Julia Morgan's original drawings for our Clubhouse, Courtesy of Cal Poly Archives

Life Is An Opportunity by Suzanne Heitzman

August 26, 2015 12:57 PM | Linda Wilson (Administrator)

In May 2015, Kathi Battles, a San Luis Obispo Quilter, got a phone call from her friend, Maxine. Maxine had purchased a craft/sewing cabinet from a second hand store downtown. In the cabinet was a Bernina sewing machine accessory box, manual and a few other small sewing items. Maxine knew that Kathi is a passionate quilter and owns a Bernina. She thought Kathi could make use of the equipment.

When the collection of Bernina accessories was delivered to Kathi, she realized they were for an older model Bernina and did not fit her machine. Kathi called me as she knows I have an older Bernina and perhaps the parts would fit my machine. Kathi had come to the conclusion that the original owner had most likely died and then the owner’s home was dissolved, the Bernina machine had gotten separated from it’s accessory kit and manual. It was an emotional moment.

When Kathi brought me the collection, I laid the various items out and studied them. I determined the accessories would fit my Bernina. As I studied the collection, I became intrigued. The original receipt was included along with the accessory box, owner’s manual and a few little sewing accessories in a metal box. There was also a hand stitched name tag with the name “Bonnie Engberg”. The name tag told me she was a member of a local quilt guild. The original receipt included her name, with an Avila Beach address. The machine had been purchased in 1996 at a cost of $1,700 - a prized possession.

After thinking it through, I decided I did not need to keep these items. They fit my machine but were a duplicate to what I own. I knew it would be frustrating to sew on a fine Bernina without a manual or accessories so decided to try to reunite this collection with the machine. It seemed possible since we knew Bonnie was local and that families generally understand even an old Bernina has value. It was apparent Bonnie had taken good care of her machine by keeping things together and saving the original receipt. It felt like the treasures had come into Kathi and my possession for a reason.

I googled Bonnie’s name. Her obituary came up from the Tribune showing she had died in January 2015. Even though Kathi and I had guessed Bonnie was dead, it was another powerful moment. My own mother died just a few weeks prior to Bonnie’s death and I could empathize with the family’s challenge to dispose of their mother’s possessions respectfully. The obituary did not list her survivors by name, however mentioned Bonnie was a member of the Presbyterian Church in San Luis Obispo. A small clue! I was ready to bolt downtown to the church. Maybe someone could tell me the names of the family, who might know where Bonnie’s sewing machine had gone. I hoped it had not been sold at a garage sale but I had a feeling that was not what had happened.

I texted Kathi what I had found and she returned a text - she has a good friend who is an active member of the Presbyterian Church. She would ask if this friend knew Bonnie or the family.  Another small step!

Kathi’s friend knew Bonnie but not the family. Her friend had to make some phone calls.  Within a day or two, we had our answer.  The Bernina was found! It was AT the Presbyterian Church Bonnie attended - a stunning turn! The family had donated it to a group who regularly meets at the church to make quilts. Bonnie’s family had not realized the cabinet contained important parts to the machine.

Getting ready to return the collection to the Presbyterian Church, and what was the last step on the journey, I got out a small bag which had a message on it: “Life Is An Opportunity”. It seemed as though Bonnie had been guiding us since Kathi’s friend had originally taken home the sewing cabinet. I took the little bag of parts to the church and the prized Bernina was reunited at long last with it’s accessories and manual.

The lesson from this experience could be that it is a good idea to leave instructions for your family to guide them where quilting equipment and quilts should be distributed when the time come.

Beyond that, quilt stitches connect more than pieces of fabric in a blanket. Quilts connect communities.

Some weeks after I delivered the collection, I learned that Bonnie Engberg and I had another connection. We were both member of The Monday Club in San Luis Obispo. I never met Bonnie, as I joined just prior to her death, but I know I would have liked to.

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