The cotton was thin, cheap stuff and the bright red dye had faded a lot over six decades. It was stretched over sawdust and sand; the sand was supposed to keep the pins and needles sharp.
The tomato-shaped pin cushion was one of the few things Ginny’d been able to save when Mother, efficient as always, had cleaned out Grandma’s condo. Ginny’d gotten there late, due to a train with electrical issues between Newport News and Richmond. Then she’d had trouble getting a cab from the train station to Grandma’s. Grandma, herself, was gone, moved into hospice two days ago, and Ginny’s mother had already thrown out most of Grandma’s stuff or, in the case of the old oak furniture, sent it off to the antique store on consignment.
There were still some African violets, in pots with silver foil around their edges, sitting on the kitchen windowsill and Grandma’s sewing basket, sitting forlorn in the middle of the second bedroom that Grandma had used as her sewing room. The Singer had been sold on eBay and all of Grandma’s quilts had been donated to Goodwill, receipts tucked safely into Mother’s notebook.
“I’ll take the sewing basket,” Ginny said, right away, “and the African violets.”
“If you want them, fine,” Mother said. “Though how you’re going to take those plants back on the train, I don’t know. I’ve hired a cleaning company to come in tomorrow and clean the place so we can put it on the market. It may take forever to sell a condo here. They overbuilt and, of course, that’s when Grandma bought.”
“When can we visit Grandma?” Ginny asked.
“She won’t know you’re there,” Mother sighed, “but I’ll take you over now if it will help you get some closure.”
“It will,” Ginny’d lied. She’d closed her hand around the pin cushion, remembering all the times that Grandma had pulled pins out of it to hem a new dress or nightgown for Ginny or to piece together scraps of cloth into a warm winter quilt, all the while reading to Ginny. Over her t-shirt and jeans, Ginny was wearing a quilted jacket that Grandma had made, the deliberately oversized and mismatched buttons holding it together against the chilly Spring wind.
“I don’t suppose you want to change? Did you bring a dress or a suit?” Mother asked.
“No, I want to wear this,” Ginny said. “Grandma might recognize it.”
Mother shook her head. “Ginny, she’s been unconscious for a few days now. We’re just waiting for her systems to hurry up and shut down.”
The hospice was an old Victorian house, just off South Cherry Street, around the corner from Hollywood Cemetery where Grandpa was buried beneath the Carolina jessamine and wild wisteria. Ancient forsythia bushes lined the walk to the huge front porch and quince bushes bloomed outside Grandma’s first-floor window.
“I’m going to go talk to the head nurse,” Mother said, checking emails on her iPhone. “I’ll let you have some time with your grandmother. We’ll need to leave soon; I have a conference call that I need to take back at the condo.”
Ginny pulled the rocking chair up to Grandma’s bed, straightened the blankets, and put the pin cushion into Grandma’s knobby, arthritic hands.
“Grandma, it’s Ginny. I brought you your pin cushion. You know, the old tomato. Mom’s cleaning out your stuff and I wanted to keep this. I’m going to take your African violets, too, back to my apartment at school, so they’ll be taken care of. And I want you to bless this for me. Remember how you used to read me the Bible stories in that old picture book? And how Jacob told God, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’? So, OK, we talked about how I’m Wiccan, now, but, Grandma, I will not let you go unless you bless the pin cushion for me. Because I remember how you talked to me about gardening in Virginia clay while pinning quilts and clothes with pins from this old tomato and, OK, well, you know I’m studying Botany. So, anyway,” Ginny said, starting to cry in earnest, “Mother says your body needs to shut down and you’ve been fighting it. If you’ve been waiting for me to get here, well, here I am. So you bless this old pin cushion for me, OK, please? It’s finally starting to get warm out and I’m going home and I’m going to plant some of those heirloom Old Virginia Tomato seeds that you sent me at Thanksgiving. But I want your blessing, Grandma, OK?”
Ginny sat a long time beside the bed, but Grandma never moved. She breathed slowly and with effort, but her eyes never opened and her hands never moved.
“OK, Grandma,” Ginny said, hearing her mother and the nurse coming down the hall. “It’s OK. I love you. Thank you for the clothes, and the plants, and the stories, and the tea cakes, and the homework help, and, well, Grandma, thank you for everything. You go on now, I know Grandpa’s waiting for you.”
Ginny reached for the lumpy tomato pin cushion. Who had ever decided that pin cushions should be tomatoes, anyway? And that was when Grandma’s bony fingers had squeezed hard, almost tearing the thin red fabric, almost squeezing sawdust and sand out of the pin cushion. Ginny slipped her fingers under Grandma’s. Grandma’s eyes opened and she mouthed the words of a song she’d sung all the times that she’d tucked Ginny into the sofa bed, “O Hail, fair Moon, Ruler of night. Guard me and mine, Until the light.”
Grandma breathed one last breath and Ginny watched her slip between the veils.
Ginny sighed, remembering it all. And then she set the pin cushion among the seeds in the little basket on her windowsill.
“Dark of the Moon, New Beginnings . . . .”
Picture found here.