Editor's Note: For the first time in the history of the San Mateo County Fair, a 300-page anthology has been published that includes more than 100 stories, poems and essays from writers who submitted award-winning work for the fair's literary contest. The idea was the brainchild of Bardi Rosman Koodrin, a San Bruno resident who runs the fair's literary contest, and the anthology, titled "Carry the Light," features work from many Peninsula writers.
This story won first place for the short story category at the San Mateo County Fair literary contest.
From p. 67, "Life of an Antique Sewing Basket"
“Be careful with that! It’s an antique!” the mother said with an emphatic staccato tone to her voice.
The teenage boy said, “This old thing? Whatever.” With that, he laid the basket inside the box after wrapping it in several layers of newspaper. The mother ran over, pulled the basket out again and gingerly rolled it inside bubble wrap. She laid it inside one box, and then another, to ensure it would not get damaged.
Surrounded by the gentle stroking of the pillows of air, Charles settled down. The boy’s words had bothered him. Old thing? he questioned. He sure felt like he had many more years left in his wood. The boy thought of him as an old sewing basket but he knew he had been much more. Charles let his mind drift off to long ago when he was made.
The thin bands of maple were cut to exact widths and gently sanded by hand to match one another. The edges were cut at one end into a pattern of “fingers” or “lappers”. The pieces were then steamed and wrapped around an oval mold with the “fingers” overlapping. As they were glued and fastened down by copper rivets, Charles began to notice the gentle hands treating him as if he were special. A disc of pine was fitted into the bottom to create a basket. He could sense the patience, precision and reverence in the slow methodical way his maker moved over the wood. A cover was made with interconnecting pieces of wood and a hinge was added to allow the inside of Charles to be easily accessed by his owner. A smooth handle was added to make him easier to carry. The final step was the addition of three spindled legs to allow him to sit next to his owner. They were low and slightly tapered with rod-shaped turnings of the legs without a foot. A clear varnish was brushed evenly on him, to make sure Charles retained his beauty in the years to come.
Charles felt fairly plain compared to the other baskets with elaborate turnings, vase-like pedestals and other ornamentation usual for women in Sanford, Maine in 1900. He had listened carefully as the Shakers that had made him described him as “simple, yet beautiful.” He remembered the careful and graceful workmanship that went into his construction and he felt special. Charles had been selected to be sold to the larger community. They called him “fancy work” and that made his wood swell with pride.
Once purchased, Charles was loaded onto the horse-drawn buggy and the next thing he knew he was taking a very long journey down to North Carolina. He was unloaded into a large farmhouse set at the end of acres of land.
For several years Charles sat loyally next to his owner, Martha, as she sewed the clothes for her new family which had expanded by two children. He dutifully handled the pin pricking and overstuffing as he knew Martha valued his service. The man of the house was rarely around as he came in from the fields when the sun had long gone down over the hillside.
When the Great Depression hit North Carolina in the 1930’s and World War II erupted in the 1940’s, the farm experienced a shortage of workers, food and clothing rationing, and a sendoff of Martha’s oldest son to the army. Martha used Charles as she helped darn socks and developed calluses on her hands as she repaired work clothes day and night. She had to spend more time helping in the fields so Charles put sewing away for a while and began to hold the letters from Martha’s son, after she had read them a dozen times. When lonely, Martha would reach inside the sewing box and pull out an old letter, reading it anew.
When Martha’s oldest son was killed in the war, Charles held that telegram inside his basket for many, many years. Occasionally Martha would reach in and read it again, tears streaming down her face while she rocked back and forth. Those times happened less and less as her daughter, now with a family of her own, brought by Martha’s grandchild to visit more often. Charles now held candy or some small toy that Martha could secretly pull out and give to the little girl whenever she came over. It made Charles feel like a treasure chest and that made him happy.
The years passed and the little granddaughter grew up to be a beautiful grown woman. Martha was happy to sit in her rocker, knitting something or creating an embroidered pillow for a neighbor. When Martha’s granddaughter, Susan, graduated from college, Charles was given to her as a special gift. Susan built a family of her own right across town from Martha. He looked forward to the weekly visits with Martha when Susan would pick her up to spend hours talking and sewing. Charles would sit by her side as she sewed costumes for the school plays, placed patches on her son’s scout uniform, or let down the hem in her boy’s pants. Martha and Susan treasured those moments and sat close together to share the latest stories of their lives.
This was Charles’ third move since that long ago one on the horse and buggy in Maine. Sitting in the bubble wrap now, Charles reflected on all his memories. The years had been very good to him. His swallowtail ends had prevented him from warping and he was just as strong as that first day he had been set on the mercantile store floor. He knew he wasn’t old, just antique. Susan had used that term in a loving way and he would still have many good years left. Hopefully she would let her son know of the love stored in his wood. Maybe someday he would realize that although he was simple, he was still very special.
Excerpted from "Carry the Light" with the permission of Sand Hill Review Press, the publisher. The book is available for purchase for $12 on Amazon.com.
Martha Traynor is a mother of two who writes in her spare time. She has a master's degree in finance and marketing, but she likes writing as much as numbers. She also enjoys volunteering and being with her family.