From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

The Fifty-Cent Sewing Machine

Give what you have. To some it may be better than you dare think.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Today, as I dust furniture in my living room, I pause at the beautiful antique sewing-machine cabinet sitting in the corner. It’s Victorian style and made of solid walnut. It has beautiful scroll work, and the grain is in diagonals and squares. The sewing machine quit working many years ago, and I now just use the cabinet for storage. The wood gleams in the sunlight. It is one of my most prized possessions. Every time I dust it or even look at it, it reminds me of my grandpa and my dad and the lesson I learned from them.

The first time I saw that sewing-machine cabinet, thirty-four years ago, I was a junior in high school. I was a home economics major and loved to sew. I was desperate for my very own sewing machine. My grandpa knew that, and he wanted to help me.

The local Singer Sewing Machine Center would sell their trade-ins for fifty cents to the first customer in the store on a certain day of the month. The machines were all guaranteed to work, and it was a real bargain. One day when I got home from school, Grandpa called, so proud. He’d gotten one of those fifty-cent sewing machines, and it was beautiful. I couldn’t wait to get it.

When Dad got home from work, Grandpa pulled into the driveway in his old green station wagon. Dad and I ran out to greet him. Grandpa recounted the story about how he had gone to the store a half-hour early and waited just so he could purchase the bargain of the day. He beamed, “It’s a Westinghouse. I know you’ll love it!”

Eagerly, I watched as Grandpa opened the back of his station wagon. My heart sank. The cabinet was filthy and scratched. The finish was cracked with huge water rings all over it. The sewing machine might work, but who would want to use it? There was no way I was going to put brand-new, beautiful fabric on that machine. My dad and grandpa kept going on and on about the beautiful cabinet and what a great bargain it was. I thought they were crazy. I politely thanked my grandpa, hiding my disappointment. Dad set the sewing machine in the garage, saying he would clean it up before putting it in my room.

I went on about my daily school life, still wishing I had a sewing machine besides the one in the garage. A couple of weeks later, my dad said he wanted to show me something. I followed him to the garage, and there sat the most beautiful sewing machine I had ever seen! The wood of the cabinet was a dark, rich walnut, smooth and shining. It looked brand-new, more beautiful than any in the magazines or catalogues.

I couldn’t believe Dad had cleaned and polished that old machine and sanded and refinished the cabinet. Dad and Grandpa weren’t crazy after all. They had seen beyond the filth and cracks and water rings. From the very beginning, they knew what that machine could look like; they knew what it could be.

I can still see the scene in my mind like it was yesterday—the day I learned that even when life looks bleak, we must look beyond the negative, see the potential in the positive.

Brenda K. Stevens

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