Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.
She worked on it this one right up until the day she died. The squares were arranged and bound, but the bunting assuring bulk and warmth was never attached.
The kaleidoscope of 2" x 2" squares paints pictures and whispers stories of the dresses she and I wore. I remember this magnificently cool orange white polka-dotted dress, perfect for a shy thirteen-year-old who was dying to be noticed. It wasn't so much the dress but the smiley face zipper-pull that lay on my chest. It went way past the ordinary and bordered on fashion, quite an achievement for a girl with a closet full of homemade dresses. I rushed mama to finish it for my youth choir concert at church that summer, and in my mind, I was as lovely as I had ever been, me and my long straight hair and my smiley-face pull. And, I was noticed which made mama’s efforts even more grand.
It’s hard to imagine that quilting today, although still quite primitive in concept, is married to technology just as conversation, canning or bread making. There’s a machine for a particular stitch, one to fashion big quilts, small quilts and all those in-between. And I suspect that the thimble – which mama never quilted without – is not necessary anymore. Now the machine does the tedious work where one’s eyes and fingers once struggled each stitch of the way. And this rotary cutter contraption – taking the place of scissors? This would have saved many fights between mama and me.
After meeting many twenty-first century quilters, I realized that although the process has evolved, the reasoning behind the craft has not. It’s about memories, of stories, of conservation, of using every scrap, of not throwing anything away, of passing down this tradition to future generations. Quilting becomes a story of ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness, one that must live on.
Today, in my very simple country home, I drape quilts of varied designs over my sofa and chairs. I reach for them to chase the chill, but more often, to revisit the past. I can trace the stitches that mama pulled and tugged, wear those dresses again (although I dare question why) or snuggle and get lost in a memory. I keep Smiley near me not because it keeps me warmer but because it keeps mama closer. Some squares have pulled away from its neighbor and snags have been the result of time. It's never seen the inside of a washing machine or felt cool waters. It smells and feels the same way it did the last time she worked on it. That comforts me.
I suspect one day I’ll finish Smiley. I’ll take out my needle and thimble and finish what my mama started. I'll give it to my children in hopes that they will realize they hold in their hands the story of two generations.
As the days get cooler and they require more cover, reach for a memory, snuggle and prepare the soul for a new year, a new beginning. Remember what the past has taught and allow it to light the way.