One windy day last October, I tripped over a leaf-covered obstruction in the sidewalk and broke my wrist. Looking back, my painful wrist was the first catalyst I can identify that began to steer my thinking in the direction of a major life change. Since my accident, I can no longer do a lot of things I used to be able to carry off with panache.
Just yesterday the man I hired to do some yard work I can’t handle any more — stuff involving a wheel barrow and pitch fork — asked me, “How did you ever get in the recovering furniture business?”
My son was 5. My daughter was a senior in high school, getting ready to go to college. I was a mom on my own. I had enrolled at the U of M to start work toward a master’s degree. Got a job. Put Ben in daycare. After a nightmarish two weeks, he and I agreed that daycare didn’t work for us. I withdrew from school. I quit my job. There had to be a way I could support my family using skills I had learned growing up, at the same time doing something I enjoyed. For a few months I supported us by hemming blue jeans and replacing zippers in ski jackets. It was hand to mouth.
I continued to focus on sewing and in a few short months things came together in a wondrous way. I bought a commercial sewing machine. I learned upholstery. I moved to Poulsbo, Wash. and started a successful business, specializing in antique restoration. All these years later, after a move back to my hometown, I continued my business on the Hi-Line. But then I fell and broke my wrist. The break healed but RSD, a nerve disorder, set in. Much of the physical work I was used to doing is now difficult or close to impossible.
Then in early spring, my son was diagnosed with lung cancer. A young man with cancer is not the way things are supposed to be. But nobody is immune from a hit from “not the way things are supposed to be.” He became my second catalyst. His doctor sent him home to write his “Bucket List.” As we talked about it, Ben reminded me that I had wanted to devote more of my life to my painting and writing.
You have to understand, I have the most wonderful and patient customers in the world. “Get healed,” they said. Furniture piled up in my shop. I ran away from home and went on an extended retreat. When I returned I had made the decision to change my life. I would finish the work for the customers I had committed to and then lock the door to the Recovery Room.
At the rate I could work one-and-a-half handed, I figured closing that door might take as long as six months. That door might stay cracked open forever. So I called my friend and colleague Steve, a furniture upholster from Silverdale, Wash. This week Steve rode out on the train to help me with my heavier projects. I can handle the smaller jobs. And then my life and identity as an upholsterer will be at an end.
Working with furniture, making wonderful but shabby old pieces new and stylish, has been a part of my life, the love of my life, for almost 30 years. Yikes! I must have subtracted wrong. Nope — 29 years. It will be like losing a limb. Can I do it? I want to. I have to. I will.
I’ve always liked the cliché, when one door closes, another door opens. And that may be true for you, but in my life, I generally find multiple doors, none with a neon flashing arrow pointing “Choose Me,” from which to choose. Remember Monty Hall in that old television game show, “Let’s Make a Deal”? Remember the “Big Deal” at the end of the show, where contestants got a chance to trade their booty for the possibility of grabbing something of greater value, behind Door Number One, Door Number Two or Door Number Three. We viewers held our breath as the contestants pondered which door to pick. We wanted the best for each participant. For the contestant who had won the washer and dryer, we wanted the Biggest Value Deal of all, the brand new shiny red Cadillac convertible, gleaming with chrome. What satisfaction we vicariously felt, when they chose the door that opened to the best deal of all. What a finale.
So I will finish my work and close my shop door. I am confident Life will present me with Doors Number One, Two and Three to choose from. My show is just beginning. Oh, the anticipation! Which door will I open? It doesn’t really matter. Every door opens to vast possibilities. Life, let’s make a deal. Bring on the doors.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little diffeent. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)