think about it especially in the spring, that outrageously beautiful Saturday
afternoon in May of 1993 when Prairie Bayou won the Preakness and my mother
lost her by then tenuous hold on life. The melanoma we believed had been
treated successfully returned and spread, and we watched her weaken and fade
until the end came, too soon. Even that day, horses running on the TV screen, we
thought we had more time. But before evening came, she turned her head toward
the window, toward the garden she loved, and left us.
remember the ways she showed her love for us, because she didn’t like to tell
us much. My mother knew how to share the enthusiasms of those around her. She faithfully watched sports with my dad, cleverly
sewed costumes for my school plays, and patiently crafted a building block
model of the Peaks Island Ferry Terminal with my little boy.
I found out almost two years after she died that the new baby coming to be part
of my family would be a little girl, I wanted my mother’s hands to touch her
somehow. In the sewing closet in my parents’ home in Portsmouth, Virginia, were
two big boxes of fabric scraps, remnants of curtains and throw pillow cases and
wraparound skirts and bermuda bag covers and even a maternity blouse. I asked
my sister-in-law to mail the boxes to me in Portland, and I called my friend
Carolyn, and we went through the boxes together, choosing pieces for a quilt.
chose the little geese left over from an apron, and the rose pink that lined
the bed hangings on my parents Colonial headboard. We liked the dark purple
with little flowers and the pale Laura Ashley florals, too. Carolyn trimmed
part of the edge with a favorite theme in my mother’s choices for me over the
years, a strawberry print, and she specially framed a scene portraying Mary
Poppins as she arrived at Cherry Tree Lane, umbrella aloft. All these pieces
had passed through my mother’s hands, too, and now they would become a whole
quilt to wrap my little daughter with love.
my memory are other scraps and remnants, pieces of things my mother said to me.
Two lines of scripture came up over and over again. “Be still and know that I
am God,” an expression of her quiet spirit and need for time alone, so unlike
her daughter, who liked to talk. A lot. The other was that famous line from the
Farewell Discourse, in which Jesus assures his friends, “In my Father's house
there are many rooms,” many mansions, she must have said, an assurance that we
are all included in God’s love.
Those friends of
Jesus, in their memories of him, in their stories of him, created a quilt of
faith, passed along orally for a long time before being written down. When you
make a quilt, you look over the fabrics that you have and choose which ones you
like, which ones go together, which ones speak to you. You piece them together
to make a larger image. So it is with memories. Sometimes we need to choose
hard ones to remind us of the person we loved or the person who disappointed
us. Sometimes we choose sweet ones to give us comfort as we think of the person
we have lost. Sometimes we remember a funny story and laugh and bring her
alive; sometimes we recall a joke he told and chuckle nostalgically.
Some years after my mother died,
I came to love the beginning of Psalm 46:
is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the
sea; though its
waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
It wasn’t until later that I
realized my Psalm was the same as hers. One day standing beside a hospital bed,
I read this Psalm right through to the end, and there it was:
still, and know that I am God!”
Suddenly our quilt pieces made one whole.
And for once, I was, in memory