Lost and Found
I lost my mother to cancer in May of this year, no... wait, “lost” doesn’t seem like the right word. The word “lost” invites the possibility of finding something. My mother died and I will never find her again. What I lost was part of myself: the comfort, the personal history, the love, both received and given, between mother and daughter. Those things which I hope to find again... and again.
|My mother, Tekla, serving up cake.|
The Fabric of our Lives
I returned to my parents’ home in July, two months after my mother’s funeral, to sort through her things. There was the endless paper, a junkie for keeping her own books and archives, my mother threw nothing out. My father and I sorted and purged as much as we could, establishing a new bond as, well, survivors. There was the kitchen: smells and pickle jars and recipes and dried sage and cheesecloth... every little crumb the essence of her mastery of all things food related. There was her garden... her garden: it was her art... perennial flowers bending with the weight of their blossoms, bees stumbling drunkenly from lilies to cornflowers unfazed by the passage of time or life. Then, there were her things: shoes, clothes, sewing baskets, knitting, jewelry... a love letter from my father circa 1958, a bright piece of a child’s costume, crocheted squares for a blanket we were making together, never finished. I stumbled through it all... scarves to her sisters, a baby book to my brother, sweaters to friends, jewelry in a box for her granddaughters. It was when I opened a drawer of just t-shirts that I started crying and laughing hard and long. Stained and worn to paper thinness, my mother kept them all. Each one from a time and place, a moment or a movement that she couldn’t bear to throw out.... the garlic festival in Gilroy, California from the time when she was a garlic farmer... the t-shirt that my brother gave her “a tree grows in Brooklyn” just to prove he didn’t live in a concrete jungle, the ones in support of Medicine Beach or Brooks Point Park on the Gulf Island where she lived, the t-shirt with a Georgia O-Keeffe flower that was gifted from a dear artist friend. It was impossible to throw them out, as impossible for me as it was to for my mother.
|Some of the Quilts of Gees Bend.|
I remembered seeing an exhibit in New York some years ago, “The Quilts of Gees Bend”. African-American women from a remote community in Alabama who made quilts from old clothes, often using deceased families members’ cherished clothing. I was struck by the dignified artistry of these simple and geometric hand made quilts, they were more powerful to me than the De Kooning and Jackson Pollock paintings that one expected to see gracing the walls of New York museums. I also found inspiration and encouragement from my dear friend and quilting artist, Barb Mortell (http://www.houseofbug.blogspot.ca/). She made a small memorial quilt which we draped on my mother’s simple seagrass casket, my mother was buried with it. Visiting Barb on Denman Island in July, we talked about memory quilts, looked at some websites about ‘grieving quilts’ made from old clothes, we ran the thin fabric of my mother’s worn t-shirts through our fingers. “You’ll need some kind of fusible backing” said Barb. Fusion, backing, backbone, fabric, dignity, grief, thread, memory... as I went to sleep, hugged under a pile of Barb’s quilts, I knew what I should do.
Hurting and Healing
|A quilt block by Barb Mortell.|
I devoted a suitcase to my mother’s t-shirts and schlepped them back to the ‘big stink', Toronto, my home. Returning to work in the film and television industry, I worried that I would never make time for my “memory quilt”. Long hours, all consuming, no time to mourn, work and more work, rake in the money, forget about the pain. Distraction. Yes, work was a welcome distraction, as the sadness was too overwhelming at times.
Then, I broke my foot in early September. A bad break on the arch, a Lisfranc fracture which, historically at one time, involved amputation of the foot as part of it’s regular treatment. I have continued to work with this broken foot over the past 6 weeks despite surgery and crutches, knowing my contract on the TV series would soon be over. So, here I am now, today,... no more work, no weight bearing for 2 more months, left foot broken with screws and plates, emotionally battered, physically scarred. No mother to kiss my boo boos... ouch.
And I have never made a quilt in my life, not even one patch.
|A sample of the legacy of t-shirts from my mother.|