Janet Sheridan: Lessons from a 4-H project
Every year as August approaches, I remember 4-H, a long-ago fair and a lesson from my mother.
I straightened my back, lifted my feet from the rhythmic tap of the treadle and flexed my fingers. A whoosh of relief escaped my clenched teeth. The last buttonhole finished. Three weeks of sewing, unpicking and re-sewing nearly finished.
Next, I would snip the fabric enclosed by buttonhole stitching and attach five red buttons to my blouse. Then, I’d be ready to collect a blue ribbon in the local 4-H competition.
Seizing the scissors, I folded the first buttonhole in half and pictured the gracious humility with which I’d receive my ribbon: snip, fold, snip, fold, flying fingers, fantasizing mind. Engrossed by my imaginings, I didn’t notice the blouse’s fabric caught in the fold of the last buttonhole.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
I shook out my masterpiece and croaked with horror when I saw a triangular cut gaping open on its left side — as dismaying as a boil on a bride’s nose.
Screaming that I hated sewing and would never do it again, I wadded the botched blouse and threw it across the room. Then, bursting with shuddering sobs, I pushed by my startled mother and ran into the hot afternoon to hide in the crushed-leaf smell at the top of my favorite cottonwood tree.
Nothing was said when I joined my family at the kitchen table for dinner. Nothing was said as I ignored my turn to wash the dishes and stomped off to sulk in the room I shared with two sisters. Nothing was said as I pretended to read “Little Women” until bedtime. Mom, Dad, Lawrence, Carolyn, Bob and Barbara seemed not care that my life was ruined.
I hated them all.
The next morning, at the foot of my bed, I found my blouse still warm from the iron: flawed side replaced, buttonholes finished and buttons attached. In the kitchen, I could hear my mother humming while she kneaded yet another batch of homemade bread.
I don’t remember thanking Mom for my reconstructed blouse, but I do remember the fond glance she gave me as she asked if I still hated sewing.
Even more, I remember the steely look that followed my reply: “Oh, no, I love it. I love this blouse. It’s beautiful. It’s perfect. It’s sure to win a blue ribbon, don’t you think?”
I pranced my 11-year-old body around the crowded kitchen, clutching the blouse to my chest, pretending to strut a fashion runway.
Her voice stopped me.
“Janet, you don’t think you’re going to enter that blouse in the fair, do you?”
Startled, I stopped in mid-prance and gaped in astonishment.
She quietly continued: “You have plenty of time to make another. That one’s not completely your work. I fixed it for you so you wouldn’t be discouraged. Would it be honest to enter it?”
Once again, visions of myself with a blue ribbon denoting my excellence, shattered to disbelief. What was she talking about? Who would even know? Surely, she didn’t mean I should start over.
One look at her unyielding expression as she opened the back door and headed for the orderly rows of her family-feeding garden, told me she meant just that, and she was through discussing it.
Again, furious tears. Again, a slammed screen door. Again, the quiet refuge of my tree. But this time, my anger disguised shame. I knew she would not relent, no matter how I cried.
And I knew she was right.
Quietly, still hiccupping from useless sobs, I climbed down from my haven.
I slowly entered the garden, inched along a row of pepper plants covered with tiny green globes, and offered my opener: “May I have any fabric I want for my next blouse?”
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