I could see it. We were loosely gathered on the outer edge of the copse of trees, standing on soft earth covered in early winter grass. A skinny little wind was lifting our hair, teasing at our collars. Our cheeks were cold. Sombre. We spoke randomly, each sharing a memory as it came. Sometimes voices joined, as a story was equally remembered and shared. Occasionally there was a burst of laughter, a rise in our sound. There was no awareness of time.
We looked into the shallow hole near our feet, roughly the size of a small trunk, and felt warmth and fondness for the Turissa, as she sat there. What she had not done for us! With the heart of a machine, she’d delivered smoothly and steadfastly, all her life.
We discussed which hymn to sing and I suggested Matthias Claudius’s We Plough the Fields and Scatter:
We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes, and the sunshine,
And soft, refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heav’n above;
Then thank the Lord, oh, thank the Lord,
For all His love.
We thank Thee then, O Father,
For all things bright and good,
The seedtime and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food;
Accept the gifts we offer
For all Thy love imparts,
And what Thou most desirest—
Our humble, thankful hearts.
This hymn always makes me feel good. As though I have eaten a hearty meal and reconnected to heaven and earth, and thankfulness.
We fell silent when my eldest sister unfolded a page and began to read this poem:
The Clock of Life is wound but Once
Robert H. Smith
The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.
To lose one’s wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one’s health is more,
To lose one’s soul is such a loss
That no man can restore.
The present only is our own,
So live, love, toil with a will,
Place no faith in “Tomorrow,”
For the Clock may then be still.
The Turissa had lived and toiled. I can’t say she loved or had a will, but I can imagine it. In the hands of a most caring woman, she carried love from a warm, warm heart. Oh the children she clothed! Pretty dresses with full gathered skirts, Peter Pan collars, cuffs and three inch hems (to be let out one-and-a-half inches a year to match the growth of the child)….no doll was ever naked: if you’d undressed your doll and ran off to do something else, you would return to find her in a brand new dress. Press studs sewn on by hand, buttons sewn on by hand, decorative trim stitched onto the bodice. Boys had crimpalene suits sewn for them to wear to Sunday church; girls each had corduroy tailored jackets complete with lining. The farm children were dressed too. I can remember some of them using the very generous hems for handkerchiefs!
We were dressed from top to toe. From infant to twenty-year-old. How loathesomely unappreciative we were! It seemed the biggest bind on earth to be called for a fitting, to stand on the table while being told through pursed lips that held several pins, “turn….turn…” as the hem was being measured and pinned. I would run and jump for the opportunity again, for somebody to measure my waist, my chest, the length of my arms…. What love and caring we took for granted. Each item that was made could go on to be worn by a dozen other children, so good was the quality.
I could see all this when I received the message, “…so sorry Mrs Visser, there is nothing we can do for your mother’s sewing machine.” It was a second opinion; I had received the same news before. Now it sounded final. How many more opinions would I need to make me understand that it was the end of the road for the Turissa? No, there could be no more opinions – this was it. Gloom fell over me. It’s impossible to explain why the death of a sewing machine should affect one so badly. But I suppose it’s because of the years it represented, the life of my mother, her giving…our receiving. The years. The years.
The Turissa was made in Switzerland in 1953. Today she looks so vintage I can’t make up my mind whether she is beautiful or not, but all I know is, sewing machines manufactured today do not have a patch on her!
When my mother left us in 2006, my father gave her sewing machine to me. For years I did not venture to open the big case. I lacked the courage. Opening the lid and lifting out the machine would bring alive the image of my mother at her sewing desk – and I was not ready.
A full ten years went by. The decision to meet the machine came to me out of the blue. At last I could do it. The handbook told me everything I needed to know, and tentatively I put in a drop of oil, loaded a reel of thread and a bobbin, checked the instructions one more time and put my foot on the pedal. Well I never! I was driving a Rolls Royce. Oh I don’t want to sound grand, I’ve never driven a Rolls, but I imagine it’s a very smooth drive compared to my CRV. And compared with my Janome, the Turissa was purring like a Persian cat. A strong Persian cat. It felt like there was nothing this machine could not do. Yay, I was away!
I hemmed linen napkins and feeling adventurous figured out the assortment of strange discs that did fancy stitching. So pretty! I started another project….then all of a sudden, everything went wrong. The stitches were snagging and looping and the innards of the machine were making too much noise. Oh blast, what a disappointment! Just as I was getting the hang of things. Tragedy!
That was when I packed the machine back into its case and took it first for one opinion, then another. And got the bad news twice.
There was no way the Turissa was going to Mr Metal or to landfill! So I planned the funeral. My husband even proposed we embalm her with grease “one day in two hundred years’ time somebody will dig her up by chance and she’ll not have rusted away” but I could not imagine covering her smooth and sleek green body with horrible grease.
The funeral was on my mind for a couple of weeks. Then I remembered Mr Frick.
Frick’s Sewing Machines used to be in Voortrekker Road, Parow. It was your go-to place for anything sewing machine related. A phenomenal place, where everything you can’t even imagine that is connected with sewing machines could be found. It was a hospital for machines of every age and every use; even hand operated Singer machines for making shoes could be serviced there.
Alas, Frick Sewing Machines closed down many years ago. Mr and Mrs Frick had passed away and left the business to their sons, who then parted company, each taking some of the business elsewhere. But where?
In this day and age, people are not that hard to find. After a few false leads I found the one son and managed to reach him by phone. Yes, he remembers Turissa sewing machines very well. It was also his grandmother’s machine of choice when she could choose any machine under the sun. Yes, he would look at it, I could just bring it to his house. And his house was about an hour away, so that was no obstacle.
I could not allow myself to get too hopeful. This might, after all, just be the third opinion that would put the final nail in the coffin.
We found the home of Mr Frick jr, whom I would guess is not far off 80. His garage was like an Aladdin’s cave, filled with sewing machines of every make and age – modern age, that is. I explained that I’d been told the cam-belt was shredded and none could be found to replace it. He smiled and said he thought he knew where he could find one. He was sure he was going to be able to fix my Turissa. I think I walked out of that garage a little higher in the air than when I walked in. I gave the machine a last look before I left, wondering if this was real or a dream.
I was amazed when just a few hours later I received a call: “Your machine is working like a bomb, just listen!” And yes indeed, I could hear the Persian cat purring.
The Turissa sews BEEAUtifully. Seeing the neat stitches gives me a warm glow inside. My mother must have known that the machine she sewed with for 40-50 years was the best equipment she could possibly have had to deliver the quality she stood for.
The picture has now faded. The open grave is not there any more and we are not loosely gathered in the open air, saying our goodbyes.
But since it very nearly happened, I thought I should not let the moment go without pausing to say
thank you Mom, for all the good things.
For our clothes and for your caring.
You never asked or ‘most desired’ our thanks
with love from
Our humble, thankful hearts.