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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Broken Threads

My guild, this year, is going to have an event, just for our members, where we bring in our first quilts to show and talk about.

I have several "first" quilts. I have the first quilt I ever started, which was for my Mother, and thereby hangs a tale...

I have a small wallhanging I made, while I was also making my Mom's quilt, which was the first project I ever completed. It only took me about two days, I was proud of it because it's a Celtic Knot and I didn't have a pattern... Plus, I did machine stippling all over and it's perfect, and it was the first time I'd ever dropped a feed dog...

And I have another wallhanging I did, for my Father, again, done during the period I was also making my Mom's quilt. This wallhanging was a very sentimental and poignant project for me, because the subject was my grandparents' country home, where I spent every summer of my childhood, and then some.

I knew nothing about quilts when I designed any of these items, I simply forged ahead. The wallhanging for my dad, entitled "Glengar Cottage" had me sobbing almost every time I worked on it - not because of the work, but because of the memories.

It's not a particularly beautiful wallhanging, and it's not even clear what all the items are that are on it. To go with it, I made a booklet, describing each section and what it meant.

There is a representation of the house, as I knew it. When I was busy talking to my dad, he told me how the place used to look, when he was younger, because he grew up there. But I did it as I remembered it. You saw the outside of the house from the west side. There was a kitchen off the main section, a porch behind that, and grandpa's workshop behind that. To the right was the 100 year-old maple tree, which I thought of as "my" tree, because my swing was in it. It was two fat bristly ropes and a plank of wood, and I spent hours of every day in that swing, imagining all sorts of things.

Then I made what I now know are called "thread paintings" of all the particular little things I remembered or loved about that house.

There was the doorstep - a piece of cement, with the Canadian Air Force logo carefully etched into it, and the latin phrase, "Per Ardua ad Astra" - "Through adversity to the stars" - the motto of the Air Force, at least back when my grandpa and father made that particular front step.

My hammock. It had a metal frame, and it swung. It was made of bright red canvas with white rope fringe, and the pillow was attached to it. It smelled so musty - years and years of being pulled into the house because of rain, or being left out in the rain, rolled up in a ball and put in a corner or behind the couch... Nowadays nobody would let a kid near anything like that! Eew! Mold!

Well, I loved that hammock. I napped it in every sunny day. From the swing to the hammock...

Then out to pick wild strawberries, or draw water from the well...

I made thread paintings of those strawberries, the well and bucket, the pot-bellied stove, the mice that were rampant, the groundhogs that lived nearby, whip-or-wills, jigsaw puzzles, the waist-high grasses, the old piano, the hen house...

All the thread paintings circled the depiction of the house. I did a family tree, right along the top edge of the quilt. And in the corners I put log-cabin sections of the Dewar tartan.

Well, it isn't a particularly organized quilt, but I put my soul into it. And spent a ton of money getting it down to my dad and stepmom - they live in Louisiana - by special delivery on a Christmas Eve. And they both wept, looking at it. My Stepmom said how many memories it was bringing back, what a treasure I had given them. I had made a sleeve for the back, so all they had to do was get a dowel through it and put two nails in the wall to hang it up.

I approached the topic of borrowing it back very gingerly, because I knew it gave my ailing stepmom so much joy to see it. Nevertheless, I did take a deep breath and ask my dad if he would lend it back to me for this particular event, and he said,

"Oh sure. If I can find it."


And today, two weeks after I first made the request, he said, "I still haven't found your quilt. I know I put it somewhere, I remember doing something specific with it, I just don't remember what..."

My stomach did a few flips. It's still doing them, if I think about it at all.

I want to say, "How could you? How could you lose it?" But I think I know.

Because I've inherited my father's short temper. I know, when I want to clean up, I don't always put things which I find in my way at the time where I should put them. I shove them somewhere. I'm pretty sure this is what's happened to my quilt. He wanted to move furniture around, which meant the wallhanging was being obscured by a piece of furniture, and he took it down and rolled or folded it up and put it away somewhere "safe", till he could "get around to" putting it back up...

Now, I'm only 52, and I know that "somewhere safe" means you'll never find it again, and I also know that people almost NEVER "get around to it." Dad is nearing 80 years of age, and he's more disorganized that I am. We'll be very lucky if it hasn't been put in the bottom of a plastic bag to go to Goodwill, or some such fate.

I love my dad very much, but I don't get along with him. He's never been a patient man, and he's gotten a lot worse since leaving his sixties behind him. We don't see eye-to-eye about politics, religion, television, children, movies, books... Actually, about the only thing we have still in common is our shared experience of that house in the country!

His memory is going - not of things long ago, but his short-term memory. Like threads breaking, worn out with use, exposure to sunlight, chemicals... I can see him failing, as I see myself failing.

I made that quilt to hold together the memories of three generations of people who lived in that country home. I hope it isn't lost.