A Treadle to Peddle (February story)


“Ow!” Steve grimaced as he banged his knee. “Will this be here much longer?” he said. “I don’t mean to be awkward, but it’s been months.”

Maggie sighed. He was right. Her mum’s old treadle standing in their narrow hallway, was more than a minor irritation. “I’ll get it moved as soon as I can,” she said. 

She groaned inwardly. It had meant so much to Grace, Maggie’s mum, and had been part of her life for more years than anyone cared to remember. Maggie’s childhood revolved around her mum’s work at the sewing machine, night and day it seemed now. Memories of falling asleep to the soft whirr and rhythmic pounding of the treadle in the next room echoed in her brain. A dressmaker by trade, her mother made all their clothes. She made curtains and sewed shirts and sheets. She even made the rag rug on the floor from cuttings and left over material. Grace and her sewing machine were inextricably linked in Maggie’s mind. Still, Steve had a point, in the hall of their modern bungalow it was an eyesore and an obstacle.

“If I can’t find a home for it by next week I’ll take it down the tip,” Maggie assured him, but disappointment churned in her stomach. When Grace moved in with her and Steve they’d had no room to keep much of her stuff, only the small nick-knacks and photos she could keep in her room. All the big stuff had had to go. It was hard enough for her to give up her tiny flat, she’d always been so independent, but they all knew it was for the best. Still, it tore Maggie’s heart out to see her mother’s life disappearing into the back of the charity shop van. Every item held a precious memory. Her favourite armchair, the sideboard where she kept her best china, the everyday crockery, cherished over years. Everything seemed so much part of her. Maggie saw her Mum’s lips quiver and tears fill her eyes when the men brought out the treadle.

“Can’t take that,” the driver said. “No market nowadays for old relics.”

A look of relief flitted across Grace’s face, swift as a dragonfly, but her happiness was short-lived. They both knew it would have to go.

“I’ll find a good home for it,” Maggie promised, leading her away. “Somewhere it will be appreciated.”

Grace smiled gratefully and nodded.

The man at the museum had a kind face. Tall, with a ginger moustache, he reminded Maggie of the young chap who used to call on her Mum every couple of weeks, bringing her bundles of work and collecting the finished pieces. Most days she’d be sewing well into the night.

“Just think,” she used to say. “My dresses are being sold in the top fashion houses in London.” Her face would shine brighter than the sun in August. Maggie felt hopeful.

The man sighed when she explained the reason for her visit. “Just the treadle, you say. No actual sewing machine?”

She shook her head. “The machine was electrified. It went years ago, but Mum kept the treadle.” She remembered it, just as it used to be, under the window in Grace’s tiny sitting room. She’d kept it covered with an embroidered cloth and her favourite photos stood proudly on it. Some days she just sat in front of it, staring at the world out of her window. “It’s an old friend in a changing world,” she used to say.

He shrugged. “Follow me,” he said. He took Maggie to a room at the back of the museum. A line of sewing machines, dating from the earliest Singer up to the present day, stood along one wall. “Might have been of interest if you’d had the machine,” he said. “But, not just the treadle.”

The man in the Antique Shop wasn’t much help either. “Just the base?” he said. “Now, if you had the machine as well…” He raised his eyebrows. “Sorry,” he said.

They all squeezed past it for a couple more days, Maggie patting it each time she passed. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll find you a good home,” but she was rapidly losing confidence.

The next day Steve came in with two trays of tomato plants for the garden. He struggled to pass the treadle. He didn’t say anything, but Maggie saw the flash of annoyance in his eyes when several lumps of soil fell from the trays onto the carpet.

She tried the local retirement home. A nostalgia piece she called it and described the ornate ironwork on the legs and the solid oak top with the hollow for the machine. “Bound to bring back memories for some of your residents,” she said, hopefully.

“Might be worth something for the ironwork,” the Matron said. “Try the scrap yard.”

Maggie’s face fell and her heart somersaulted in her chest. She imagined the look of horror on her mother’s face. She’d wring her hands and tears would fill her eyes.

“No thanks,” she said. “I’d rather stick it in the bathroom and sit on it.” She couldn’t of course: it would never fit.

She wandered the streets for a while, trying to find a solution. Steve was a wonderful, patient man, but he had his limits.

She walked home, full of dread, feeling like she’d let her Mum down. “That treadle saved us from starvation,” Grace used to say. Maggie’s dad died far too young and her mother’s work had been their saviour. Her earnings kept the wolf from the door. Her face would soften with affection when she looked at the treadle. Her sentimental attachment was obvious. It was more than wood and metal to her.

Maggie arrived home just as the young man from the garden centre pulled up in his van. “I’ve got that compost you ordered,” he said. “I’ll bring it through.”

Maggie’s heart sank. He’ll never get two enormous bales of compost past the obstacle in the hall, she thought.

She thought wrong. He hoisted the first bag onto his shoulder and strode up the path, leaving her in his wake.

“Wow,” he said when he saw the treadle. He swung the bale of compost onto the floor and crouched down gazing at it.  He ran his hands over the ironwork and inspected the still intact leather belt. “How fantastic,” he said. “Just the thing for the garden.” His eyes shone like fairy lights.

“The garden?” Maggie said, puzzled.

“Yes. Paint it white and put plants in the hollow where the machine used to be.” He grinned. “Make a great talking point,” he said.

He was right. The treadle looked a treat standing under the kitchen window, brimming with Grace’s favourite red geraniums. That summer Maggie sat with her mum on the patio, sipping tea. She couldn’t help but smile when she saw the twinkle of pleasure in her mum’s cornflower blue eyes.

“I’m glad you found a home for it,” she said. “Moving in with you was difficult enough without giving up all my treasures.”

If you enjoyed this story there are plenty more in my short story collections here.