Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Piecing Together the Fragments of Our Lives

My maternal grandmother made quilts. Often they were created from scraps of fabric left over from other sewing projects. I can remember my mother saving remnants from dresses she made for me and taking them to Grandma. 

As a child I would lie on my back under one of grandma’s quilts in the early morning as the sun would shine through the window. I would put my feet and arms up in the air, stretching the cover over me as a sort of tent. I could see all the colorful patterns on the walls of my makeshift dwelling. Sometimes I pretended I was in a cave where my ancestors, the Cherokee Indians had painted colorful markings on the cave walls.

At some point, each time we visited my grandparents, Grandma would take me and my mother to one of the bedrooms and one by one show us the quilts she’d made since our last visit. I would trace the patterns on the quilt tops naming the fabric I recognized. “That was my Easter dress!” I would say. Or, “I remember that red material! Mommy made that dress for me when I was in kindergarten!”

Those quilts seem to chronicle my childhood. 

I first used the illustration of Grandma’s quilts in Libby’s Cuppa Joe. Here’s the excerpt:

[Sonja] climbed into the bed of her youth and pulled the quilt up around her. Grandma Grace made the quilt for her tenth birthday. Sonja traced the pieces of triangle shaped fabric making up the colorful star patterns on the quilt with her finger. A few were cut out of remnants of material from dresses Grandma Grace had sewn for Sonja. Others were fragments of old play clothes and school clothes. Rags, really. Each star was sewn into a square and each square was blocked with the same material Annette used to make the pink flowered curtains in Sonja’s room. 
As an adolescent, Sonja appreciated how the quilt matched the curtains. She took delight in pointing out to friends spending the night, the print that had been a favorite blouse or the blue flowered material that had once been an Easter dress. Now, though, as she lay in the soft light of her bedside lamp, Sonja studied the quilt more closely. It was beautiful. Prettier than any single piece of fabric that had gone into its making. 
In the still night, Sonja lay in her bed weeping. This was what Kevin had shared with her. This was the message her parents had spoken of. This was what her grandmother wanted her to know. “God can take the torn and fragmented pieces of my life and create something new.” 
“Now what, God?” Sonja whispered into the night. “Without you I am a spent, worn out rag. With you I am a beautiful and useful quilt. That’s what I want, Lord. No more doubt. I want to give myself over to you completely and have you make me into what you want me to be.”

I don’t quilt. It is an art I never practiced or perhaps never acquired. I appreciate the few quilts I own that my dear grandmother stitched together for me. I know my children and grandchildren will never fully understand the quilts and treasure them as I do. 

I wish I could leave each member of my family a hand-sewn quilt: A remnant of our heritage. Then again, I can’t help but wonder if maybe I am leaving my own family a different sort of treasure. I take words and fragments of experiences to piece together stories and publish books. 

Perhaps one day my daughters will snuggle under quilts sewn by their great-grandmother and read one of my stories to their own grandbabies. They may recognize bits and pieces of our life experiences in the stories I craft. 

It’s possible. 

Perhaps they will trace the fragments of fabric in the quilt with their fingers as Sonja did and wonder if maybe this piece or that was a dress or a shirt once worn by someone from their past. 

Then again, they may simply appreciate the comfort of the moment… realizing quilts warm the body just as stories warm the heart. 

Might I just say, it makes a great Christmas gift...(Okay...done with the self promo...Go and Enjoy Your Day.)

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