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Sleeping Beauty

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I never cared for princess movies much. Sure, there are qualities specific to some of them that I can relate to (Belle’s penchant for rereading books over and over again springs to mind,) but I’m not much for the whole “little girl as princess” culture that’s taken over the 2-8 year old set. Wands, gowns, tiaras have little value to me. But one of my favorite things is something that’s right out of a fairytale – a spinning wheel.

You probably get the impression that I live in a HGTV worthy colonial house, the kind that’s included on house tours and featured once a year in the local paper’s Style section. Let me assure you: it is not. I live in a constantly-under-renovation suburban 1950s style brick ranch, with the Mamie Eisenhower pink tiled bathroom to prove it. The spinning wheel fits into my kitchen – barely – and looks as natural there as does a flamingo among a flock of seagulls. But I can’t let it go.

Once upon a time, the spinning wheel stood in my grandmother’s foyer. She had a house big enough to have a foyer. It was also big enough to have a curved and polished wooden staircase, and a den stuffed full of souvenirs that my Uncle sent her and my grandfather from Thailand and China. It is as unlike my house is now as it could be (except it too, had a pink bathroom.) None of these things spark particularly pleasant memories for me: I recall sleeping in the den when I had one of my yearly bouts of tonsillitis, and I know I tumbled down the staircase at least once. Even the spinning wheel was, at that time, no real friend – my brother and I both suffered bruised fingers from daring each other to stick our hands into the spokes when it was spinning. Yet we were fascinated by it, had to press the treadle to get it spinning until it was a blur, and then try to stop it.

But when I was ten, my grandparents sold their house to move closer to my mother. They downsized into the top floor of a small house in suburban Pittsburgh, and there wasn’t room for most of their furniture. Most of what I thought was the “cool” furniture got passed to my Uncle for good reasons: he’d bought her the wicker end table shaped like an elephant; the grandfather clock that had chimed many nights away had been handed down from father to son. My mom ended up with lots of tables, some neat music boxes, all of the jewelry. But no spinning wheel.

By the time I was in college, I forgot about the spinning wheel almost altogether. I grew up, my grandparents died. I remember seeing it once, grandly displayed in front of my uncle’s stone fireplace, draped with white twinkle lights. It seemed to belong there, I had to admit – it was easy to imagine a old woman in long skirts and a mob cap sitting there spinning, humming “Chester” while three tabby kittens frolicked at her feet. I was convinced it was fate.

Then, two years ago, I got a birthday card from my aunt. Jotted beneath the pre-printed text was, “Hope to see you soon. Maybe you’d like to come and get your grandmother’s spinning wheel in the spring.” I would, and I did.

So now I have a relic from Sleeping Beauty sitting next to my front door. My daughters pretend to prick their fingers where the spindle would go as they come in from play, dramatically making their way to the couch to “fall asleep” until the cats jump on them to wake them up from their enchanted slumber. In a way, this plain wooden wheel has a certain kind of magic. It speaks not only of my family’s history, but of human history.

And like in a fairytale, it came back to me.

Written by Jen Szymanski

September 10, 2012 at 8:34 am

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