My mother taught me how to sew. We would often make a day of our shared interest – lunch followed by visits to our favorite fabric stores.
One beautiful spring Phoenix afternoon, we decided we would visit a wholesale commercial fabric store to look for material to make curtains. It was located near Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, but to get there, we had to drive through Phoenix’s then combat zone, Van Buren Street.
We ate lunch then I drove over Van Buren, my mom’s foot on her imaginary brake she used when she thought I was following too closely, i.e., all the time. I turned right and headed south on a narrow north/south street to cut over to Jefferson to the store. Almost immediately after making the turn south, we found the street blocked by a two-door car.
We sat behind the car for a minute, watching as two young, stocky girls in leather shorts and halter-tops and the biggest wigs I’d seen since the 70s tried to get into the back seat of the sedan. A middle-aged man was behind the wheel, slightly turned in profile to us, holding the passengers’ seat forward. The girls apparently could not decide which one was going to get in the back seat. They had quite a spirited discussion, hands waving. They finally traded places, apparently deciding who was going to ride shotgun and who was getting the back seat.
For what seemed like a long while, my mom and I sat in awkward silence watching this mini-drama. Finally, my mom, still staring straight ahead, said, “Say, do you think they’re on the prowl?”
I burst into laughter. “Yup, mom,” I replied. “I think they are.”
Finally, the girls situated themselves inside the car and it began to move south. We followed it until it turned right. We continued on to our destination – hundreds of bolts of brightly colored fabric, festive and tactile.
Phoenix still has a combat zone, but today’s its location has changed. Van Buren still sports the occasional working girl, but much of that area has developed into social services like the Salvation Army and Community Bridges, the detoxification center for addicts and alcoholics at the end of their trail. The sleazy, pay-by-the-hour motels that lined Van Buren like the LogCabin Motel, that devolved from a quaint western motif into a rent-by-the-hour (two hours, $25), X-rated movie-showing dump, have all been demolished or gentrified.
Just as Phoenix devolved, my mother faded into Alzheimer’s, the disease devastating her final years. She has been gone for over a decade, but there aren’t many days that I don’t think about her. I miss her keen perceptions, her dry sense of humor, her robust laughter. These are what I remember about her, not the final days of her disease. Whenever I sew, the touch of the material, the soft whir of the sewing machine, reminds me of her, and I am grateful.