My father rushed into the house Saturday with a seeder in his hands. A seeder—for those less than farm-savvy, like me—is a sack meant to hold seeds, with a contraption on the bottom that spreads them while you walk. My father’s seeder, it turned out, needed a strap.
“I need a sewing machine,” he said.
Over the years I have learned the delicate art of questioning my father while he vigorously pursues a mission I don’t understand. I was already moving in the direction of the closet where the sewing machine resides when I ventured, “You know how to sew?”
No one in the family knew before Saturday that my father could sew. You don’t expect a man who spends his days dropping trees, driving tractors, feeding animals, and trying to beat the daylight to possess such delicate knowledge. Against the odds, he sat down at the machine.
“Yes I know how to sew,” he said. “Learned it in home ec. I made a vest back then that your mother threw away when we got married. I need some denim.”
Fueled by his urgency, I went to my dresser, removed the contents of the bottom drawer, and chose a pair of jeans. “Take these,” I said. Soon he had severed a leg from them, and was sewing it into a seeder strap to make planting easier.
My whole Saturday stretched before me: I had a good book to read, I had work to do, I had a nap to take. But instead I sat down and watched my father sew. As he regaled me with the name and tale of the girl in his middle school class who had put a needle through her finger and passed out, I began to believe all over again that my father is one of the planet’s most fascinating specimens.
Plenty of people learn to sew in home economics class, but that doesn’t mean they remember how afterward. In my days—not far removed from me—I had the privilege of breaking more than one sewing machine and earned the nickname “Crash.” Home ec, that strange middle school habitat where your teacher has eyebrows like velvet and everyone learns how to make straight stitches and measure baking soda with maddening precision, only the persnickety survive. Well, the persnickety and my father—who is emphatically not.
The sewing machine itself, once removed from my bedroom closet and dusted a little, gleamed beautiful under my father’s rough hands: an enviable machine, almost new. A graduation gift from my grandmother, I had hardly used it.
But once my father had finished his seeder strap, I sat down, fingered open the manual, and slowly taught myself to wind the bobbin and thread the machine. Then I gave myself the cathartic all-day pleasure of sewing a crooked apron.
My great-grandmother sewed, my grandmother sews, my mother sews. But I didn’t believe I could sew until I saw my father sew. It made me wonder if people ever run out of surprises.