In the early 1980’s when I moved from Owen Sound to London, Old South London, or The Wortley Village as it is known today, was an up-and-coming neighbourhood. Gentrification gave chase to the seedier elements though clusters of tired and tumbled-down homes remained. This was especially the case along Wharncliffe Road, the main thoroughfare that delineated the western-most border of Wortley Village.
At one time, Wharncliffe was primarily a residential street. As London grew, the road was designated commercial and many of the single storey cottages were used as small businesses, the kind that offered legal services, upholstery, tax preparation, and the like. The larger, once stately homes, were converted into multi-plexes and student housing, complete with overgrown lawns and absentee landlords. Among the fast food and variety stores were hair salons and tattoo parlours. A bridal gown shop stood next door to a drive-through wedding chapel. A block away, a store sold exotic pets. Further still, another offered exotic petting.
A friend moved to the “village”, so I was often in the neighbourhood. I’d pass by the corner of Wharncliffe and Duchess Street to get to her place, which meant I was familiar with the red brick, three-storey building on the corner.
It was a flower shop in those days, a family run business downstairs with lodging above. I was never inside. Nor did I make it inside when the building was sold to a confectioner. I certainly meant to try their homemade ice cream but a year later I was mightily disappointed when I saw that a new owner had moved in. A sewing machine store. Sales and Service. We Sharpen Scissors.
In the meantime, I bought a house in Wortley Village. I moved three times over the course of eight years as relationships dictated. The first house was for me, the second was for The Performer and me, the third was for me and the chance to get away from the bad memories of the second.
A friend of a friend was an artist and quilter. She knew that sewing shop on the corner and highly recommended the mechanic. Not only for his ability with sewing machines, but as a good-looking and fun-loving SINGLE guy. Friend-of-a-friend wasn’t single, but she knew plenty of women who were. The call went out. Go see sewing guy.
One by one, we made our way to the shop. Carol went first. “Not my type,” she said, “But you should go, Maggie, he’s cute!”
Good grief, I had never done anything like this in my life. I was 40 and freshly released from a rather unpleasant long-term relationship. I was not ready! I agreed mostly to prove to Carol that I could do this! That I was bold, I was confident! But really? All I wanted was to get it over with, so that I could say to Carol, “Yeah, not my type either.”
One day, I needed to return a book to the library. I could have taken the direct route, but ended up walking past the sewing store.
I dithered. I dallied. Finally I entered the store. He was with a customer. He nodded hello and continued with the gentlemen. I resisted the urge to run. I probably browsed the sewing machines that he had displayed in the windows, but I don’t remember. My head was buzzing with anxiety.
Then I saw the Featherweight. It was an exact copy of my mom’s sewing machine that sat in the attic.
“What can I do for you, young lady?” he asked.
My stomach lurched.
“Oh! Yes, hi. Um. Can you repair these old Singers?”
What a boneheaded thing to ask.
He smiled the smile of someone who has been asked this same question a hundred times a day. Polite, but with a hint of exasperation.
“Yes. A complete tune-up is $49.95.”
“Oh, OK. I have my mom’s machine. I’ll bring it in. Some time. Thanks.”
As I turned to leave, he reached out and touched the book I was carrying. “What are you reading?”
“Oh. Lolita. Vladimir Nabokov. One of my favourite authors.”
“Huh. I don’t know that one.”
“Bye. Thanks for stopping in.”
Later that night, I happily checked off this item on my list of things to do: Call Carol. Tell her, “Sewing guy? He’s not my type, either.”
Several months later, Friend-of-a-friend invited me to her art opening at a gallery downtown. She of course used this venue as an opportunity for all of her single male and female friends to meet and mingle. I chatted with two of the men and exchanged emails with both. The fireman sent me a lovely note of interest about a week later. I had to let him down. I was already planning my wedding to the other guy. The sewing guy.
I must have been ready.