Peggy Keener: Tingle jingle tingle time

Published 5:45 pm Friday, December 16, 2022

I have a story to tell. A true story. A significant emotional event that bears witness to the kind of power a teacher holds within her hands. And within her heart.

When I was four, I decided to sew. My wish was fervent, alive, and as dynamic as a starving ant bearing down on a ham sandwich. The first hurdle was … my mother didn’t sew. Moreover she wasn’t about to learn. And secondly none of her friends sewed either. What was I to do?

With no choice, I forged ahead. Scrounging up scraps of cloth, I went to town with my creations. Of course my fabrications were atrocious; barely recognizable as clothing. But did I see them as such? Not on your life. My deeply flawed perspective reassured me they were swanky haute couture … va-va-voom!

This, then, spurred me onto another idea. Knitting. Yes, knitting little sweaters. I could see them so clearly … my dolls enshrouded in luxurious garments that were surely the envy of all! But, Mom didn’t knit either. Nor did her friends. I was back to square one.

In a linen closet I found a pair of pink plastic needles and a ball of yarn. With them I was on my way. My first creation was a knit diaper for Betsy Wetsy. I wound the yarn around one needle and then stuck the other needle in the loops. Poor Betsy’s diaper was so holey it looked like a spider had spun it while chewing taffy.

In truth, the real problem was not the holes in my knitting. It was the great big gap in my childhood; the one full of longing to create. I knew I had it in me, if only I could find a guide to enlighten me.

Doggedly purposeful in my resolve, during the ensuing years I plodded resolutely from one muddled project to the next, never lessening my determination. And then it happened—the event that changed my life. I started Seventh Grade. Seventh Grade with the promise of Home Economics. As if her name had ordained her to this destiny, Maud Vest was the sewing teacher.

She was an aging, pudgy, gray-haired spinster so tightly corseted she was unbendable. My hungry eyes, albeit, saw her as magical for within her was every sewing secret I so desperately yearned to know. To me Maud Vest’s desk was a pedestal with her, a goddess, perched high upon it.

“Hello, Class,” she began that first Monday. “We will start our sewing lessons by making mouse pincushions.” A mouse pincushion? “Your supplies will be gray felt, gray thread, scissors, pins and a needle. I’ll give you one week to complete the assignment.”

I was consumed. At last I had a pattern and supplies and someone to show me what to do. It was as close to heaven as I’d ever been. Please do not think I am exaggerating when I tell you this story. I’m not. I, now at 84, can still feel the emotion I experienced that day. I had at last found my Mecca. Mecca in a tightly stuffed, long line Warner’s girdle!

On Friday Miss Vest collected all the mouse pincushions. She told us she would examine them over the weekend and then return them with our grades on Monday. What? That was two torturous days from now! Two eternal angst-filled days in which I’d be suspended in a merciless limbo. The thought left me feeling like an astronaut taking his first tremulous step into space; like Elvis abandoning his swivel; like a heart surgeon performing his first transplant … on the Pope! How would I ever make it to Monday?

By Sunday night, I was nearly unraveled. What if my mouse pincushion wasn’t good enough? What if Miss Vest threw me out of class for turning in a godless, inept piece of work? What if this was my only chance at sewing and I blew it with a shoddy, unacceptable rodent replica? Sleep did not come.

The next morning I sat in class with blurry eyes and a too-fast beating heart. This was it, my fate soon to be sealed. Miss Vest took her sweet time handing back all the mouse pincushions. One by agonizing one, she went around the room, the waiting unbearable. Of course, I was last. I knew … I just knew … she had planned it this way so I could slip out of class unnoticed when she pronounced my sentence. “Failure! Out, out, poor sewer!! Never again let the shadow of your wretched stitches darken my classroom door!” Beezlebub was biting at my heels.

Miss Vest approached. Miss Vest hovered. Like a drone on stuck, she suspended her plentiful bosom over me. I wasn’t breathing. The tension could have broken Nancy Reagan’s hair.

Then she began to speak. Her voice was low and slow as each word came out one long syllable at a time. “Peggy,” she began, “I have been teaching sewing for more than 30 years. And in all that time” … here it was … the guillotine falling … “in all that time,” she repeated, “this is the best mouse pincushion I have ever seen.”

What? It was like Humpty Dumpty had miraculously been put back together. Like the Sleeping Beauty never again needed a nap. Like Hollywood decided to move to Bixby. What had Miss Vest said????

In that moment, my life changed. I would never be the same. And that, dear friends, is what I mean by

the power a single teacher has in altering a child’s life forevermore. I went on to become a sewer. I’m still a sewer. The inordinate pleasure it gives me now is just as fulfilling as it was then.

You may be scratching your head over why my holiday letter is about a mouse pincushion. Well, here it is: Miss Vest’s momentous words have never left me. Since then each time I have started a new sewing project, I have felt my heart go sparkly. You know, the kind of special tingling one gets at this time of year. You see, it’s like Christmas happening again … and again … and again. I want this for you, too. Thus, it is now my sincere wish that before time runs out, you will also be filled with palpating tingles; that you will each find the joy of embracing your very own special mouse pincushion.

May you have the merriest of holidays … Peggy