The other day when I was at Dad’s house, I saw the quilt Mom made me laying on the foot of his guest room bed. I think I must have left it there when I moved over to the farm, and it is right where it needs to be – the soft blues and browns – the colors Mom knew I loved – all folded neatly in a rectangle.
I have always loved quilts, particularly crazy quilts made from the scraps of life. Now, most of them, I expect, are put together with great intention – a pattern behind the seeming chaos. But I prefer the older ones, assembled from the scraps of other things, too precious to simply discard. A bit of granddaddy’s jeans. A slip from the new kitchen curtain. That piece of Mama’s wedding dress tucked into one corner. Hand-stitched. Assembled into something new.
That’s how I think of writing – living, too, I guess – a work of saving, of sewing together the pieces of a story, the bits of a life. That trip to the tiny mountain store where Dad taught my brother and I to sip Pepsi out of a glass bottle, lips closed to minimize backwash. The afternoons at church where I sneaked in to see Mom at the piano between her lessons. A day in autumn when light returned to my spirit as I picked up maple leaves for my friends.
We lay these experiences out, and then we see what they form – a story, a poem, maybe an essay about how autumn is about hope in the midst of quieting. Slowly, then, we take the words of our lives, and we stitch them together a word at a time. Most of the time, we don’t quite know what the final work will look like – will it be a small baby quilt or the kind of art that someone in 25 years will hang on a wall like a tapestry in a modern-day castle? – and still, we know that some of the joy is in not quite knowing what we will turn out and what will turn up – a fragment about that time we stood at Fort Sumter, that first word about the attacks of 14 years ago, the way a young man she did not know hugged her while she cried in a computer lab. We just keep working – day after day – stitching each piece to each.
In the end, we find warmth and memory all sewn together into redemption, a life restored and remembered, folded into pages that sit on the bookshelves at the end of my father’s bed.