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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.


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.


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


“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.


“No needles here.”