Assigning value

Carol A. Bindel

September 03, 1993|By Carol A. Bindel

Rachel Lewis of Forest Hill cooked and baked, quilted and sewed, did beautiful laundry, cleaned and organized her household so there was a place for everything and everything had its place. But she couldn't find paid employment.

Robbie's college expenses next year," Rob Lewis reminded. His wife heard the underlying, unspoken question: "When are you going to work?"

Her children were kind and bright, studied hard, ranked near the head of their school classes. But her credentials were old.

"You earned your master's degree in 1975?" one interviewer inquired. "What have you done since then?"

"I married and had children. I worked in sales part-time until our second son was born, but both babies had serious medical problems, and it seemed important for me to be home, so we made the necessary sacrifices. Then we moved several times. . ."

"So you haven't worked?"

"Two years ago I did two long-term substitute teaching jobs . . ."

"Why don't you teach?"

"Teaching jobs are scarce. Also, I grew more conservative while the world grew more liberal. I don't fit in the classroom anymore. I did teach adult sewing classes . . ."

"Full-time?"

"No, I . . ."

"So you haven't worked."

Oh, she could get paid $5 an hour as a cleaning woman, but at 49 her body rebelled against prolonged strenuous work, and she wouldn't cheat an employer by dawdling.

This was the last summer, though, her last year to pick berries, can peaches, watch her baby learn the butterfly stroke. Come fall, she would sign with a temporary agency, earn what she could. Until then, she took joy in her homemaking.

Rachel's friend Tracy hated housework. They were so different, they often wondered aloud why they were friends.

found an old quilt top at a garage sale over in Amyclae Estates this morning," Tracy told Rachel one day. "You can have it if you want it. It's mildewed, it's not pretty, but somehow it reminded me of you. If you don't want it, I'll just get rid of it. I only paid $5 for it."

It was nondescript, dirty, every color imaginable, and it was hand-sewn. "I'll see what I can do," Rachel said. She took it home, spread it on the floor. "Where'd you get that ugly thing?" Rob asked.

"It might make something nice."

Rob arched an eyebrow, lowered the corners of his mouth, walked away.

Persnickety clean, Rachel machine-washed; hand-washing couldn't be vigorous enough. Spread on the grass to dry, it was sanitary, unstained, ugly as ever.

She got out her pile of scrap fabric. "Borders. Something dark, to make those dark patches seem less splotchy. Plaid. Multi-color plaid to unify."

She pressed and sewed, studied and cut, replaced four moth-eaten pieces, cut, sewed, pressed, studied.

A strip pattern emerged: strips of patches; an odd four-patch-log-cabin combination; long, narrow rectangles; an occasional crazy patch within the larger squares. Scrap-work piecing, no formula, but definitely a pattern.

Weeks later, she spread a lightweight, flower-sprigged white cotton backing on the floor, unrolled quilt batting, spread the newly bordered patchwork. She stepped to the center, knelt, bent forward to place yarn knots, form a summer comforter.

Design faded, individual fabrics emerged. This one was old feed-bag fabric. Rachel remembered hating a dress just like it, made from a feed bag. This one obviously from a woman's suit. This one dotted Swiss, dainty and dressed up, once. Here pink, green and white plaid like a sun dress with a bolero jacket Rachel wore as a child.

Who pieced this? Who cut angles, shapes, set even hand stitches, chose color placement, organized fabrics in careful dissonant order?

Her respect for some frugal sister burgeoned as her backache intensified. This pieced fabric face represented a life. To be tossed in a corner, unwanted, sold for $5.

"It's beautiful!" Tracy said.

"It's OK," Rob said. "I didn't think you'd be able to help something that ugly. What'd you do today? You do anything about getting a job yet?"

Carol A. Bindel writes from Forest Hill.

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