May 03, 2015

The Memory Quilt.

 A few years ago, I began to realize that my mother, a widow, was not managing very well on her own. I knew she longed to remain in her own home as long as she could, enjoying her sewing room where she had created such lovely garments over the years, first for me and later for my children. But after she was hospitalized for a fall, her doctor and I met and decided that the time had come for a change. For various reasons, she could not come to live with me (her only child) and so I located a very nice assisted living home for her. I honestly thought that once she got accustomed to it, she might enjoy the companionship.

Mom is not usually a complainer, but she fretted that her suite in the home was barren and sterile. “No problem,” I said, and before my next visit I stopped by her house to pick up a box of bright, cheerful items she had made herself: a tablecloth, doilies, and her sunny yellow kitchen curtains. “Now, why did you take my curtains down?” Mom scolded. “The neighbors will think I’m moving away for good.” As I predicted, though, she soon settled in and began to make friends and enjoy herself with the other residents. Though she was unable to have her sewing machine, she could still crochet up a storm, so she set to work making blankets.

Pretty soon, every lap in every wheelchair was covered with one of her small blankets. She kept me busy running to the craft store for more yarn because she took requests. She would happily make an afghan in a resident’s favorite colors, but if they were unable to communicate their wishes, she would take a guess. Hunter green with burgundy was one combo she liked for men, while she tended to select soft pastels for the frail elderly ladies. She never stopped harboring a dream of getting back to her own house one day, but it was not to be. While she worked diligently on her rehabilitation after the fall, it was her mind that began to slip away. Sooner than we would have dreamed, she went from being a vibrant social butterfly to a quiet ghost who lay placidly in her bed. Sometimes the grandchildren and I could coax a soft smile out of her, but she no longer talked very much. It was clear by then that she’d never move back home, so I began cleaning out her house to get it ready to sell.

Mom’s sewing room had always been a wonder to behold, with neatly folded stacks of fabric in a rainbow of colors, organized on shelves my dad had made for her. I had always enjoyed the sight of all these fabrics together, but when I began to go through them and touch them one by one, I realized how many of them I recognized from clothing my family and I had worn over the years. How I wished that Mom were there with me, so we could talk and reminisce about each one! I began to put together an idea. Though I’m no seamstress myself, I selected a large number of the scraps and commissioned a lady to make a quilt; nothing too heavy, just the size of a hospital bed.

When it was ready, my three children and I all went to the assisted living home to present Mom with our gift. I explained what it was as we laid it across her thin body, and at first she only smiled faintly and fingered a square or two. But then the children and I began to point out various pieces of fabric and tell about what they meant to us. First I chose a red piece with tiny black flowers. “Remember Mom, when I was a kid you made me a long dress and I pretended I was Laura Ingalls!” I spotted another square and added, “Look, this was from the bonnet that went with it.” My son found an electric blue square. “This was part of my superhero cape,” he remembered. Thanks to Mom, he had been a fully-outfitted superhero in his preschool days. My older daughter pointed to a piece of wine-colored velvet. “Look, Nana, remember this?” she said, moving Mom’s hand to touch it. “This was my homecoming dress when I was a freshman.” Mom looked down at the soft velvet and continued to stroke it. “Beautiful,” she whispered. “Just like you.” Though she is still quiet sometimes, whenever we visit now, we can usually get Mom interested by talking about her “memory quilt.” Every square represents something she lovingly made for us, and we love to remind her of that.

Dinkydoo's note: As part of our "Quilting Memories" blog series, we've asked some of our friends (who wish to remain anonymous) to tell us some of their fondest memories of a quilt that has been in their family, that has a special meaning to them.


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