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The Pin Cushion

When I was moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer the other day, I found a safety pin, open. Thankfully it hadn’t stuck me, it just fell out of the pile of wet clothes and hit the basement floor. I couldn’t figure out where the safety pin had come from, because I never use safety pins, but I was doing the combined laundry, Mom’s and mine, so I figured it must have fallen out of one of her sewing projects. She’s always tossing random pieces of fabric into the laundry bag for me to wash (I do most of the laundry; she does most of the cooking. It’s a pretty good deal). Then I saw one of Mom’s pincushions on the pile of wet clothes on top of the dryer, and I thought that was probably where the safety pin had come from, but, do pin cushions usually need to be washed? When I picked up the pin cushion, it pricked my finger, and I realized that the tip of a needle was sticking out of the bottom. When I pressed down on the pin cushion, to get a better grip on that needle, three more needle points appeared. I decided that the best plan would be to put the mystery aside for a minute, in a safe place like the bag of laundry supplies, and finish putting the rest of the clothes into the dryer.

010

The offending pin cushion.

As I walked back to the apartment (the laundry room is in the building next to mine), I was torn between being angry at my mother for putting a pin cushion in the laundry without warning the laundress – aka me, and being angry at her for not knowing that her pin cushion was stuffed with hidden needles. But when I got back to the apartment and showed her the pin cushion, she was as shocked as I was, on both fronts. The pin cushion must have fallen into her laundry bag by mistake, and she’d had no idea it was hoarding needles.

I sat down on the couch for my traditional time-waster between putting the clothes in the dryer and picking them up, and started to pull out the visible needles. I pressed and pushed at the cushion in search of more, and they kept coming. Ten, twenty, thirty needles of all shapes and sizes. This had to be years’ worth of lost needles, hiding all this time as Mom went out and bought ever more replacements. There were rounded needles, and thick quilting needles, and skinny needles, and short needles, and long needles.

013

Some of the hidden needles, now safely stuck in the top of the pink pin cushion.

I had to stop long enough to get the laundry and handed the pin cushion puzzle over to Mom for the time being, because she was eager to give it a try. But after we’d finished putting the clothes away, the puzzle of the pin cushion called out to me, even after Mom was certain she’d found all of the needles that could be found.

I asked if I could undo some of the seams of the pincushion, to make the search easier, but Mom balked at that, suddenly very protective of her little pincushion. So I pressed and pushed at the now miss-shapen cushion until at least fifteen more needles appeared. The needles had migrated deeper and deeper into the stuffing of the pin cushion over the years, and only a finger prick to let me know when I’d caught another needle.

Cricket had no interest in this particular mystery, thank God. I had just watched an episode of Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet where she’d had to search for porcupine quills in the face of a poor crying sled dog, so I may have been giving off the right amount of fear and foreboding to keep Cricket at a safe distance.

doctor oakley

007

“Save me, Grandma!”

I know that my obsession with finding the hidden needles says something important about me: that I wasn’t put off by the sharp pains, or by my lack of real interest in the needles themselves (what do I need with fifty multi-sized needles that had already been given up for lost?); but I can’t figure out what that metaphor is. I only know that the appearance of each formerly hidden needle filled me with joy and a sense of accomplishment, and that when I couldn’t find any more needles, I felt bereft, as if a sudden void had opened up around me.

Cricket offered her belly up for scratching and even let me remove a small piece of goop from underneath her eye, but the void remained. I feel like I’m supposed to continue the search for hidden needles, or their analogs, but I don’t know where to look.

011

“No needles here.”

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

71 responses »

  1. but I can’t figure out what that metaphor is. I only know that the appearance of each formerly hidden needle filled me with joy and a sense of accomplishment, and that when I couldn’t find any more needles, I felt bereft, as if a sudden void had opened up around me.”
    The metaphor for an inquiring, intelligent mind and an inquiring life. The search obsesses me too.

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  2. I don’t know the metaphor, but you reminded me of a similar time. I was doing the washing and pricked my finger drawing blood. Totally mystified, I searched and found a PORCUPINE QUILL. Turns out my nature loving husband had collected some quills on his shirt and then forgot them and put it in the wash. Peace to you tonight.

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  3. such a sweet photo of Cricket

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  4. I was interested to see that you had so many pin-cushions. I didn’t know anyone still had them.
    When I was young, I did the opposite. I liked to stick the pins and needles into the pin-cushion my Mum owned. I even used to open new packets of pins, so that I had more to stick in the cushion.
    You found it satisfying to remove them, I found it equally satisfying to insert them. I’m sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with the two of us!
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  5. I’ve never had a pin cushion but keep mine in a plastic box that has a latch on top. Its so dangerous really, a pin can go deep. I remember stepping on a toothpick once and hobbled around for two weeks. Glad you figured this out without injury to you Mom or Cricket!

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  6. Your mom must be glad you have found all those needles hidden through the years.

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  7. Makes sense — find the danger, fix the problem!

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  8. That must be a large pincushion to hide so many needles! Maybe bubble wrap could fill the void? Not silent though. Cricket might object, or your Mom.

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  9. I believe the answer will come to you when you least expect it as long as you keep your mind open to receive it. (Goodness, that sounds like a fortune cookie.)

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  10. I love the photo of Cricket hiding behind your mother. She is a cutie.

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  11. Is it the proverbial needle(s) in the haystack? The hidden truths that ultimately are discovered to BE truth?

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  12. Yes cushions are required for pin s much humans require!

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  13. I am the same way with those sorts of mysteries. I chalk it up to “Ordnung muss sein”…making order from the chaos.

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  14. I’ve found that letting go of the search always produces what I’d been searching for.
    On the other hand,
    if you feel really forlorn you can come to my house and help me recover the missing mates my socks. I quit searching for them but they, alas, did NOT reappear.

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  15. At least they would not have rusted 🙂 My mother still uses a large ladybird pin cushion I made out of felt when I was 7.

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  16. Well, I for one am glad there were no more needles. I was a bit concerned that you had pricked your finger because the last thing I read about a lady pricking her finger with a needle is that she went to sleep for 100 years. And I tell you, princes these days are not all they are cracked up to be.

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  17. Wonderful post Rachel, I really enjoyed both your writing and the mystery to be solved!

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  18. Nice idea pin cushion.. and cricket always cute.. 👍

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  19. It’s much better to have a piggy bank that keeps giving you “lost” money..

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  20. Reblogged this on Rumpydog and commented:
    Fascinating! I don’t know I would have been as intrigued with a pincushion.

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  21. I totally related. I would have looked until I found every pin. I then would have stuck them back in the cushion, grouped by pin size and type! 🙂

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  22. Engrossing metaphor I’ll be pondering for days.

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  23. I once had a pin cushion that had belonged to my grandmother. Without the washing machine episode, the same thing happened with mine! I was fascinated and couldn’t stop pushing and prodding in search of all those needles. This was a lovely post Rachel. I enjoyed it very much. 😊❤️

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  24. Painful experiences in our lives can bury deep into our psyches. There they stay (silent and forgotten, but still capable of inflicting damage). This goes on unless and until we can identify and extract them. For what it’s worth, that is what I made of your metaphor. No wonder you felt triumphant extracting the needles! 🙂 You effectively restored the cushion to health. It is now capable of performing its original purpose — not of hiding pins from the seamstress, but enabling her to find them.

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  25. Who is that shy little munchkin? Pincushions aside, cool too. Cheers,H

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  26. OMG, girl – stay away from those needles and pins!
    I’m with Cricket on this one.

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  27. Thank goodness you didn’t come across a stray needle in the laundry. Could have been very dangerous.

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  28. Ah Rachel we are all pincushions. The needles that stuck us long ago did not fall out but worked their way in, carefully cushioned by the subconscious. When we get pressed, as you pressed the pincushion then we feel the needles again. Sometimes a good therapist works on us with your sort of tenacity and manages to get the needles out.

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  29. I have a pin cushion very similar to your mother’s. In fact, my Mom gave it to me many years ago. After reading your post, I squeeed on it a bit, but didn’t get poked by any needles.
    I see what you did as wanting a sense of accomplishment. Clearing out all the needles and making it whole again. I can understand that because I am the same way with knots in yarn. I have to untie them and create a nice yarn ball out of a tangled mess. It goes to my wanting to fix things. That is something I can fix because it is under my control. Does that make any sense?

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  30. Great post! Funny. Literally *just yesterday* my husband was pulling straight pins out a new shirt (the kind that comes all wrapped up and folded with tons of pins). I told him to be careful because of the cats and he just gave me this look like I was crazy. But then he started doing it over the garbage…LOL!

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  31. Your very own mystery! Everyone loves a mystery!

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  32. I always leave a knotted piece of thread in the needles so they don’t get lost. I did once have a really cute pincushion I bought at a thrift store and discovered it had a bunch of hidden needles in it. I used a teaspoon to press on it to coax the needles out so I wouldn’t end up with a lot of finger stabs.

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  33. The metaphors that jumped out at me were creating order out of chaos or righting the wrongs. I thought your use of the word “bereft” was apropos. The dictionary defines bereft as being deprived of or lacking something, especially a non-material asset. Once you completed your task and created a safe haven, your subconscious still knows there is still chaos out there somewhere.

    Reply
  34. Like a needle in a haystack. I still have a pin cushion I made as a cy

    Reply

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