A Stitch in Time

Apr 3, 2020

woman sewing

Yesterday I watched a couple of videos on how to make face masks and downloaded a pattern. I rummaged through my closet and found some unused material on the top shelf and pulled out a couple of new dish towels from the back of the pantry. Despite scolding from our daughter, my husband (wearing a bandana and gloves) went to the hardware store around the corner and bought some vacuum cleaner bags to cut into inserts as filters for the masks. The bags were not marked HEPA but promised to be 99% effective against something. I do not have a sewing machine, and I am now staring at the fabric and pattern and questioning my ability to actually create the masks by sewing them by hand.

The fact that I can hand sew at all (and do some embroidery and knit although not crochet—a surprising gap in my education) is thanks to my mother, grandmother and P.S. 94 and J.H.S. 80 in the Bronx. The child of people who had lived through the Depression, I was even taught how to darn socks, which we would smooth over the black darning egg and weave back into usefulness. In sixth grade the entire class (boys, too) sewed aprons. In junior high, I took Home Ec with Ms. Naomi Foxworth (I remember her name because we used to crack ourselves up by saying it over and over while mimicking her southern accent. Perhaps that was an indication of what we thought of Home Ec.) Even in high school at Bronx Science, we were required (at least the girls were) to embroider our names in yellow over the breast pocket of our green, bloomered, one-piece gym suits, yellow and green being the school colors. When I was at Science we fought the dress code that dictated girls were not allowed to wear pants and boys could not wear “dungaree-type trousers.”

This is all to say that I am old. I went to school at a time when kids in elementary school wore middy blouses on assembly days. When the first polio vaccine was a neon pink stain on sugar cubes we lined up for in the gym. When going to the “city” from the Bronx where I lived meant a trip to Manhattan wearing a dress and gloves. When the subway, and a slice of pizza each cost 15 cents.

I am also disabled, having lost a leg 30 years ago when a car jumped the curb. I have just had hip replacement surgery because of the arthritis on my “sound” side resulting from decades of overuse. (I am lucky my operation was scheduled just before the virus outbreak.)

Some right-wingers have called for the elderly to sacrifice themselves so their children and grandchildren can inherit a better economy. I can’t quite picture what they are imagining. Mass suicide by COVID-19? How would that work and how would that help? Although I’m happy to let them be the test cases if they’re so eager.

But their cruel rhetoric feeds into the meme that old people are simply drains on society. And at a time when hospitals are stressed beyond their limits, and medical professionals are actually having to ration equipment, I wonder how my life would be valued if I were in need of a respirator. It is a question that echoes back to the eugenics of the Nazis. I was born after World War II, but not enough after to escape its psychological shadow.

I do not contribute to my family’s income. I write poetry occasionally, and even more occasionally this blog. I have written a couple of novels. I do some volunteer work. I cook (or, rather, have started cooking again). And let’s not forget I have basic sewing skills. I’m sure (pretty sure) my husband and children and friends would miss me. But if a doctor were faced with a life-or-death choice between me and someone younger and able-bodied?

For now, I will try not to dwell on these thoughts. I will remember that one’s worth is not tied up in financial success or fame or physical abilities. I will plan what to make for dinner. I will call my sister, or a cousin or a friend. Take out my sewing kit and give those masks a try. They may make me, my husband and daughter a little bit safer. They may make anyone else we come into contact with a little bit safer. And that will be enough to accomplish for today.