Things that make my heart Singer

Posted by on Jan 26, 2013 in Blog | 7 comments

Maria, the owner of this Singer sewing machine, was born in 1910.  When she was eleven years old she was hired as a nanny living away from home to make money to send to her family so her younger siblings could eat.  Things were starting to look up when she married a man who swept her off her feet only to have him die at the mercy of a plague that swept through the area a heartbreaking nine months after their wedding. 

Her second husband was a good man, she always said, who took a bold chance on a widowed woman in a village that had strict rules on life and love and everything in between.  Together they brought three children into the world before the war tore him away from her.  He was never heard of again and presumed to have died in the frigid work camps of Siberia. 

Of all the dark nights of her soul, none would ever match the day she had to leave her village in order to escape the terror of impending war.  She was reliant on kind relatives who were offering safe passage to a new country for herself and her three young children.  The night before they had to leave, her youngest child, her only daughter, was gravely ill.  Maria sat at her kitchen table and pleaded with her God to either take her daughter or make her well enough to travel.  The two year old died that night so they cut the legs off her crib by morning’s light, buried her in it and rushed away before the door of escape was slammed shut by the hate and fear that was marching in her direction.

Maria raised her two surviving children and lived a quiet life in Canada with a prosperous garden behind a small house which contained her Singer sewing machine.  She lived into her nineties.   

I sat at her bedside in her last days gently holding the paper-thin skin of her limp hand, listening to her shallow breath.  I remembered all of the most vivid stories that she told me over the years.  The way only a grandmother who never learned much English could communicate with a grandchild who never learned enough German.  But we managed to convey the most important pieces. 

I thought about the parts of her story that never changed, the ones that made her shake her head and look right into you with her moist eyes, mercifully at a loss for words.  And the brighter parts of her life that mellowed her with time.  I remember the lessons I heard and held.  And the ones I set down, not always so respectfully, in order to leave space to create my own.   

A few days ago, this heavy antique machine was brought up into my bedroom where it has been transformed into a desk, simply by calling it that.  My grandmother’s sewing notions still sit where she left them in the rounded pull-out drawers.  I can almost smell her rose-scented perfume.  I can hear the treadle moving as she sews a new dress for church. 

This courageous woman lived an adventurous expanse just short of an entire century.  She saw the worst of humanity and the best of community.  She raised two generous, compassionate boys.  One of them is my father.

Her spirit is alive in my space now.  I feel her.  Powerfully.  I’m not sure she’d understand what I do in my work as a coach.  But I hope that she would see that in the same way that she sewed her garments by feel on the Singer, I am now using it to help those who seek to stitch together a life they can truly love. 

 coaching corner



  1. This is so beautiful Rita, and it brought tears to my eyes as I recalled my own grandmother. She also had an old Singer which I hoped to have one day. After she passed away though I think family members just got rid of it. Fortunately, memories of her sewing things and humming to herself are forever with me.

    • Thanks Sandi! I noticed something interesting about heirlooms when my parents moved off the farm last year. My kids wanted to keep more things than I did (or my siblings) I wonder if there’s something about the connection of the gentler memories that come from having a generation between that makes them more pure and sweet – like grapes left on the vine at the end of the season? I am grateful to have this beautiful piece in my space and get such a joy from doing work there!

  2. What a beautiful sharing Rita! I love that you feel her spirit in the part of her that you retained. What a courageous woman to have survived so much!

  3. Thank you Lori! I felt like of all my relatives, I was most like her, physically and in spirit. I often wondered if her life had been different, if I had been able to communicate more deeply with her, what else I could have learned about her … and myself. Now it feels like this piece of history will begin to answer those questions in ways that I couldn’t have dreamt. I desire to appreciate her survival and carry it forward into graceful thriving.

  4. Rita, thank you so much! I felt very touched. It sounded a lot like what my grandma told me – she was born in 1912 in Germany. I wonder what our grand children are going to get to relate to – iPads?

  5. Rita, thank you for sharing. You’ve given me a lovely idea to remember my mother. I have a Singer as well, currently sitting in my garage buried amongst a pile of boxes that I’ve inherited from her estate. You’ve made me realize that it’s time for me to bring it out from the clutter. Using the piece as a desk will truly allow me to honour and appreciate her immense strength and creativity on a daily basis.

    • De-cluttering in order to de-light in your mother’s strength and creativity!Absolutely beautiful, Susan!

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