My Unexpected Lesson from the Fabric Store

Category: Musing

I learned to sew when I was in fifth grade, and I never stopped. My eighth-grade graduation present was a sewing machine, and I quickly turned into Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink and made all my own clothes during high school.

When I turned sixteen and was able to get my first paying job, the only job I wanted was at So-Fro Fabrics in our local mall. I got it. A year later, my mom decided to also get a job there. We wanted the employee discount! We had a blast working together. (That was until I became assistant manager and was relinquished of all vacuuming duties and told my mom that was her job. Somehow that still ended up on my list of job responsibilities despite the promotion.)

When I went to college, my mom continued to work at the fabric store. She loved surrounding herself with people who loved to sew and unpacking and presenting each new season’s fabrics. I came home one day from college to surprise her for her birthday weekend. I showed up at the store and waited in her fairly long line to cut some fabric. I wanted her to discover it was me when it was my turn in line.

The woman in front of me was visibly irritated by something, and I soon realized she was getting impatient about the pace of the line. As we waited for my mom to cut, measure, and ring up each customer, she grew more and more angry. She finally turned to me and said, “They shouldn’t have older people working here if they can’t handle the pace.” I was devastated. She was talking about MY MOM. I was instantly frozen with anger.

I knew I had to contain myself for fear of using my bolt of fabric to remove her head. We moved one customer closer, and this woman would be next. “Oh my GOD, she is taking forever!” she said to herself. I was instantly in protection mode—waiting to shove this woman aside if she said ANYTHING disrespectful to my mother when it was her turn.

I held my breath as she approached the counter, threw her bolt on the table, and waited for my mom to ask her how much fabric she wanted. My mom looked at the fabric, then looked at her, and said, “Oh my goodness, this fabric is beautiful, and the colors are just perfect for you. Are you making something for yourself? Because this is just so perfect and pretty for you; it matches your eyes and hair so beautifully!”

The woman instantly softened. “Well, yes,” she said, “I’m going to make a dress for my daughter’s shower.” My mom was filled with genuine glee. “Oh, that’s wonderful. Congratulations! What kind of dress?” The woman pulled out her pattern and showed my mom. “It has an empire waist, and I thought this would drape well. Do you think it will?” My mom held up about two yards of the fabric and showed her how it would lay as it moved. “Oh, it’s perfect for that, don’t you think? Look at how it just flows into itself.” The woman smiled, she was so excited.

She then asked my mom about what type of zipper she should get and asked my mom’s opinion on how to change the sleeves. She also had a question on the pattern. My mom was fully present with her, answering each question with passion and patience, and the woman thanked her for all her help, told my mom to have a lovely day, and after 10 minutes of talking to my mom, walked away with joy and inspiration as a result of her interaction with my mom.

I was next. I put my bolt of fabric on the table, and my mom took in the colors and the type of fabric, looked up, and said, “Can I help you? What are you going to make with this beautiful fabric.” The tears had been flowing nonstop for the last eight minutes. I was so proud to call Evy my mom.

This woman who insulted my mother fifteen minutes earlier was absolutely transformed by my mother’s presence and state of mind. My mom’s genuine interest and care touched every single customer she interacted with. It wasn’t until that moment that I noticed there were two other employees available and ready to wait on customers, but they chose my mom’s line, and I saw firsthand why.

“Tina! What are you doing here, and why are you crying?” I laughed. “I’m just happy to see you, Mom. Happy birthday.”

I’ll never, ever forget that day. It was such a demonstration to me of how someone can be transformed by the quality of our presence. That I don’t have to match irritation with irritation or rude with rude. My mom saw the person and her desire to make a beautiful dress so she could look beautiful for her daughter on a very special day. She didn’t see irritation or judgment. And she changed this woman’s mind about what it means to serve.

My mom told me from the earliest age I can remember: “You get what you look for, Tina. If you look for good, you’ll find good. If you look for bad, you’ll find bad. Be mindful of what you choose to look for.” She lived by her values and demonstrated them every day. I miss you, Mom. So very much. Thanks for showing me what good looks like and how to always look for it, even when it’s really, really hard.

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