Somehow, I had gotten it into my head that I needed a peach-colored curtain. So, a young bride in 1996, I arrived unannounced at my grandmother's house in North Massapequa. I was determined to make the kitchen curtain of my dreams on her ancient Singer sewing machine.
"I'm going to do it myself," I declared, dumping my purchases from Fabric Bonanza in Levittown at her feet. Oh, how she laughed. Was she just happy to see me?
My grandmother Apollonia Zeo, or "Sally," as she was known, had been a seamstress for many years, doing piecework in Brooklyn. She could buy any dress, take it apart, cut a pattern and make an exact copy. I hemmed my pants with paper clips, and yet here I was, ready to wreck her day with my McCall's pattern, my foolish optimism and my insufficient yardage of cheap polyester.More ExpresswayReader essaysReader essaysGet published in NewsdayCartoonDavies' latest cartoon: Trump inaugural ball
Even as I swore that I would do all the work, I watched her deftly pull straight pins from the little tomato-shaped pin cushion at her wrist and expertly move the flimsy pattern into position.
"Let's cut our pieces," she instructed.
"I can do that!" I said confidently. I'd been cutting since kindergarten.
She calmly watched as I hacked at the fabric with her good shears until, to my relief, she held out her small hand and I handed them over.
"Excalibur," I said. She just looked at me.
"OK, now you'll thread the bobbin," she said. "It's easy."
This was like telling me to perform microsurgery on my own eye, and we both knew it, but she was encouraging. I only saw her bite her thumb twice.
After several attempts to talk me through it, my grandmother finally put the pedal to metal herself on the old black machine. Crouched low over her dining room table, she focused on her work as I stood in the kitchen with a black cherry soda and the heel of a loaf of semolina bread.
In her 80s, with no arthritis, no medications, no complaints, she sewed. All afternoon, she sewed -- through "All My Children," "One Life to Live," "General Hospital" and "Oprah."
I ate my way through the pepperoni, her Sicilian cracked olives and a quarter pound of provolone. By the time "Eyewitness News" came on, my grandmother had an aching back, but I had a beautiful custom valance.
When my grandfather came home for dinner, I greeted him at the door.
"Look," I said, beaming proudly. "I made a curtain."
I saw my grandparents look at each other, and then at me, the way long-married people look at each other and their offspring.
"What are you planning to do for dinner tonight?" she asked me.
I was caught taking candy spearmint leaves from her lead crystal dish. The heavy lid was so loud.
"Well, I'm not really hungry," I said. The olives, the cheese.
"Not for you, for your husband!" she said. "You make me laugh."
"Oh yeah, I forgot about him."
I heard my grandmother mutter amid the sound of pots and pans in the kitchen.
On that night of my child bride-ness, so long ago, there was a magnificent and impromptu dinner -- that night and others to follow. My husband, Sal, and I were always welcome at their table.
Now, at 100 years old, my grandmother only has such brilliant use of her hands in the haven that is her dreams. Her sewing machines, and those of my late mother, her only daughter, are packed away in a dusty basement.
I'm the one who uses a stapler to "sew" on Girl Scout patches. But, I could make my grandmother laugh, so there is that.
Reader Kathleen Hermann LoPiccolo lives in Wantagh.