Last week, when I was visiting my mother, I found an old toy spinning wheel.
I had forgotten all about it and yet, by a mysterious coincidence, it had briefly surfaced in my memory last June, when H. and I were in Rome. We were on our way somewhere and I suddenly noticed an almost identical one in a shop window. About 20 cm tall, made of solid walnut. I remember pointing at it and saying to H., “I used to have one just like this when I was a child,” and I suddenly felt a powerful tug somewhere deep in my chest, almost pleading to be let out, though I couldn’t make out what it was exactly, or whether it was happy or sad. We were in a rush and as we walked away I forgot all about it.
“Look through this box of old toys I found, will you?” my mother said last week, “and throw away what you don’t want.”
Toys? I knew that couldn’t be the case. My mother has kept practically nothing from my childhood. She’s not the type. She has always given or thrown away any object steeped in emotional memories with a determination bordering on ferocity, as though holding on to it might somehow hinder her or weigh her down. Almost as though she is afraid of getting trapped in it.
Part of this is linked to our frequent house moves. There was no attic where any material companions to various stages of our lives could be stored. It was by a whisker that I managed to save my favourite teddy bear and, after my grandmother passed away, her old family photos and the censored letters her own mother sent her from the Soviet Union.
“What do you mean, Mum? We didn’t keep any toys.”
“Yes, yes, wooden toys,” she said, pointing at a box in the corner of her bedroom.
With my customary ungracious huffing, I opened the said box and began unwrapping various chipped, discoloured wooden knickknacks. Not toys exactly but ornaments – mainly gifts from other people – that had stood on top of the television, on the book case or a shelf and which, yes, had unofficially featured in my games. Russian dolls with the smallest ones missing, a decorated wooden egg, and other junk not even good enough for the charity shop. I couldn’t begin to fathom why my mother had kept this stuff when she’d got rid of much better possessions. She must have packed it all in haste during one of her house moves, some twenty years ago, and only just got around to looking through it.
I must have gasped so loudly when I found it that my mother came in from the next room. A small, solid walnut spinning wheel. “I remember this,” I said to her. “In fact – it’s so strange – I saw one just like this in a shop window in Rome when we were there last June. You gave it to me when I must have been about five or six. Where did you get it?”
My mother couldn’t even remember ever having seen it before.
“Everything in this box can be thrown away,” I said, “but I’m taking this home with me.”
* * *
I have wiped the wood with a soft, damp cloth and replaced the rotted dark brown elastic that was tied around the wheel with a piece of gold string I found in my sewing basket. Every time I hold the spinning wheel, and run my fingers along the smooth, dust smelling wood, a powerful emotion presses out from inside my chest. But I can’t find where exactly it’s coming from, or even work out if it’s sad or happy. I have but the faintest impression of playing with the spinning wheel, pretending to be Sleeping Beauty. I can recall nothing else. I have no idea if this beautifully crafted object was designed to be a child’s toy or an ornament, but it has the energy of one of those objects that have been made by a craftsman who imbued his craft with great skill and much love and thus gave life to his creation.
As I look at it now, it suddenly occurs to me that I don’t know the Italian word for a spinning wheel. I look it up. Arcolaio. What a beautiful word. Its sound fits perfectly the carefully sanded edges of the dark walnut.
At this time in my life when I’m shedding so much of what is old and no longer needed, it feels very appropriate that I should suddenly discover this beautiful spinning wheel. A spinning wheel that now has a golden thread running through it.