Our Mending Nights at Madison’s Goodman Community Center could be called a lot of things. They’re useful, to be sure, and functional. Held on the first, third and fifth (if there is one!) Wednesday of each month, the booth can be found in the lobby of the Center from 6-8 pm. The concept was Bird’s and is a collaboration between The Sewing Machine Project and East Side Friends of the Dharma, a Buddhist group that meets at the Center. On Wednesday nights, the Food Pantry is open, the Slow Food kitchen is creating a delicious, free meal, and any number of other community events are going on. It’s a busy place.
Two of our volunteers bring in their sewing machines and mending supplies and set up shop. The mending is free. Sometimes, a queue has formed before we even arrive. Other times, it’s quieter. It took awhile for the idea to sink in. “You do what?” people would ask. “It’s free??!!” But now people see us and like old familiar friends, stop by to say hi, whether they have mending or not.
The jobs vary quite a bit. Sometimes we sew on a button, sometimes a tear is repaired. Holes in pockets are closed, frayed hems are tidied up. Favorite shirts are given a new life and worn coats are given another season.
“Functional” “Useful” Yes, these words definitely apply. But this past Wednesday, as Bird, Jen and I worked the mending booth, I had to add the word “Sacred”. Children and adults stopped to quietly chat with us as we worked. And then Thomas stopped by. Carrying a worn pair of jeans and a plaid pair of pajama pants he asked if we could mend some holes. I took the jeans and Bird took the pj’s. And we mended each hole as Thomas told us about his day. His fading eyesight makes him appreciate certain kinds of light and his favorite is in the morning, facing the horizon. It is then that he carries a little table and his typewriter outside and writes letters to friends he’s left behind. Thomas shared his story, offering an image of his world, giving us the chance to see through his fading eyes, and to appreciate the light at that certain time of the day.
When the mending was finished I showed Thomas where I’d mended his jeans. One, two, three, four holes were now patched. I took his hands and ran them over the mended parts. “My mother always said ‘a stitch in time saves nine’,” he said. He carefully replaced his clothes in his backpack and headed for the door.
We looked at the clock and realized it was time to go home. “Sacred,” I said, feeling the wash of Thomas’ visit. And she looked at me and nodded. We really didn’t have to say much more than that. And Bird and I packed up our machines and walked together out into the darkness.