you are absolutely right,” I say. “The house is magic.”
# # #
Sewing Through The Years
March 5, 2016
I started the day with a sewing project.
For me, this is not done lightly. My expertise with the needle leaves much to be desired so I usually bring clothes that need repairs to a professional seamstress. But this was an emergency. Tonight we are going to an event that requires dressier clothes, the kind I only wear once or twice a year.
My project is a black sleeveless top that I had bought on sale a year ago. But when I tried it on at home, I realized it was about a size too big on me. I couldn’t return it so it had hung in my closet all this time, waiting for me to decide whether to donate it to Goodwill or bring it to a seamstress for repair (which would cost more than the top had cost). So I decided to give it my “quick” treatment.
I still remember my first sewing project. I was in my first year of high school and all the girls had to take cooking for half the school year and sewing for the second half. The boys took wood working which I would have preferred; however, this was 1955 and the women’s liberation movement was still 15 years away. I breezed through cooking; something I had done a lot of at home but the sewing class literally tied me up in knots!
The first project for the class was an apron. We chose our material, then learned how to cut out a pattern, thread a needle and make small, neat strokes through the fabric as we sewed it together. I struggled with each step, watching as my classmates completed their aprons and moved on to a skirt. I can’t remember if I ever finished the apron but I did learn to hate sewing and promised myself that I would avoid it at all costs.
However, I was enticed back when I inherited my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine. We didn’t have Barbie dolls in those days and I wanted to dress a favorite doll in grown-up clothes. I searched for bits of material around the house and designed some kind of outfit for the doll. After some experimenting, I learned to use the old machine. I loved the feel of the treadle, peddling it back and forth with my feet while my hands maneuvered cloth through the needle. The clothes I made had a short life span but I learned that sewing could be fun if I could chose the project.
My mother had taken sewing lessons at one point but the table sewing machine she had bought was soon put in its case and tucked away in the back of the closet. The sewing projects stopped with the class and my mother was reticent to get rid of such an expensive purchase. When I got married, she saw the perfect home for the sewing machine and sent it to me. I ignored it until early in my first pregnancy when I decided I could save money by making a few maternity clothes
I bought a pattern, material and thread and went to work. My project was a two piece outfit; a skirt and long top. I tried to follow the pattern, cutting a hole in the front of skirt to accommodate the baby’s growth. I think I wore it once or twice but by the time I was five or six months pregnant, I discovered that the hole in the skirt came down too far and the jacket was too short, exposing my pregnant belly. Those were the last clothes I ever made.
But I did get into other projects. Years later, with three growing children, I felt the need for an art project. I decided to make quilts for my daughters’ beds. Out came the same old sewing machine, still in pristine condition after years of abandonment. I bought four colorful sheets, cut them in squares and sewed the squares together; then backed them with a soft, fuzzy material and filled the interior with stuffing. Then I repeated the process for our second daughter. For a month, our dining room table was covered with fabric, thread, and stuffing – all presided over by the table sewing machine. Because the kids took so much time during the day, I stayed up late into the night, obsessively working on the projects. When both quilts were done and spread out on the girls’ beds, the sewing machine went back in its case and retired to its home in the storage closet.
Since that time, I have sewed hems and pant cuffs (simple ones that only have to be turned over), a few buttons, the occasional ripped shirt or pants, and immediate projects like the one today. I hadn’t done much sewing for some time until my granddaughter asked me to teach her how to sew. When we visited a few months ago, I brought a book on learning to sew for children and a small sewing basket filled with all the necessities. She and I spent most of one day working on a small stuffed dog (or cat or bear; I was never certain). She tackled the project with determination and did most of the work herself. However, she had energy to burn when we finished and I was exhausted, ready to go to bed! But it was great fun and exactly what I always thought being a grandma was all about.
The sleeveless top I worked on today was too long, both in the shoulders and in the length. So I pulled up the shoulders, folding the fabric over until the neckline hit me where it was supposed to. Then I pinned it and did the same on the length, folding the hem up until it hit my hips. A search through my sewing kit proved that I had every possible color of thread except black. I called a neighbor and an hour later, I had a spool of black thread! The finished project was very imperfect – lumpy shoulders and bulky hem – but it won’t be obvious when it’s hidden under a jacket. Another sewing project, another day!