One hand had a stranglehold on a crisp white shirt; the other hand was clutched tightly into a fist.
“When is Mom coming home?” Steven asked with a touch of panic in his voice.
I pulled a drinking glass out of a sink full of sudsy water and scrubbed it with a dish cloth. “She’s not,” I said, rinsing the glass and setting it aside to dry. “She’s going to meet us at the concert.”
“WHAT!?” He tightened his grip on the white shirt, testing the limits of the “wrinkle free” guarantee.
“She’s at work,” I explained, not for the first time. “She’s not going to have time to come home before the concert, so she’s going to meet us there.”
His eyes got misty. I dried my hands on a dish towel.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Don’t you feel good?” He’d just eaten two microwave burritos and, combined with concert night jitters, I was expecting the worst.
He opened the fist. “A button came off my shirt!” he said, fighting back tears. “This is my only white shirt … we’re all supposed to wear white shirts!”
“It’s alright,” I said. “I’ll sew it back on.”
He looked at me like I’d just spoken gibberish: “But you don’t know how to sew!”
“Sure I do.”
“Maybe we can call Mom and she can leave work early …”
“No, really, I can sew it back on.”
He squeezed the shirt with both hands like he was wringing water from a wet towel: “Maybe we can go to Walmart and get a new one!” he said. “How much does a white shirt cost?”
“Honest!” I said. “I know how to sew a button on!”
For a 7-year0old, he’d mastered the art of looking skeptical … eyebrows furrowed, eyes narrowed to slits, mouth clamped into a tiny straight line. But I think he’d given up on the idea of a trip to Walmart: “Really?”
“Really. Let me get the sewing kit …”
“You’re not joking?”
“No! Who do you think sews the buttons on MY shirts when they come off?”
“No! I do! I’ll get the sewing kit.”
He followed me down the hall to a closet that held an eclectic assortment of candles, vases, wrapping paper and knick-knacks. The sewing kit was tucked into the back of the closet, a festive orange cushion that sprouted a collection of pins and needles, with little pockets that held spools of thread in Crayola’s most popular colors.
“How did you learn to sew?” Steven asked as we headed back to the kitchen.
“Grandma showed me,” I said. “I brought her a shirt one time … it was missing three buttons and I asked her to sew them on. She said it was time for me to learn how to do it.”
“How old were you?”
“33, 34 …”
We sat side-by-side at the kitchen table, I put the loose end from a spool of white thread into my mouth and pulled a needle out of the cushion.
“Why do you put it in your mouth?” Steven asked.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “That’s what Grandma did. I guess if you make it wet the little fuzzy ends of the thread go away so you can get it through the eye of the needle easier.”
I was about to ask Steven to thread the needle when I finally poked it through on the sixth or seventh try. I ran eighteen inches of thread through the eye and broke it off the spool.
“Do you need that much?” Steven asked.
“Yup. Now here’s what you do. You hold the button here … see the little holes where it used to be? … then you push the needle through and just keep going down one side and up the other until you’ve used all the thread!”
Hmmm. Guess we really didn’t need eighteen inches …
I made one final pass through the button, broke off the excess thread and handed the shirt back to Steven: “Done! That baby’s NOT coming off!”
I held my breath as he gave the button a tug. It didn’t come off.
“Thanks, Dad!” he said, jumping up from the table and heading for his bedroom to get dressed for the concert. “I didn’t think you could do it!”
But seconds later, with a touch of panic in his voice, he called out from his room: “Dad! When is Mom coming home?”
“She’s not! She’s going to meet us at the concert. Why? Did the button come off?”
“No, my shirt is all wrinkly! It’s my only white shirt!”
I smiled and started toward the hall closet.
“Bring it here,” I said. “I’ll get the iron.”
“You know how to iron?”
Just another day in the life of a Renaissance man.