by Susan Ives

There’s a meme going around that says, “Of all the things I learned in elementary school, avoiding cooties was the last one I expected to use.”

Are cooties still a thing? The kids from the old neighborhood – all of us in our 60s now – gave that a thumbs up. We’re at a venerable/vulnerable age now and doing our part to flatten the curve by staying at home, the current best practice of the cootie avoidance techniques. We have other strategies up our sleeves but if I told you about them I’d have to kill you, which would be counterproductive.

It messes with your head a bit, this doing good by doing nothing. It’s like one of those imponderable thought experiments. What is the sound of one hand clapping? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? What is the best way to do good? Do nothing.

Still, I wanted to do some-thing in addition to the all-important no-thing. What could I do from home? I’ll make masks! After all, sewing was a skill I was taught in junior high, another putative life skill I never thought I’d find a use for.

To be truthful, the sewing machines in the 7th grade home economics room and I had an adversarial relationship. I sewed through my thumb and got a pin stuck in my lip. Note to self: do not put pins in your mouth, a discipline very much in alignment with the current cootie avoidance policy of not touching your face.

Despite my dismal record, I ordered a basic sewing machine and watched a few YouTube videos while I awaited its arrival. The vocabulary of the seamstress was buried in my subconscious Bobbin. Presser foot. Feed dog.

I got this.

The next hurdle was getting supplies. Fabric, all the online sites warned me, was taking a long time to ship: between a month and when pigs fly. When my husband caught me in the closet eyeing his shirts with pinking shears in hand he suggested I call his sister to see if she had any leftover quilting material. She did. Susan’s mask factory was in business.

The first pattern I tried – the rectangular one with three pleats and cloth ties – was a hot mess. I had not outgrown the impatience and lack of fine motor skills that tripped me up when I was 12 and tried to sew the ruffles onto my apron. I spent hours trying to sew two ties that were too crooked and too ugly to use. I discovered a small stash of elastic in a craft box and ordered more online, scheduled to arrive shortly before hell freezes over. I found a more sympathetic pattern that works for me, the one that starts with a big circle cut into quarters. My masks are things of beauty and the sewing machine and I have declared a truce. No blood has been shed.

My masks will soon be donated to the city’s mask drive, which has a goal of collecting 50,000 masks to be given to non-profit agencies and others in need. The yards of fabric I ordered are trickling in and the elastic didn’t take nearly as long to arrive as threatened, so I figure I can get a hundred masks made by the deadline.

Initially, that depressed me. My weeks of sewing would meet about one-tenth of one percent of the city’s goal. Why bother?

Then, the spirit of Mother Teresa tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

My masks are indeed small things made with great love. As I sew each mask, I meditate on how it will help keep one person safe from disease, and help them prevent the spread disease to others. There is a saying in the Talmud: “He who saves the life of one man saves the entire world.” My masks are saving the entire world.

I also try to remember that I am not alone. There are others in San Antonio making masks, too: some in professional studios, some, like me, in a hastily cleared corner of a bedroom. If only 500 people in our city of 1.5 million each make 100 masks, we’ve got everyone (literally) covered. Si se puede, together. The cooties don’t stand a chance.

The city is collecting new cloth masks, scarves, bandanas and handkerchiefs on Thursday, May 28 from 10a.m. – 2p.m. at Tri-Point, 3233 N. St. Mary’s. Call the COVID-19 hotline at 210-207-5779 for more information.

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