I would like to introduce you to Lena.
I learned to sew on Lena. She belonged to my grandmother, who got it from her mother, who got it from… well, I will get to that. I know not why she is called Lena - She has always been called Lena, ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper, and that was a long time ago. Although Lena was of grandmotherly age even then.
Lena has an ID tag, which is inscribed K248437. Date my machine confirms that Lena was born in 1902 in Elizabeth, New Jersey USA.
So how did she get all the way here? Well, Lena has a birth story, and my job is to share it with you. I’ll tell it to you just as it was told to me.
You see, my great grandfather was a builder, and was responsible for building and supervising the building of many of the grand buildings, schools and government dwellings you see around Perth, Western Australia. Great Grandfather was overseeing the building of Christian Brothers College a century ago, when one of workers and his new wife were seeking passage home to their own native country of Scotland. The wife had had a babe, was desperately homesick, and to travel home to Scotland was expensive. Being of lower working class, the labourer did not have enough money for the ship fare and had asked his employer, my Great Grandfather, for the loan of 5 pounds to make the fare.
My father’s family is not known for their generousity, but being a fair man, he made a deal with the labourer. As 5 pounds was a LOT of money back then, the labourer was to leave something of value – in this case, it was Lena – as collateral, and a 5 pound loan was made. The deal done, the worker and his new family made their way across the sea to Bonny Scotland. The labourer never returned – and was never heard from again.
And Lena became part of the family.
Lena still has all her attachments in a special case which came with her when she entered my Great grandmother’s world. Her manual has seen better days, and is crumbling away inside a zip lock bag. Not like Lena, she still sews – well, she did when I last saw her used, which was in 1995. She has since been in storage, staying at my mother’s home until I had her shipped here this week. Her treadle still treadles, her bobbin winds, but the tension spring needs repairs. I even have her oil bottle.
My grandmother – like her mother – sewed on Lena right up until she was unable to sew anymore. She did have an electric sewing machine – it was quicker for those long seams – but she still did some of her stitchery on Lena when it suited her.
Lena has just celebrated her 106th birthday, her body is understandably a little battered. I found an online restoration guide – but really, her japanning is still almost perfect except on the base plate where it’s chipped. And underneath some oily residue her painted flowers and swirls, her brass plates and her engraved silver is still perfect and needs a clean as a century of oil is a little hard to remove. Her shellacking looks a little sad but I think my skin would look no better at almost 107 years of age.
So that’s Lena’s story. Just the way it was told to me.