Tonight is my first dinner party in this house, ever. You might be wondering why I’m writing instead of furiously cleaning and cooking –
I’m taking a break from trying to create the impression we always live this dust & clutter free…
As I straighten the jean quilt made by my Mom for my youngest, I’m reminded of a story I wrote for our family newsletter, years ago –
And I just had to share it with you.
“How much piecin’ a quilt’s like living a life… The Lord sends us the pieces, but we can cut ‘em out and put ‘em together pretty much to suit ourselves”
Families are like quilts. We each bring our own “material” – our skills, talents (and flaws) – to be joined one to another. Bound together by a common thread we present our “art” to the world in form big enough to be recognized and, when need be, a form to be reckoned with. There are times our stitches aren’t as uniform and pretty as they should be, but with a good family, crooked stitches can be taken out and re-done – there’s always a chance to “sew” better. And as we marry and multiply, our family quilt grows more colorful and beautiful, expanded by the experience and memories of each contributor.
Our Family Quilt keeps us warm when the bitter winds of disappointment blow, gives us something to hide under when the world has hurt our feelings and comforts us when sickness comes. It allows us to look back and remember all the stories that had to happen for our Family Quilt to be as it is.
My maternal grandmother made me a Wedding Ring quilt when I was very small. I remember it had a beautiful blue background and such tiny stitches. I often looked at those stitches, especially after trying to sew some myself, and wondered how anyone could make such nice stitches by hand. I also could never understand how you could take so many different materials, put them together and have the end result look so nice. I remember a saying from my youth, attributed to the better half of an avid quilter:
“I don’t understand quilting. She takes perfectly good pieces of cloth, cuts them up real small, then sews them all back together again.”
Which, I guess, is true in some cases. My Wedding Ring quilt was made in the original tradition of quilting – putting small scraps of cloth to some new good use. There were some materials that appeared only once in that quilt.
My poor Wedding Ring quilt was used many years and washed frequently – sometime shortly before I left home it was all but ready for the rag-bag. I remember Mom regretting she had not put it away for later, but I always felt Grandma would have been okay with me using it for all it was worth.
What’s the point of having a quilt if it isn’t keeping anyone warm?
Now I know hand-made quilts are family heirlooms and should be given the proper respect. But I believe if hand towels are on the rack, you’re supposed to use them. (This attitude has caused me some problems in some households).
Yes, I wish I still had that quilt, but I’m also glad of the years I got to sleep under it and look at it. You can really take in all the details when you have been sent to bed for being naughty and told to “think about it”. So much of my character development happened while looking at that quilt. I think I tried counting all the little pieces several times, but I don’t ever remembering finishing. Naughty girls are usually tired girls and I always fell asleep before I finished.
I often looked at the different prints and wondered if any of them had once been a part of a dress that Mom or the Aunts had worn. Or if some of them went back even further. I tried to see how many times a certain material was used and how the artist had decided how to arrange the pieces – to me it seemed daunting to figure out which piece should go where, but there before me, someone had already figured it out.
And though it would be nice to pull out that quilt for display and say, “This was made by my grandmother”, in the deepest part of my heart, I would be feeling like I had wasted the gift, by not having it on my bed.
When I was small, I remember Mom embroidering on small white squares the different states with each of their state flowers. Then somewhere along the line, those pieces of material disappeared and I had forgotten about them. Also during my childhood, my other Grandma had made Mom a quilt with each of the state birds on it. (Pay attention, this has bearing on the following…)
Christmas of 2005, I opened a package and found a quilt.
My initial reaction was tears – forgetting which quilt held state flowers and which had state birds, I thought Mom had cut up the bird quilt Grandma made (which had a background of green) and remade it for me with the same blue background as was on my wedding ring quilt. Then I realized I was looking at all the state flower squares.
And one state has a beautiful big daisy, embroidered around where ash from Dad’s cigarette accidentally fell and burned a hole. You have to look close to find it.
Realizing Mom hadn’t destroyed her quilt to make me one made no difference. I cried anyways…
That same year, Mom made my brother and both my boys quilts out Dad’s worn out jeans. After Christmas was over and I was alone in the house again, I sat down one day and looked at each of the boys’ comforters and had a good cry. For there on my floor, was the result of years and years of hard work. To make 3 good sized quilts takes a lot of jeans. And since Mom often patched Dad’s jeans to make them wear just a little longer, the thought was mind boggling.
Now, I couldn’t point at a square and tell you which one he was wearing the time he tore out his knee, and came home hurting so bad he could hardly walk to the door. Or the pair he had on the day he killed the snake that had scared me, or taught me how to shoot a rifle, drive a truck, milk a goat, vaccinate a calf, set a toilet, cut copper pipe, change the oil in a car, lay a sewer line, build a fire, spell chrysanthemum, or the day he told me, “Sis, things may seem rough, but if you watch the sun setting and think about all the things it’s seen during it’s journey today, then you start realizing that things aren’t as bad as they seem.”
But I know somewhere in those quilts, each memory is held. And just as Mom’s stitches held the patches of denim memories together, so did her patience and kindness keep us together when times got rough.
Thinking of all the years of saving the jeans, the time it took to cut the squares, sew the denim, and wrestle with heavy comforters while trying to finish them, made me realize that I don’t always have the fortitude and perseverance my Mom does. And now that I’m self-employed, I can no longer use work as an excuse for not having the cookie jar full and a clean house with a good supper on the table that Mom always had for us.
Sometimes, when the boys would have their quilts out, I was reminded of a story of their Grandpa and I’d tell them. I’d try to explain how many years of hard work had to be done by Mom and Dad to wear out enough pants to make those quilts. A man can’t work hard on an empty stomach and clothes that aren’t washed don’t last long.
I guess appreciating things like that just come with age.
My State Flower Quilt is on my bed, I’m using it for all it’s worth. And the boys use their quilts too – takes a long time and lots of work to wear out denim.