I can still recall the feeling of the dewy grass between my toes. How it managed to turn my flip flops into slippery ice skates during mid July in Pennsylvania I’ll never quite understand. It was summer break and I couldn’t have been over the age of seven. During this time of year, my mother’s inevitably hectic mornings included yet one more to-do, dropping me off at my care-taker’s. She knew me well enough to know that without fail each morning would result in an excuse, a lie or a threat to get me out of going there. That is why the feeling of grass between my toes still conjures up the tight grasp of my mother’s hand. It was her silent way of tell me that no matter how slow my flip flop ice skates moved, I wasn’t getting out of this; I was going to Aunt Roni’s house.
Every child has that one place they despise going. They drag their feet, kick, scream and hold onto nearby doorways, pleading for their parents’ mercy. For some kids it was the doctor or dentist, perhaps even school or church, but for me, it was my Aunt Roni’s.
Aunt Roni was old. Her house was old. Her toys were old. Her television set was old. But worst of all, her rules were old. Aunt Roni was a neighbor two houses away who although there was no blood relation, my mother insisted I called “Aunt” out of respect. During the summer she was my care-taker while my mother was at work. It was during these impressionable summers that I was subjected to her old fashioned and outdated rules. For example, lunch was served at exactly twelve noon, regardless of what orders my stomach growled hours before. I was only allowed to watch television in thirty minute increments and was then forced to play outside, which most often resulted in me angrily pushing an empty swing or sitting arms crossed, sulking behind a tree. A kid couldn’t even indulge in a whole freeze pop! Instead, I had to watch Aunt Roni cut each popsicle in half and put it back in the freezer for “another day.” All of this aside, the rules that frustrated me, a very hyper and fast-paced child, the most were her rules about sewing.
I should mention that more than just my care-taker, my Aunt Roni doubled as a personal sewing instructor. Whether these sewing lessons were secretly arranged by my mother or just a new form of torture Aunt Roni invented is still unknown to me. In short, sewing wasn’t my bag. Many idle hours on the backyard swing set were spent pondering the reasons why anyone would want to sew. Just cutting a pattern out of fabric took more effort than going to a department store. To this day I’m still fairly certain that Aunt Roni spent those same hours pondering why anyone wouldn’t.
Since the age of seven, I was a fairly proficient seamstress and earned many blue ribbons at the 4-H fairs. This particular summer I chose to make a tote bag. Straight lines, no zippers, I thought I had a pretty easy summer lined up. But like most of my fool-proof plans to get out of life easy with Aunt Roni, I was sorely mistaken.
I had spent the better part of June meticulously pinning each side of my tote bag together, hand-sewing on the pocket, and finally I was ready to add the handles. I felt Aunt Roni behind me, studying every stitch, looking for any stray thread or—heaven forbid—a sloppy seam. Just as I usually did in this position, I began to panic. With superhuman strength, my foot laid on the sewing machine pedal. The motor hummed with more horse power than most legal street cars, jumping to 40 beats per second, my heart rate not far behind. I jerked back, taking my bag with me, pulling it right under the hungry machine that chewed up the fabric and spit it out. In a crumpled heap, my bag and I laid on the floor, my emotions matching its appearance. As I was surveying the damage, I remembered Aunt Roni had seen it all.
She knew I had been too fast, too hasty with my work and this was the result. Without an ounce of empathy, she told me to tear out every stitch that ran through the center of my bag—by hand. If there was one thing I hated even more than putting the stitches in, it was ripping those same stitches out. I hung my head, thinking of what I would be doing for the next several hours. Aunt Roni looked at me and said, “For every stitch you tear out, you learn something new.” I can tell you that during that afternoon of intense seam-ripping, the only thing I learned was how much anger and frustration a seven year old could feel.
Throughout my childhood summers spent at Aunt Roni’s, I ripped out more stitches than I probably ever kept. It goes without saying that I learned a lot. I learned patience, respect and discipline. I learned that even the most daunting tasks can be made simple if you break them down. Nearly 16 years later, I have managed to make quite a few mistakes. But when the time comes to put aside my pride and rip out the stitches I’ve sewn, I know I’ll walk away with a life lesson and an even deeper love for my Aunt Roni.
This short story is dedicated to my dear Aunt Roni who over the course of our summers together became more than a care-taker. She became my grandmother and my guardian. She came into my life when I was just an infant and showered me with the tender and unconditional love you can only receive from someone who is placed in your life by God. I owe so much of who I am to those summers spent with my Aunt Roni. I can only wish to someday be this special and influential to someone else.