Short Takes: Guilty Pleasures

Confessions Of A Cross-Stitcher

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t work on my cross-stitch in the car,” I asked. My other half and I were about to leave on a short trip.

He shot me a look of disbelief. “You’re driving, remember?”

“Oh, right.”

Cross-stitch sewing can sneak up on you like the six pounds you gained over the holidays. Our hobbies have a way of turning into obsessions.

I’ve heard stories about a potter who became so absorbed in his clay, he shook hands with a customer before scraping the mud from his fingers. Then there’s the quilter who stayed up until four a.m., propped on the couch, working on a quilt. Next morning she realized she’d sewn the quilt to a couch pillow.

Lately, it seemed my cross-stitch hobby had gone from pastime to compulsion. I knew things were getting out of hand when I brought my sewing to bed one night and worked on it under the covers, guided by a flashlight.

I had become addicted. I’d use any tactic, no matter how devious, to work in a few more stitches. Once, while entertaining guests, chatting became a chore. They wanted to debate politics and pollution; I wanted to discuss fabric and thread.

With dinner in the oven, I excused myself. “Better check on that roast.” In the kitchen, tucked beneath the blender, was a floral bookmark. With a sneaky chuckle, I snatched up the bookmark and finished one of the rose petals. Then I panicked when my charred pot roast set off the smoke alarm. Looking sheepish, I suggested maybe we should all go out to dinner that night.

Even while bowling, cross-stitch wins out. In a hot and heavy duel for first place, fellow bowlers were going wild, cheering each other on. But my mind became blurred by my latest sewing project, an autumn scene.

The score was tied. Our team’s last chance for victory rested with my points.

I approached the lane, bowling ball in hand. By mid-delivery, however, visions of unfinished orange and rust leaves jogged my mind. To everyone’s surprise, I plunked the ball back onto the rack.

“Just one more stitch,” I pleaded, dragging out my sewing.

They asked me to become a substitute bowler. What sore losers.

I once had a friend who confessed she’d hit rock bottom with her love of cross-stitch. When her husband returned from a business trip, she was so preoccupied with her needlework, she forgot to pick him up at the airport … twenty miles away.

I’d never allow myself to become that obsessed.

That reminds me—there’s a wedding coming up next month. Maybe I could sneak in a few stitches somewhere between do you take? and I now pronounce. Think anyone would notice?

Seventeen in and ten down. Where’s my rusty orange thread? Now I’ve lost count. Start all over. Seventeen in and ten down …

Four across and eleven up. Kitty Cat, get away from my thread case. What’d she do with my forest green—oh no, she’s playing cat’s cradle with it. Sigh. I’ll use the fern green floss. Four across and eleven up …

Six up and nine across. Honey, have you seen my gunmetal gray floss? That thread has to be here somewhere. You found it? Stuck to the bottom of your boots? Six up and nine across …

Before long, my family’s protests became too much. They insisted I get help. They told me about O.A.—Overstitchers Anonymous, a support group for stitchers who’d lost control—and suggested I join.

At O.A. meetings, members would confess their stitching indiscretions. Someone even stood guard at the door when members arrived. That way, they’d get the goods on anyone sneaking in with cross-stitch supplies.

Helga was our militant leader. Built like a tank, Helga went right to work on those of us who were new to O.A., insisting we vent our feelings and discuss our “habit.”

“Let’s face it, girls,” she growled, pacing the floor in front of us; “we all know you’re here for one reason.”  She slapped the back of one hand into the palm of the other. “You can’t put down your sewing.” Hefty Helga’s eyes took on a glazed color as she spoke, resembling the frosty green thread I’d used earlier that day … or was it the seafoam color?

“Mind over matter” was her get-tough strategy. Her hand slicing the air in a no-nonsense gesture, she went on. “You set the timer. When the timer goes off, you quit.” Her alligator eyes glared my way. “You got any trouble with that?”

“Uh, no, I guess not. I mean–”


The embroidery hit the fan when she caught one of our members red-handed, literally. After a trip to the powder room, Helen returned looking smug. Clinging to the back of her hand, however, was a telltale strand of bright red embroidery floss. Helen had been sewing behind our backs.

That meant one thing: freedom! Visions of embroidery hoops and floss holders glowed in our eyes. Overstitchers Anonymous and Hefty Helga were history. Like kids out of school for the summer, we tore out of there and hurried home to our stitching.


Crime In The Catskills

It is the summer of 1936 and I am spending it in a rundown old hotel in the Catskills where my mother works as a cook and my sister is the receptionist. It’s the height of the Depression and they’re lucky to have found even temporary jobs.

I’ve been paired off with Sylvia, the owner’s granddaughter, a tough kid whom everyone calls ‘Syllie.’ Apparently her divorced mother has dumped her here for the entire summer.

One mild afternoon Syllie suggests walking into the village. About a mile down the road, it’s no more than one long street with a gas station at its beginning and maybe a half dozen shops on each side. Outside a stationery store,  Syllie points to a wooden counter stacked with newspapers. We watch as people pick up what they want and leave the money in a little box on top of the papers. There are about a dollar’s worth of nickels, dimes and pennies in it.

“I dare you to take them, Gracie,” she says in her taunting voice.

“But that’s money for the store’s owners.”

“So what?” she says defiantly. “Are you too scared to try?”

I know this is a test and that if I don’t pass it she will torment me all summer. I ignore the waves of queasiness in my stomach, approach the counter, look around carefully and, when I see that no one is watching, grab the change and run with it down the street. My heart is thumping fast, but not all out of fear. I feel an unexpected elation. I’ve passed the test.

Syllie follows me slowly. When she finally catches up, she says, “You should never run. It’s a dead giveaway.”

We go on stealing money from the newsstand and, on days when Syllie’s too bored to walk into the village with me, I am bold enough to do it on my own. Until the day I get caught. The store’s owner, an elderly man with an accent, looks at me sadly.

“How old are you?”

“Nine and three quarters,” I stammer, wondering if I will be sent to jail.

“Do you know what will happen if I call the police? You will have a record for the rest of your life. Your parents will have to appear in court. Is this what you want?”

Tears well in my eyes, and I think of how Mama will be humiliated. My own shame is too big to contemplate.

“I’m not going to report you this time, but if I ever see you near my store again, you’ll be sorry. You and that snotty kid you hang out with. Now get out of here.”

When I repeat this conversation to Syllie she laughs. “Yeah?  That old codger can’t run as fast as I can. Anyhow, I’d never let myself be caught.”


Hear Here

I am writing this for women. If you’re a man, turn the page.

Men, most of them, do not understand the deep, forever bond between women who know that, if they go into a roomful of females, and drop a single word—a word like hormones, like childbirth, like menopause or pantyhose, there will follow an immediate response from every other woman in the room.

First of all, and you know I’m right about this, men do not have long conversations with other men, unless they are centered around how UMichigan managed to beat Northwestern in the fourth quarter after trailing 10-0. Or, “Hey,  what about that new Acura sports model crossover, pretty slick, right?”

But let us return to women and conversation, especially to women and eavesdropping, which is my number one guilty pleasure. In fact, and I used to deny this but have recently given up denial, I am an obsessive eavesdropper. My condition, if you like naming things, could be called OCD/Eavesdropping. Everywhere, anywhere, thinking that some day I might need new material for something I’m writing.

Always in the supermarket, when I see a mother and child in the cereal aisle having a tug of war over Cheerio Sugar Pops and Whole Grain, and the mother says, “The dentist said your teeth will rot, and the child says, “I just chew, I don’t swallow.”

On to the deli counter, where a boy, about ten, curly hair, sweet smile, voice like Tony Soprano’s, says, “I don’t want broccoli salad, I want that,” pointing to an orange mélange labeled “Sweet Potato Marshmallow and Carmel Fricassee,” and Mommy says, “No,” and the Soprano mime does something with his eyes, and turns his hands into fists, signaling the possibility of a scene his mother will not want to witness in public. Mommy, recognizing defeat when it bites her, says, “Well, only this time,” and asks the lady behind the counter for just a tiny portion.

The best eavesdropping happens in restaurants when I’m eating with my  husband,  and he’s halfway through a story about how Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times that the fiscal cliff we are all terrified of falling over does not actually exist, and I hear a woman at the table  behind my husband tell her female companion that, if her mother-in-law does not apologize for pointing out that she, the speaker, has gained ten pounds, Thanksgiving dinner at her house is out. Forever.

Right about here my husband leans across the table and whispers, “Would you like to sit at the table behind us? I can arrange it, just give me the word.” I have never taken him up on this, and by now I’ve usually heard enough, and taken my notebook out so I can write everything down, and the two women behind him are leaving anyway.



  1. I can identify with “Confessions of a Cross-Stitcher”. My vice is bead weaving. It can take over your life; I have bead supplies in my living room and kitchen. I am always looking for someone to share my addiction. Thank goodness my husband has not made any ultimatums, the beads will probably win.

  2. The first one was especially great I laughed.The other two were good.I am not a cross sticher but I have other hobbies that relate to hers. Does anyone think about how to make comments other than: it is nice,great,I like it? Thanks

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