My mother's blue tape measure
Updated: Feb 15
When I was a little girl, my mother used to sew; she was at her sewing machine often. I wish I knew then what I know now about how much that meant to her, or the pleasure she derived from being so creative. I get that now, because I too have found my passion with painting, with writing and even with sewing. I remember always seeing piles of cut fabric, strands of thread and “do-overs” laying on the floor around her and I would think it was just so messy and in my way but what I realize now was how truly beautiful it all was. She used to wear this blue tape measure around her neck like jewelry. I thought she was sloppy… I wish I never thought that. One year, just before school started, she made my brother, my sister and I matching clothes out of the flowered kitchen curtains. I was in the 5thgrade and I was so humiliated. We walked to the bus stop in our clothes made of kitchen curtains and I was sure that everyone knew.
When my mother died, we were all going through her things deciding what we wanted to keep. At the time, I wanted nothing. I wasn’t close to her, we didn’t have a relationship that allowed me to feel sentimental and I regretted that. Death is so darn final. It constantly reminds us of what we didn’t do or say at the time we could have. At the moment we were rummaging through her personal belongs was that same moment that I wished I could have changed our relationship, that I too could be feeling some kind of attachment to what she left behind. So I decided to find the things that resonated most with me about her; a few baking tools, some poems she had written and I took the blue tape measure.
As I grew older and became a mother myself, I too started sewing. I made my kids clothing but not from kitchen curtains. I sat for hours at my sewing machine and while my lines were never straight, I loved creating a new dress for my daughter or MC Hammer pants for my son. And as they grew up and had their own children, I made quilts for my grand daughters. And yes, the lines are still crooked, but the feelings are still the same. I am proud of what I create and I love the feeling of sitting for hours at the machine, despite the pains in my neck and back. And I think of my mother often.
When I became a nurse, one of the things I need to do at each routine visit, is measure their MAC, which requires a tape measure. So I brought out my mom’s old tape measure, which I had never used since she passed away, and I bring it into every patient visit. Each time I pull it out of my bag I get this feeling that almost overwhelms me; I feel like she is right there with me and I smile. Each time, I am reminded of her and the gifts she gave me that at the time I was so unaware of but thankfully, am reminded of now daily. In so many ways, I am so much like her and I had absolutely no idea.
One day, I was sitting with a patient who was nearing her end. She was able to communicate, but we struggled to find conversation. I pulled out my blue tape measure and I smiled as I always do and she asked me, “What made you smile like that”? So I shared the story about my mom. This story encouraged her to share about her mom and her childhood. We talked quite a bit that day, and at the next two visits I was able to spend time with her until she passed away. And now, when I go in to see a patient and I pull out the tape measure, I tell them about it. My little blue tape measure, that used to belong to my mom, is a beautiful conversation starter with my patients. I ask them about their own memories and they share with such joy in their faces. Most people want to be reminded to remember. I certainly benefit from it myself. She may not be here with me anymore, but my mom and I are closer now than we ever have been. xo