Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Good Things Come

She was waiting for me when I got to the door, not sure at first that I had the right apartment. "Hello!" she called with a smile, hand held out in my direction. I took it and she drew me into her home, repeating my name to herself, just to be sure she'd remember.

"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
Barbara May
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.

27 comments:

lizbon said...

Oh golly, what a beautiful story. Sad and happy all at once. I wouldn't remove that brass nameplate for all the tea in china, either. And I'd be tempted to spin up some wool and knit her a little something out of it.

knititch said...

it is a thoroughly lovely story that it ended up in the right hands. congratulations and all.

Dave Hingsburger said...

What a wonderful story and a wonderful wheel. I'm not sure, though, that you should feel sorry for that lovely woman. She may have lost her sight - but there is a kind of sight that can never be lost, there are the kind of lives that live vibrantly in memory ... it sounds like she has both - lucky woman.

Valerie said...

What a lovely story and though sad for Barbara, this is a wonderful way for that wheel to enter your life.

Can't wait to see the yarns the two of you make through your dances together.

Jo said...

That's a lovely story.

Ames said...

I'll echo what everyone else said. I am happy for you.

Ames said...

I'll echo what everyone else said. I am happy for you.

bethro said...

What a story. It's wonderful she's managed to find someone to pass it onto like the (useful) heirloom it is.

Cynthia said...

Oh, Shan, what a lovely story. It made me teary eyed and happy at the same time. It makes me think of a linked chain of spinners going down the years. Congratulations to both of you.

Linda said...

You are the perfect person for this wheel. I'm convinced that wheels, looms, all things creative know, somehow, how to find their "people." Sort of like dogs and cats. Definitely true in this case. A blessing all around.

caroline said...

Thanks for sharing this, Shan. It's beautiful all around.

Jess said...

thanks for sharing the story - I'm glad it ended up in hands that will make good use of it. That will be a great story to pass to your daughter as well!

kate said...

So glad you found a wheel! This is why I love second hand items -- the stories they contain.

Happy spinning (did you sleep at all after bringing it home?)!

Suelle said...

Beautiful story!

Renee said...

LOVE how you told the story---beautifully done!It makes me happy that something so simple brings such contentment---that is a true sign of a happy life

Ruth said...

Wow! That is incredible! Its like part of her heritage was passed to you, for you to carry on in your home, with your family!
I love stories like this!

Gwen said...

Linda is right, this wheel was waiting for you, crying out your name. And it won't even pee on the floor. Double blessing!

Anonymous said...

Shan, how lovely. So well written, too. And I agree that her treasured tools couldn't have gone to a more appropriate person - with a younger spinner waiting in the chain, too.
- Beth

Jenny said...

That was the most beautiful post!!
You certainly were fated to end up with the wheel.

Annalea said...

I dearly love walnut. But that story, Shan. That's wonderful. Absolutely. Definitely worth the earlier crushing, no?

Karen S said...

It's beautiful and the story is too. I think she must feel blessed that her beloved wheel now spins again!
(though I can't see what's wrong with an Ashford! (ok, I have one)).
Maybe you should get a little brass plate that tells when you got the wheel and from whom... sort of continuing its story?

tara said...

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing, and enjoy your new wheel!

Alison said...

Lovely, Shan, just lovely. :) The wheel, the story and the telling.

Night Owl said...

yay *applauds* you got one! :)
and it comes with such a beautiful story.

Susie Hewer said...

How lovely. I'm sure the elderly lady was glad that her beloved wheel was going to someone who'd appreciate it the way she had. I look forward to seeing what you produce with it.

carlarey said...

What an awesome woman Barbara is. You're very lucky to have gotten to spend that time with her. And the wheel's lucky to have had you both.

swoon said...

count the beautiful's and lovelies in the other comments and the sweet tear drops

your like a faerie spinning it all up into a wonderful gift for Barbra May and us all