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.
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.