Monday, October 10, 2011

A Quilt's Life

I was imagined on a spring day when my lady, Margaret, was tending her flowers.  She plucked a red rose from a bush and took it inside where she kept all her material.  It didn’t take her long to find the piece of cloth that matched the rose color perfectly.  That is when I was conceived.  Margaret took out her sewing kit and my first block was created.  Each day a new color and design were added.  By month's end, I was looking quite magnificent!

Then, one day, without warning, I was placed in a plastic bag and Margaret’s husband, Joe, put me on the top shelf of a dark closet.  It was a sad and lonely time for me.  That day blended into the next and I lost track of the number of days that passed.

Every time Margaret entered the closet, I felt a surge of excitement. 

"Maybe today she will reach for me," I thought hopefully, "Maybe today she’ll pluck another rose from the garden and be inspired to unwrap me."

As the days passed without her even looking my way, I eventually stopped hoping.

I could hear all the sounds of the home as Margaret and Joe went through their days together: Joe talking about his day at work; Margaret talking about her beloved rose garden.  I often heard the fluttering of sheets as Margaret made her bed and my heart ached with longing to be spread out on her bed as the centerpiece of the room.

Soon, a new sound entered the home.  It was unfamiliar to me - a screeching cry of some sort.  When I first heard it, I shook from fright and almost fell off the shelf.  I expected the cry to be followed by the screaming of an ambulance siren. I thought someone, maybe Margaret, had been gravely injured.  No ambulance came.

The seemingly desperate crying still occurred every day and every night (it was hard to distinguish night from day in the closet).  All I know is it happened a lot!  Margaret and Joe seemed very happy about the crying, so I was happy too.

Then, one day something magnificent happened.  Margaret came into the closet like usual - looking for a lost shoe or a fancy blouse, but this day she reached high over her head.

Could it be! I waited with anticipation, Is she really reaching for me?

Out of the small hole in my bag, I watched her as she stood on tippy-toes trying to snatch something from the top shelf.  She left the closet, and I almost cried (but I didn’t want to stain myself).  I waited.  Soon, she returned with a step ladder and, this time, she grabbed me off the shelf!

Before long, I was breathing the fresh air of spring, and I was cloaked in the bright sunshine streaming through the window of the little bedroom.  Margaret had decorated the room with a rocking chair, stuffed animals, white clouds and pink curtains.  In the corner of the room was a strange wooden crate with bars on it.  Inside the crate was a tiny sleeping person.  Next to the rocking chair was Margaret’s sewing box and many floral swaths of fabric that must have taken her months and months to find.  Each one was cut perfectly and ready to become part of my tapestry.  I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for me.

The quilting needle felt wonderful as it sewed new life into me.  I was growing bigger every day.  Margaret would rock in the rocking chair singing soft lullabies as she sewed while the little person slept in the crate.  I hadn’t grown as big as I needed to be for Margaret’s bed when, strangely, she began sewing my edging with a pretty pink ruffle.

I’m not done yet, am I? I pondered this strange turn of events.

The next day, after my last ruffle was sewn, Margaret carefully laid me over the little sleeping person.  At first, I was terrified that I would smother this tiny being (I think her name must be “baby” because I always hear Joe asking about the “baby”).  I felt baby’s warmth under my batting and my fear was transformed into a wonderful knowing that it was my job to protect her.  I instantly fell in love with baby.

My baby grew very fast!  I learned that her real name was Audrey.  We became best friends.  Soon, Audrey was trying to walk.  She would drag me around with her so I could cushion her fall.  She fell a lot at first, but it wasn’t long before she just dragged me around behind her wherever she went; the store, the playground, the back yard, the neighbors and even grandma’s house.  She was always on the go!  Some days, she wore me out.  I was getting dirty and tattered, but I didn’t care.  If I wasn’t with Audrey, I knew that she would soon find me.  Margaret, whose name became “Mommy,” would always ask Audrey where her blankie (that’s me) was before she got in the car.  Sometimes, Joe would come back in the house after they left. He'd snatch me off the floor in a huff (that’s when I knew that Audrey was crying and really needed me).

As Audrey grew bigger, I grew smaller.  My edges wore away, and my once beautiful rose colored patches were smudged with years of tears, ice cream, playgrounds and dirty back yards.  Soon, Audrey didn’t cry for me anymore.  Sometimes, many days passed before Audrey remembered that I was stuffed under her bed or stuck between the couch cushions.  When Audrey turned eight, I wasn’t at her party; I was at the bottom of her laundry basket.  How I longed to see her blow out her candles and be dragged behind her as she played with her friends!   Later that day, I was washed and dried, and then, as I half expected, Mommy put me in a garbage bag.  I thought that I was going to be placed out on the curb with the rest of the trash, but, thankfully, I was placed back in the closet. 

I never thought I would be thankful to feel the old shelf under me, but I was hopeful that this meant I would one day be revived and reborn.  I rested on my shelf, and I listened to the sounds of Audrey growing up.  I knew she played soccer because she was always yelling, “Mom, have you seen my soccer ball?”  She played the tuba, too.  I remember hearing a godawful sound followed by Mommy yelling at her to take her tuba in her bedroom.  It made me smile to think of Audrey and, yet, it made me sad as I wished I could be a part of her growing up.

Years passed.  I knew this because Audrey’s voice grew older and she argued with Mommy about everything!  Then, one day, Audrey packed up all her stuff (not me though) and she left for a place called college.  I heard Mommy crying that night as Joe comforted her.  I cried too! It didn’t matter this time if I stained myself - I was already stained!  I cried because I would no longer have even a little glimpse into Audrey’s life.

Shortly after Audrey left, I heard Mommy tell one of her friends that she wanted to start a quilting club to keep herself busy.  “I’d love to learn how to quilt!”   Her friend replied, and my heart leaped for joy.

Does this mean...I thought as Mommy said, “I packed Audrey’s old quilt away in the closet.  I think I’ll get it down and see what I can do with it.”

The next day Mommy fetched me and placed me on the couch in the living room.  On the wall hung many pictures; Audrey in her soccer uniform, Audrey in the marching band, Audrey on a horse, Audrey standing next to a car holding up car keys, Audrey in a graduation cap and gown.  Audrey had a beautiful smile and brilliant blue eyes; just as I had imagined her.

Mommy lifted me and began to cut away at the few stray threads of ruffle that remained from Audrey’s childhood.  I felt sad and happy at the same time.  I knew that Mommy would not cut away every memory from my fabric.  I also knew, because she was cutting, it meant that something new was about to take place.

A few days later, Mommy, whose name mysteriously turned back to Margaret, called all her friends.  Soon, the room filled with women and their quilting tools.  Everyone marveled at me.  I felt proud as they all talked about how they remembered Audrey and me.  One lady commented that it must have taken Margaret a long time to get me clean again.  It did!  I was sprayed and washed and tumbled so many times I thought I would disintegrate, but Margaret made me strong, and I was shining brightly again.

This time Margaret did not make me small.  She used many many pieces of fabric that she gathered over the years.  I knew this because she told her friends about the pieces as she sewed them into my canvas.

“This is a piece of Audrey’s soccer shirt,” she’d say, as she prepared the swath for sewing. “I can’t believe how quickly the years have passed!”

“I remember that dress!” I heard Sue chuckle.

“Those were bridesmaids dresses from hell!” Ellen howled with laughter.  “I can’t believe that Joan made us wear those godawful things!”

“Well, at least the color was beautiful,”  Joan interjected as Margaret sewed the wedding date into the piece of silk fabric.

Each piece was a memory patiently collected, cut and placed in a box just for me.  One piece made Margaret cry so hard that everyone stopped and hugged her.  I learned that it was once her sister’s blouse.  I knew, from my perch in the closet, that Margaret’s sister had died from cancer a few years ago.

As my tapestry grew, I knew that Margaret was planning a very special place for me in her home.  Joe was even building something in the garage for me to hang on, although I would have preferred their bed. 

By fall, I had become a splendid quilt filled with brilliant colors.  I was Margaret’s masterpiece.  She was so proud of me!  All the ladies oohed and aahed over me as my finishing touches were completed.  I puffed up my batting with pride as Margaret carried me into her bedroom and lovingly placed me on her bed.

Finally, I thought, I have taken my rightful place as the centerpiece of Margaret’s life.  Even Audrey came home from time to time and laid on me as she told her mom about college life and some boy named Joshua.  Once, Audrey placed her hand over my center and said, with a faraway look in her eyes, “God, I loved my blankie!  I’m so glad you made it a part of this quilt, mom.”   It was so good to hear Audrey say how much she loved me.

One day, when Audrey was helping her mom clean the bedroom, I heard Margaret say, “This quilt will be yours someday, Audrey.”  She was rubbing her arthritic hand over me.  “I wish I could make another one, but my fingers just can’t quilt like they used to.”

“I’ll treasure it, Mom,”  Audrey said.

I was looking forward to the day when I would cover Audrey once again, but that day never came.  I don’t know what happened to Audrey.  It seemed that she just disappeared from my life as quickly as she did when she went away to college.  Only, this time was different.  The sadness that enveloped the house was as thick as a dark rain cloud.  It felt like all the joy that had filled the home had suddenly and irrevocably been sucked out of every room.  Both Margaret and Joe soaked me with salty tears as they talked about how much the loved and missed Audrey.

Not long after the joy left, I was taken off the bed while Margaret cried.  She folded me in a way that prepared me for hanging over the stand that Joe had built so many years ago.   It was as if she couldn’t bear to be covered by the remnants of Audrey’s blankie or all the pieces of Audrey’s life-fabric that were so much a part of me.

As I hung on my stand, I watched Margaret and Joe grow old.  Laughter returned to their home when they held parties or when they danced together late at night, but the laughter was always missing something as if it needed Audrey’s voice to complete it.

From time to time, a guest would wander into the master bedroom and comment about how beautiful I was.  “That is a magnificent quilt!”  They’d say, and I would become hopeful that I would once again cover the bed.

I never made it back on the bed, though.  Joe went away, too and, Margaret spent most of her lonely days in her garden with her roses that seemed to bring her comfort. Then, one day I heard Margaret’s niece come into the house calling Margaret’s name.  Margaret didn’t answer, and I knew it was bad.  Margaret had fallen while tending her roses.  Her niece called the ambulance which took Margaret away, and I didn’t see her for a very long time.

Today, a lady I had never seen before entered the master bedroom and pinned a tag on me that said $75.00.

What does that mean? I wondered as a bunch of people filed into the room.

“Wow!” one woman said as she ran her hand over me admiring my tapestry, “What a gorgeous quilt!”

Several of the other people joined her and commented on my brilliance.

Who are all these people? I was wondering.

Then, I felt a surge of joy as I heard the familiar clickety-clack of Margaret’s walker coming toward the bedroom.

She’s coming for me! I would have screamed if I had a mouth.  She hasn’t forgotten me!

Margaret’s frail body stood in the doorframe and her eyes misted as she began to speak to the woman who was inspecting my intricate needlework. “That quilt was meant for my daughter, Audrey.”  She said, tears streaking her face.  “She was killed in a tragic car accident years ago.  She was only twenty-five and engaged to be married.  There are a lot of memories in that quilt.”

The lady picked me up and admired me some more.  “You know,” she said to Margaret, “my daughter just loves old quilts.  I’m going to buy this for her and keep it for when she has a baby.  It will be perfect for a baby’s room.”

A baby! I couldn’t believe my ears!

The lady lovingly picked me up and hugged Margaret while they both cried for a few minutes.  The last thing I saw was Margaret’s smiling eyes as she helped the lady lovingly wrap me in a plastic bag.

“My daughter will treasure this quilt.”  I heard the lady say right before the twist tie darkened my world.