Monday, February 23, 2009

Conchita's floss

Conchita Fernandez was my great-grandmother. I only remember meeting her once (she lived to be 103), but somehow she's become a bit of a hero to me. Maybe it's her lingering reputation as an excellent cook, and the tales of her lavish Christmas Day table. Maybe it's my fascination with the knowledge that she kept chickens in her tiny Manhattan apartment. It could be her penchant for planting every seed she could get her hands on, be they orange pips, avocado pits, or coffee beans. Maybe, her unbelieveably perfect satin stitches, her eye for color and pattern, her careful needlework. She was a freelance seamstress and embroiderer, completing monograms and buttonholes to supplement her family's income. My mom remembers her sitting in her special sewing chair, drawn up to the north window, passing the needle up and down very quick, from one hand to the other.

When Conchita passed away, my mom inherited a carefully twisted plastic bag filled with bright-colored emboidery floss. When I learned to embroider a few years ago, the bag came to me. Unwrapping those vibrant skeins of floss, it's hard not to think about all the life and creativity they served as part of her sewing basket. I considered stowing it away to be preserved as family history, to collect dust and never see any sort of use or purpose. And then I discarded that idea. With hoop in hand and a needle threaded with Conchita's floss, I find myself thinking long thoughts about this woman with whom I share so much. I think about her artfulness, her energy, her passions; I wonder at what her apartment really looked like. Were her kitchen walls dappled with the shadows of the lemon trees on the windowsill? What did it smell like? Did she hang Spanish paintings and a crucifix on the walls, and mourn the life she'd left behind?

I have no idea. What I do know, though, is that every little stitch is steeped in memory and meaning, something so important to her that hasn't been lost in time, something I'm carrying on: this simple thing that gave her joy.


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