"Come through!" she said, leading me through the kitchen into the living room, "and leave your shoes on."
I stepped through and admired - but didn't comment on - the gorgeous view of the harbour, visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The living room was kind of small and I didn't want to sit without being asked, but we were busy chatting anyhow.
"Well here it is," she said, "It's a beautiful wheel and I can't believe I'm selling it for so little...but I just can't see anymore."
"Oh," I breathed, "it really is so beautiful."
"It's solid walnut, and so is the Lazy Kate. I had one of those Australian wheels but" - she frowned - "it was rubbish. It just fell apart. So I commissioned this one from an artisan in Victoria. It has a little brass plate on it, maybe you can see. It says my name, but you can just pull that off."
I bent down to read it.
Hand Crafted for
by Chris Clarke 1990
"Oh no, of course I won't do that," I said, appalled at the thought. "It should stay there."
"Now I told you on the phone about my son the violinist," she reminded me, as if I'd forgotten, "who died five years ago. Well a few months after he died I lost my sight. I woke up blind. It's the diabetes, it's a terrible thing. And I'm eighty now." She leaned close to the wheel, peering at it, and fumbled with the little hook, trying to show me where it belonged. "And I used to spin and knit and weave and everything! Well I can see some colours now, but....."
She straightened up and handed the hook to me, shaking her head in annoyance. "Here, maybe you can do it. You should put that in your pocket, and this bit too," handing me the tension key and string, "so you don't lose them."
She turned to the table, where a pair of carders lay next to a folded umbrella swift. "You can have these too," she said, "And there's a pound of wool. You should card it again before you use it. I was going to spin this and knit my daughter a dress, but... And, oh, you can have this if you like. It's one of those Australian Lazy Kates - just rubbish, you can have it for a couple of dollars. At least you'll get a few extra bobbins out of it."
"Oh," I said, taking it in my hand, "I think this is Ashford."
"Yes. See," she went on, "it's like the wheels - just made of any old wood, fir or something....but I got mine made of walnut."
"I can imagine you'll be sad to part with it," I said, my heart wrung, "But I assure you I will take such good care of it...and I'll love it so much. My daughter is seven and she knows how to spin on a drop spindle but I'll be able to teach her on this wheel now."
"Oh that will be lovely," she smiled at me, "and you enjoy your time with your children, it was the best time of my life. I had five children and I made for all of them, and they were always at my house with their lonely friends who had no mothers at home...you just be there for your children and they'll never forget it, for the rest of their lives."
"It's too bad we don't have time for a cup of tea. There's a gentleman coming at 3.30, from Family Life to take me for a walk. He usually comes on Wednesdays but it's Saturday today, I guess he was busy."
I glanced at the clock. It was a little after 2.00.
Before my arms were full of spinning wheel I gave her, to her delight, a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. She squeezed me back, hard, and thanked me as I was thanking her.
It was a long drive home - lots of time to think about how differently people value things. I'm so very happy with my beautiful new wheel, and I'm glad it has history that I know about, have heard about first hand. And I'm so sad for Barbara, artist, mother, and maker, who can see some colours now but not the wool in her hands or the view from her beautiful windows.
It's hard to take something from her, even though she was ready to sell it, that had meant so much to her. I know I'll honour her by using it and loving it, but it breaks my heart that she is shut out of that world now.
I comfort myself with the thought that, if she had passed away before selling the wheel, it might have ended up with someone who didn't know its worth - maybe sold as simply a decorative piece of furniture. I'm glad I was blessed enough to meet her, listen to her story, and give her wheel a new home. My hours spent with this beautiful piece, creating things to warm and clothe my loved ones, will mean more to me this way - will be a tribute to her passion for the craft, as well as my own.