The thought that whole days could be given over to mending seems remarkable now, as quaintly anachronistic as ragbags, or the inclination of entire neighborhoods of women to schedule their household chores as a group - laundry on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, weekend baking on Thursday. The predictable routines of my mother and her friends provided a certain degree of comfort during my childhood, but still there were projects – canning, window-washing, leaf-raking, planting – that were less predictable and hence more exciting.
In our household, mending fell into the category of an “occasional” chore, work occasioned not by the calendar but by the shape and seasons of our lives. Active and impulsive, occasionally inattentive, constrained by the demands and necessities of life, we were, as my mother liked to say, “hard on our clothes”.
Indeed we were. My father, who walked miles every day in the course of his work, tended to wear through the heels of his socks. Weekend encounters with barbed wire meant three-cornered tears in his work pants, or ripped jacket pockets. I produced missing buttons, worn-through knees and pulled-out hems, while my mother specialized in snagged sweaters and the various wounds inflicted on active-duty aprons.
Apart from the need for incidental emergency repairs, most worn or damaged items ended up in the mending basket, a sturdy but slightly splintery one-handled reject from apple-gathering that had been judged unsafe for use as a laundry basket. Torn or worn items were tossed into the basket until it began to overflow. Then, sighing, my mother would ask, “Are you ready to do some mending?”
Always, my answer was, “Yes!” Mending time meant bringing out the tools I considered treasures – the Mason jar brimming with buttons, a cracker tin crammed full of zippers, bias tape, straight pins and snaps. There was a yellow plastic thread case filled with a rainbow of spools and a pretty, rose-covered box dedicated to snippets of lace and tangles of embroidery floss.
While we shared the same tools, I functioned as a craftsman, limited to sewing on buttons or replacing hems. Beneath my mother’s hand, mending became high art. Slipped over the darning eggs, socks were made whole. Three-cornered tears became nearly invisible, and with the flash of a crochet hook, sweater snags disappeared.
Best of all were the days when she’d patch a pair of my shorts or jeans, finishing with a bit of embroidery. Lightly tracing out the petals and stem of a sunflower or the sun itself rising behind a hill, she unraveled the strands of floss, separating the colors before stitching and weaving fabulous designs onto the cloth.
Entranced, I watched her add an unnecessary extra blossom, just to see me smile. Then, tautening the threads, she secured the stitches with a knot and her own smile, saying, “There. That ought to hold you.”
So much has changed. The jeans with the flowers on the knee are gone, as is my mother, her friends and the routines of a neighborhood. After years of shedding handles and slats, the mending basket has disappeared, along with the darning egg and the bits of lace. A child of the modern age, I buy new socks when I need them and iron patches onto my jeans. No buttons need replacing on my tee shirts, and now no flowers bloom along my three cornered tears.
Still, I find there is mending to be done. Sharp retorts tear at a heart as easily as wire fences ripped my jeans. Abrasive arguments can wear through even the sturdiest patience, and tugging on loose threads of anger or resentment can unravel a life.
When life’s basket overflows and a day for mending is in order, Pattiann Rogers brings her own high art to the task. Reminding me of the world’s power to heal, and of the care which life itself takes with its torn and battered creatures, she separates her strands of words, then stitches and weaves her fabulous, improbable images.
Watching as she pulls the thread of her words tight, securing them on the page with a perfectly placed title, I find myself smiling and thinking, “Yes. Yes, this will hold me for now.”
Watching the close shoreline this afternoon
and the riverland beyond, I delineate
quail down from the dandelion’s shiver
from the blowzy silver of the cobweb
in which both are tangled.
I am skilled at tracing the white egret within the white
branches of the dead willow where it roosts
and at separating the heron’s graceful neck
from the leaning stems of the blue-green
I know how to unravel
sawgrasses knited to iris leaves knitted
to sweet vernals. I can unwind sunlight
from the switches of the water in the slough
and divide the grey sumac’s hazy hedge
from the hazy grey of the sky, the red vein
of the hibiscus from its red blossom.
All afternoon I part, I isolate, I untie,
I undo, while all the while the oak
shadows, easing forward, slowly ensnare me,
and the calls of the wood ducks catch
and latch in my gestures, and the spicebush
swallowtails weave their attachments
into my attitudes, and the damp sedge
fragrances hook and secure, and the swaying
Spanish mosses loop my coming sleep,
and I am marsh-shackled, forest twined,
even as the new stars,
showing now through the night-spaces,
squeeze into the dark
bone of my breast, take their perfectly
secured stitches up and down, pull
all of their thousand threads tight
and fasten, fasten.