Saturday, September 11, 2010

Across the generations

Over a hundred years ago my grandmother was widowed in rural California with three young children, a tiny pension from my grandfather's service in the Civil War (we have long generations in my family), and the skill as a seamstress she'd learned in England. Working as a seamstress and taking in laundry when she had to, she managed not only to make a life for her little family, but to send each of her three children through college and on to graduate school. She's one of my heroes, Catherine Gibson Hahn, Cassie.

I thought of Cassie many times yesterday, as Dina Duvon and I had the joy of helping Sonia, a single mother of four, get a really serious sewing machine. Sonia has been surviving by selling used clothes, and sometimes has used her old treadle sewing machine - which Cassie could have used - to make clothes. With the help of a couple of wonderful donors, I have been able to bring groceries to the family for a few months, and when I asked Sonia what could help her to make the family more stable, she said she would be able to make much more money if she had a really good sewing machine.

So yesterday we went down to El Centro, the downtown core of El Salvador, and while the gringa stayed in the car (I had a feeling that my presence would raise the price instantly) Dina and Sonia found an amazing machine which we crammed into the 4Runner and installed in Sonia's tiny hut of lamina (sheet metal) with the help of the store's mechanic - here he is in the photo, putting in the finishing touches.

This is no fairy tale: we are still hoping to find better housing for this family, which lives on the edge of a zone of lead contamination and in a battered and unhealthy setting. One of Sonia's daughters has a serious autoimmune disorder, and the others have parasites from the bad water (they'll get a water filter when we bring more down in November). There's no telling whether the sewing machine really will help Sonia to lift her family out of direst poverty. And Sonia is only one among the many, many single parents, mothers mostly, who struggle endlessly to keep tortillas on the table, who love their children and hope for a better future for them. But remembering Cassie, I choose to believe in Sonia and in the strength of women.

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