Sunday, May 4, 2008

Let it all hang out

We are the sum of our parts. Not just SOME of our parts, but all. Which means, our memories are influenced by things we don't consciously remember or acknowledge. When making a memory quilt we need to put as many 'parts' of the life together. And see what appears.

If it is a memory quilt of your mother -- how appropriate since Mother's Day is around the corner. The photo shows Leslie Riley's journal quilt of her mother. And gives you an idea of one way of making a memory quilt.

Remember that Mom was first a child, a girl, a woman, a lover, a wife long before she was your mother.

Perhaps begin with a map of where she was born. A family tree, her favorite tree, whether she liked sitting under a tree and watching nature or preferred to experiment with foods in the kitchen. Who does she speak of fondly or with anger? What are her political leanings? Did she chain herself to a cause and carry a placard in the streets or did she quietly move to change the thinking of friends and family, raise her children to see the truth she embraced, or perhaps made an effort to ease the suffering under laws or inequalities she opposed? What era did she come of age?

How much do you know about your mother and her beliefs? What was her favorite color? What does that say about her? Did she like to let her natural beauty shine through or always wore lipstick and nail polish? Was she a war bride? What was happening in her world when she was making her life choices?

When I think of my mother, I see a flower garden quilt. She made several of those as well as the traditional double wedding ring, star of Bethlehem, and other star quilts. Why did she chose stars I wonder rather than log cabins or nine patch or basket quilts? Why do I think of flower gardens when I think of Mom? I think her major life decisions were influenced by her coming of age in the Great Depression. The flower garden quilt pattern was popular during that era and she had told of using feed bags as quilt patches.

The Great Depression caused her family's financial decline, their move into an apartment above the telephone and telegraph office in a nearby small farming town. It caused her to work for the telephone company as well as take a job waitressing in a diner to help care for her aging parents rather than marry. World War II took many of the men from the community and caused the women to shoulder more responsibility.

Because their apartment was located above a business in the heart of the town, she lived across from the hardware store and quickly met the owner's brother who had come to town looking for work and a new beginning.

And yes, that 'brother' became her husband and my father. Mom was also shaped by her religious beliefs, her church, her community of which her family had been members for generations leading back to when the land was first settled.

To make a memory quilt for Mom has to include so much more than photos of her and family photos. Maybe that's why I think landscape quilts make excellent memory quilts. We are never separated from the land -- whether it is covered with cement or tilled by a Massey Ferguson or a team of horses. And what happens on that land imprints us, leads us in the directions our lives will take.

Maybe we waste our time making memory quilts of others. We should work on our own. Mine must begin with a book, a library, a community. Typing lessons at the age of eight, learning to handle money and make change at the age of four -- both skills pushed me in a specific direction. Perhaps if we look closely at what made us who we are, we can make better choices when raising our children or influencing our grandchildren. Maybe a memory quilt needs to be a therapy, a way of finding out just who we are and why.

Collage certainly lends itself to that project. I'd love to see an exhibit of "Who I am" quilts.

1 comment:

Molly said...

My grandmother was a quilter and a gardener. I can't imagine a better way to remember her than through a work of art that would mirror the beauty of her garden. Along with her cutting flowers she also had great pride in her fruit trees. Long after the flowers bloomed, we would enjoy the fruit pies she made and froze for winter eating. Yum!