This is my Mom. Dad is nearby, as always, watching over her.
This is a quilt that took her two years of living life abroad in Lima, Peru to make, putting in one cross-stitch after another. She sat in an upstairs window seat in our home there, overlooking a quiet suburban street — quiet, except for the time that someone missed a stop sign, careened into our yard, the car turning upside as it landed near our front window. My dad said he thought the maid had thrown the vacuum cleaner down the stairs again. Luckily the Clinica was a block away, so it turned out all right.
My mother didn’t really speak Spanish, although she tried her best to communicate with the household help she was expected to keep: a maid for the household, a maid for the laundry, a man to wash the cars, and a gardener. She took Spanish lessons, socialized with the faculty wives at the college where my Dad taught, and tried to corral her four blonde teenaged American daughters, along with the raising of the three younger sons. But when she wasn’t juggling all that, she sat and stitched in the window seat on the second floor, by the large upstairs landing that was like a second family room. All our bedrooms led off this landing, and perhaps it was a way to keep herself at the center of our lives? When the two years was finished, she brought the quilt back to the United States, had it quilted up by some ladies in Provo, Utah (the city to which they returned) and carried on with her life.
On my most recent visit, her eyesight failing, she finally let me take it home. I had her pose for a picture before I carefully put it back in its zippered pillowcase and carried it away to my upstairs extra bedroom.
We bandy about the word legacy in our quilt world so easily some times, as we confront our stacks of fabrics and magazines and books, sewing away madly, trying to keep up with the deluge of digital media and blogs and print materials and keeping our local quilt shop in business. We are busy, aren’t we, as we are always cutting and sewing and cutting and sewing and frantically trying to outdo ourselves with the number of quilts we’ve produced in a year, going for our Olympic best, in the best competitive fashion. Numbers! Quantity!
My mother didn’t have Instagram. Or the internet. Barely any English-language magazines. But she had a plan, several boxes of DMC teal embroidery floss, some needles and a pair of scissors, and a series of stamped cross-stitch panels that when sewn together, would make a quilt. And she quietly worked on that. I remember many conversations with her hands drawing the thread in and out of the fabric, as she listened, and gave advice. Sometimes I thought — in my little 13-year-old teenage way — that she was all by herself in this thing. I didn’t think of my mother as her own self at that point, and if I had I might have thought loneliness might be a part of the stitching, but I don’t really know. Knowing my mother made it I realize that there’s probably some of her finger-pricked DNA floating somewhere in that cloth, as well as her feelings, thoughts and memories (she missed her own mother during that time). It has the essence of her, in a way that only a quilt that has been held and worked on for two years can have.
Legacy’s origin comes from the Latin word “lex,” meaning law, or group of laws that are written and have become canonical, or ingrained and accepted. And in a derivative sort of way, it (the laws, the legacy) can be a messenger, an ambassador of sorts. And so it is with this legacy, this quilt: it is a message from a time in her life when she sat quietly and stitched, raising her seven children in a home in Peru.