Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Lessons Learned from Quilts

My Mom loved beautiful quilts, and we enjoyed receiving her wonderful "gifts of quilts" at special times in our lives. She labored diligently and lovingly in her retirement, as she tried to decide the design, bemoaned the stitches that were just not quite up-to-par with others' beautiful stitches (I couldn't tell the difference!), and appreciated handwork of others through the eyes of a knowledgeable, well-taught student of folk art forms and traditions. She had grown up in the Great Depression, and it was necessary to learn to make or grow things her family could not purchase: bedding, clothing, food, etc.

My Mom went through various "seasons" in her life, demonstrating various handwork skills. There was the Embroidery Phase, when she enhanced pillow cases, sheets, handkerchiefs, and many other "blah" items with her flowers, leaves, and designs. There was also her Crochet Phase, a time that was very present during her youthful years, and somehow returned with a vengeance during my doctoral studies (I received a magnificent crocheted bedspread as my Ph.D. gift). Then there was the "Quilt Phase" in her retirement, when she began making all of us quilts as remembrances of her life, skills, love, and talent.

I loved my Mom's quilts. I remember receiving one when I lived in Austin, Texas. The UPS truck arrived on December 24th in the late, late afternoon. I was spending Christmas away from home in 1992, but remembered by friends. Still, to have something arrive for me from home was a thrill beyond words. I wrapped myself up in that pink quilt, watched Hallmark movies, and got through the day just fine, well...untarnished, and able to do that same thing today, if necessary. I also remember receiving a new quilt from her on my wedding day. She had made a beautiful quilt for Bill and me, and sadly, we totally wore it out...total threads. We loved it, and used it daily.

Mom began slowing down about four years before she died in August of 2017. The years had taken a toll, and I could tell that at 88, she was unable to do as much for as long as she had been able to do previously. Then...the TIAs hit on her 90th birthday. She eventually became confused, and got to the point that she was unable to live alone. So...she went to an independent living retirement home where she enjoyed several years as an energetic, cute resident, living her life and recalling her childhood more and more every day, as the aging population is prone to do.

So...last year I was on vacation, and received "the call." Mom had left this world to become a part of "the next world".....marvelously happy, I'm sure. Life had become difficult for her. She had taken great care of herself for years and years, but the years take a toll. We cannot avoid the ultimate. I was so grateful that I had always stayed in close touch with her, the relationship was up-to-date in every way, and I knew I was one fortunate person just to have been her daughter. I was glad to have made the choices I made to have her in my life, and I knew I was blessed beyond words.

Several months went by, and I was eventually able to meet my brother to go through Mom's house, making decisions about items we found. There really wasn't very much that anyone would call "valuable"....except for us. I found loads of handwork that I had forgotten even existed...handwork from the 1940s that I remembered from my earliest years. I also found three large trashbags full of quilting materials, squares and designs. Some had been pieced together in small ways, and some were just squares cut for later placement. Loads, and loads, and loads of quilting materials.

I knew only one woman who was still quilting: a high school friend, Susan Peacock Gibbs. Susan took the materials, and made quilts for me...the same quilts you have seen on this blog post. Beautiful...precious...quilts.

Mom intended to "one day" put all of those quilts together, but the TIAs would no longer allow her once organized mind to sort through exactly what needed to be done and how to do it. Such a frustration for Mom! Her "school teacher" remembrances knew what she was once able to do, but her post-TIA condition would not allow it.

The lesson for me? I love music. I write music. I must piece together my arrangements and settings of choral music exactly as Mom had always designed, pieced, and quilted her handwork. In music, there is design, and there is also substance beneath the motives, melodies, sections, keys, and harmonies. I can't wait until the "TIA" hits to begin to express all there is to express within me as a musician. Today is the day to write the most wonderful, fabulous piece I have ever had within me as a composer. Never tomorrow...today. Today is your day, too....to be the best teacher ever, to express that one phrase the most musically it has ever been expressed, to make that strawberry shortcake the best it has ever been made! It is our time!!

What if the music is within me and I cannot "get it out" onto the page? Will I be frustrated? You bet! Will I be annoyed with life? Maybe. But one thing I do not want to be is "regretful." I want to know that I have used every fiber within me to create the fabric of my life and work as a beautiful outlay of handwork...just as Mom and our angel-friend Susan created something beautiful of "squares."

The miraculous awaits...