There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think of Mama and do something the way she taught me to do it.
A deep sapphire blue silk blouse needed to be hand-washed for the first time but as I plunged it into a basin of cold water, the color began to run. I dashed to the cupboard from which I pulled a carton of salt. “That,” Mama always said, “will set the color and keep it from fading. Just pour it into the water.”
I made cornbread muffins the other night and when I poured the batter into the muffin pan, I scraped and scraped and scraped until there was less than a thimble’s worth left in the bowl. I recalled, as usually I do when I scrape a bowl, the story she oft told of her friend, Thelma, from her young days.
“She left enough in the bowl to eat off of for a week.” Mama would shake her head. “She never could manage money. She just half cleaned out the bowl when she poured something up.”
I have a new lightweight overcoat, a bright orange silk with big, gold buttons. I took it out of the hanging bag and immediately set about sewing the buttons tightly into place before wearing it. Mama taught me how to sew on buttons and how to tie the thread tightly but I learned the hard way not to trust buttons on a store-bought garment. Machines put them on in a way that if the thread loosens, it will unravel in a breath’s moment. She did, though, teach me a clever way of hanging on to the extra buttons that come with it.
How many times have you taken the package of extra buttons, tossed them into a drawer somewhere then was driven to despair to find them when you lost a button?
“Do this,” Mama said many years ago as she handed me a suit she had tailored for me. She lifted the collar and showed me where on the back, directly about the back seam, she had sewn my extra button. “If you ever need it, there’ll it be. You won’t lose it.”
When I finished re-sewing the buttons on my new coat, that’s exactly where I sewed the two extra buttons that came with it. As I prepared to thread the needle, I did just as Mama had taught — I cut the thread at a slanted angle because it makes it easier to slip into the eye of a needle.
Lately, I’ve taken to wondering how much planning went into Mama’s teaching. If she consciously thought, “I need to teach so and so” or if it was just a matter of course. Just natural for her to share what she knew because Mama loved learning. Though not well-educated by society’s standards, she always knew the power of knowledge brought on by both experience and reading.
I do remember that in the last decade of her life, she said frequently to me, Louise or Nicole, “Now, listen to me. Watch how I do this because when I’m dead and gone, there won’t be anyone to show you how.”
And you know what? There’s a lot of truth in those words. When your mama goes, there is a certain amount of knowledge and teaching that follows her to rest silently six feet down. To her grave, she takes practical teachings that you don’t read about in books or even know about so you can search it out on the Internet. For instance, I just searched “where to store extra buttons?”
The answer: In an accordion file folder labeled “dresses,” “coats,” “skirts,” “pants.”
Mama’s idea is so much better and more practical. It’s just one of myriad instructions she gave and to which I am glad I listened. I’m glad for the knowledge but I love the bond it keeps strong between us long after she’s dead and gone.