A Patchwork of Memories.

Memory quilt

5/21 Daily Post: Bittersweet Memories.
You receive a gift that is bittersweet and makes you nostalgic. What is it?

The monumental task of clearing out my parents’ home after their deaths was made even more difficult by the tragic circumstances under which we’d lost them.  Nothing was normal about it, and every little normal thing in the house just reinforced that.  What to do with the contents of a house that grew from small to huge as the family itself grew large?  Where do you start, in a house where most of their 55-year marriage was nurtured and against which all of our childhoods were staged?  We did our best to evenly distribute the “things,” the mementoes of youth, the heirlooms, the books, the spoons.

When it came to their bedroom, it was another matter.  Here was the heart of the house.  Here is where the window stayed open, even on the coldest nights; here is where the ‘workin’ things’ that resided in my Pa’s pockets would tumble onto the nightstand: washers; marbles; screws and nuts of various sizes; a bit of string or wire; a fuse; a flashlight bulb; a butterscotch candy; a hose clamp; a wire nut; some coins (he always jingled the coins in his pocket); and maybe a broken piece of something he intended to repair.  Here were Mother’s ubiquitous safety pins and headscarves and the jewelry she seldom wore.

My parents’ bedroom was normally off-limits when I was a child; without express permission from one or the other, I had no business in there.  I am glad that my parents taught us to respect their privacy; we kids always knew that while we were loved and important to them, they put one another first.  A happy marriage makes for a happy family.

It was difficult to dismantle that room, probably more so than any other part of the house.  Aside from the closets and dressers filled with clothing they no longer wore, there were memories stashed everywhere — everywhere: Birthday cards.  Letters.  Dad’s WWII memorabilia.  Photographs.  Reminders of the early days of their marriage and family, when money was tight and they scraped to get by.  Gifts that we kids had proudly made for them; baby clothes; items that they had kept from when their own parents passed away.  Each drawer, box, and bag spilled more memories.

When we got to the clothing, we knew that most of it would be donated to charity; however, there were a few things we wanted to keep that were meaningful to us.  Those of us who could wear Mother’s lovely wool coat or her favorite blouse were able to choose those things.  There were plenty of Dad’s heavy, plaid flannel shirts to go around.  The clothing with tears or stains that was not going to be given away we set aside for the rag bag.

One of our cousins, who was very close to our family and our parents, is a very talented seamstress.  With great love for our family, she offered us a priceless gift: she would make each of us a quilt from our parents’ and sister’s clothing.  If we would select the items and cut the squares, she would help us lay out the pattern and she would do the piecework, with custom embroidery.  We would select the fabrics for the backing and the binding; a friend of hers would do the quilting.

windmill pattern

Each quilt (she made SIX of them!) was crafted with loving care.  We chose our preferred fabrics and colors and cut the pieces.  She helped us lay them out, and she pieced them together.  There were scraps of Dad’s work jeans; mom’s aprons; the daisy-printed sheets we all remembered; my sister’s blouses; a red handkerchief here; and a tee-shirt there; all affectionately combined to make a quilt that would warm our bones and our hearts.

The relationships we had with our family reflected in the items we selected to use.  Each quilt is an original; none looks like any other.  Each quilt mirrors its owner and honors its subjects.  Each is embroidered with a brief note of provenance: my cousin’s name, the date, why it was made, and for whom.  She made us promise to use the quilts, not box them up and leave them in a closet.

I have kept my promise.  Mine is no longer stiff and new; it is soft and shows wear on some of the seams.  Some of the squares were made with fabric that was thin to begin with, and those have now worn through, showing the backing behind.  I sometimes look at each square and sigh as I remember Dad in his flannel shirt or Mom in her headscarf; I finger the fabrics deliberately as my mind wanders down that path.

This gift was truly the most heartfelt and bittersweet of anything I have ever been given.  At once it represents sorrow and joy; fun and work; and family and love.

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Aging like a fine wine. ;-)

18 thoughts on “A Patchwork of Memories.”

  1. One of my favorite songs is “Memories”. I love the lyrics. Reading this, strangely, did not make me sad. It made me reverent, like walking purposefully in time with a beautiful song in a church service. We were so sad going through the things, but we were able to joke as we went from find to find. The quilts were such a living, loving gift from Kathy; it was truly a labor of love for her, for she loved all of us. I still have so much stuff upstairs to go through from 14 years ago. I sometimes wonder if it will still be in boxes for my children to go through. I hope not. Thanks for the memories.

    1. I’m not sure I know what song that is — the only song that comes to mind is Barbra singing “The Way We Were” and I don’t think that’s the one you mean.
      I’m glad this didn’t make you sad — I like reverent much better.
      Kathy’s gift was so much more than just the quilt, indeed, and it was straight from her generous heart.
      I, too, have boxes that need to be gone through, but I don’t know when that will be. It may be like you say — they’ll be there for the next generation to shuffle into and out of their garages and basements and attics. I wonder if it’s universal.
      You are very welcome. They’re good memories, and I’m happy to share.

  2. WoW. Our feelings put beautifully into words…. Sometimes what you say feels taken from my heart, Becky. It’s like I’m reading my own thoughts….

    Once again, this is beautifully written… Great job, Beck-


    1. Thank you so much. That is quite a compliment, and I appreciate it. I know we all feel so grateful for that wonderful, precious gift.

    1. There may still be hope, if your dad still has some of her things. It is a wonderful way to remember.

  3. Wow Becky, what a great story. Thanks so much for sharing. Brings back so many memories of my own family members passing. And what a wonderful gift from your friend. Would have never thought of something like that but I will sure remember it when my own mother passes away.
    Thank you again for your wonderful writing and sharing your feelings with us. I look forward to your writing.
    Paul H.

    1. Thank you, Paul. I have photos of all of the quilts somewhere, and if I find them, I’ll share them. They are works of art. My cousin is amazing. I would recommend a memory quilt, even a small one, for when you lose a loved one. It is a keepsake, yet a useful one, and the memories it brings back are many.
      And if you keep reading, I’ll keep writing. Thanks! 😉

  4. Becky, what a beautiful post and thought process from you.

    I have a quilt that is made from pieces of my great-grandfather’s suits! While not bittersweet like yours, it does help me stay in touch with family from long ago.

    By the way, I’m sure you know the song “Memories.” From Cats, remember? “Midnight, not a sound from the pavement/has the moon lost her memory/she is shining alone . . . “

    1. Thank you, Bobbi!
      What a cool thing to have from your great-grandfather! While cleaning out our folks’ house, we found an old quilt top that had some dates from the 1800’s on it. Nobody knew where it came from, exactly, but we had some guesses. Several parts of it looked to be dark wool — perhaps from a gentleman’s suit! I had forgotten all about it until I read your comment.
      Funny — I have never seen Cats, nor do I know that song. It does not bring anything to mind, actually. I’ll have to go look for the song so I can listen. Thanks!

  5. The traditional 19th-century quilts were made of worn-out clothing. This goes beyond in such a beautiful way. You have the work of your cousin’s love, and you can wrap yourself in your parents’ love. As a sometime quilter myself, I am overwhelmed.

    1. Thank you so much for visiting! And thank you for your kind words; yes, it was the most generous and loving gift, straight from the heart of the giver.
      Interesting tidbit about traditional quilts you shared. The old quilt top I found among my parents’ things is apparently just as you say — made from worn-out clothing. It makes perfect sense to repurpose clothing that can no longer be mended for wearing. Long before I ever heard “reduce, reuse, recycle,” my mother had taught me, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”
      I have often thought about trying quilting over the years, but it is a lot of work. I am content to admire them. To this day, I marvel at the effort and attention to detail she showed. I must put up better photos, because the detail is astounding.

      Thank you again for your visit and comment.

  6. I have read story this many times, and each time my eyes well up with tears. Emotion flows from your writing like a river in the spring, overflowing its banks. You are an incredible writer that yanks the emotion right out of my soul.

    1. Thank you so much, Heidi! I really appreciate that generous compliment. Those quilts mean so much to us; they really were made with love, and they hold so many memories with those different fabrics. I’m glad that my writing touches you so deeply; that is all I can hope for, and it makes me happy to hear. I’m so glad you like my blog!

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