The Pieces of a Beautiful Life

 

Two weeks ago, Gary and I were finishing the last leg of our drive to West Virginia as we traveled home for my mother’s funeral.  Has it just been barely over two weeks ago that she breathed her last breath?  So much has been packed into this short time that it seems like she left us much longer ago.  That’s how my mother lived her life, though.  Like my brother said at her funeral, Mom squeezed every bit of opportunity out of each day that she lived.  So much was packed into her life…..so much that will impact so many for eternity.

 

As Bob and Jan, and John and Jeanie, planned Mom’s funeral, they incorporated two very sweet and personal elements into the service.  Jeanie asked each of the grandchildren to write down their memories of their grandmother.  At her funeral, Jimmy read every word that had been written.  It was a very moving and sometimes humorous part of the service.  Then Jan asked each of us to bring our quilts that Mom had made us.  Each hand stitched quilt that we brought was hung over the railings at the front of the church, adding a beautiful background as we remembered our mother.

 

 
Something really stood out to me as I listened to the grandchildren’s memories being read.  It’s the same thing that I noticed during her visitation at the funeral home the night before her funeral.  That night, we stood in line for nearly three hours as person after person hugged us and told us of what our mother had meant to them.  Most of their stories were fairly simple.  It wasn’t that Mom had done earth shattering acts of great note.  She wasn’t interviewed by the newspapers, seen on television, or given big awards for her acts of kindness.

 

So what did people talk to us about as they shared my mother’s impact on their lives?  It was her service to them, her love, expressed in so many ways.  It was meals she cooked, her home she opened to so many, stockings she knitted, clothes she sewed, miniature roses she delivered in Cracker Barrel syrup bottles, boiled custard that she cooked because a friend loved it, sending out missionary prayer letters, making dozens of quilts for others, and so much more.

 

It was her great sense of humor….her ability to lighten any situation with an attitude of light heartedness that was often amazing.  It was her word fitly spoken to so many, especially to those who had messed up and made poor decisions.  She comforted without judging, and extended help where others might have looked the other way.  Story after story we have heard since Mom died.  What a balm to our hurting hearts!

 

The grandchildren’s memories were more of the same, on a more personal level.  Again, what is striking is that no one mentioned my mother’s education or her job.  Not that this isn’t important, because it certainly was a great accomplishment for her to have a Master’s degree and to have a supervisory position with the State Board of Education.  Yet with all of her educational goals that she met and with her very responsible job, my mother maintained our home and our family in an incredible way.

 

It was, again, the seemingly small acts that all the grandchildren remembered the most.  Guess what was mentioned most often by her grandchildren?  It was the Cheerios that she kept in the coffee table drawer in the living room.  So many of them talked about that memory and of how much fun it was to go to their house, pull out that drawer as a little child, and eat as many Cheerios as they wanted.  Other memories were of the toys, the laughter, sitting on the front porch, all the play time in the yard, her cooking, gardening, sewing, and her unconditional love.  It was how she filled her home with joy and filled their lives with personal touches for each grandchild.

 

In her memories of her grandmother, Andrea wrote, “I remember how she patiently showed me how she pinned her fabric together in preparation to sew her gorgeous quilts by hand.”  As I sat in the church during mother’s funeral service, I looked at the quilts that we had hung on those railings.  Each one is full of hundreds of fabric pieces, placed together in way that makes a gorgeous design.  When you step back and look at the finished project, you see how each piece combines to make a perfectly beautiful work of art.

 

So it is with the life that Mom lived.  Each act of love that was remembered and many that have been forgotten, have all fit together to produce a beautiful life.  It’s the handiwork of God in our mother’s life that has blessed and profited so many of us over the 88 years that she lived.  Her life was a pattern that I want to follow.  A pattern of service and kindness that means more to people that any public acclaim ever will or could produce.

 

 

Like she so often sang:

 

          I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause.

 

          I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause.

 

          I’d rather have Jesus than world wide things

 

          I’d rather be true to His holy name.

 

 

 

I’ll be learning lessons from the design of my mother’s life for the rest of mine, I’m sure.

 

 

 

Quilted With Love

Some of my earliest memories of my mother revolve around her amazing skills as a seamstress.   I remember being very young and seeing Mom sitting at her sewing machine, turning out something beautiful and seemingly perfect from all sorts of fabrics.  She kept us girls busy in those early years while she sewed by giving us pieces of felt in various colors.  From this soft felt we fashioned  clothes for our little troll dolls, cutting and fitting each ugly troll as if it was a priceless and beautiful doll.  Mom provided glitter and sequins and odd buttons for us to glue onto our awkward handiwork.  We stayed busy for hours laboring over our important creations.  I don’t remember all the mess we must have made, but I do remember laboring over our little troll dolls while Mom labored over her more important sewing jobs.   Mom made small, meticulous Barbie doll ensembles which she sold in a local craft store, and also made some for us to keep.  Yet her most loving works of art were the countless pieces of clothing she made for her girls to wear.
 
Every Easter we had new Easter dresses.  I especially remember the Easter that she made all of us girls pink gingham dresses – and then made one for herself, as well.  I thought it was wonderful to not only match my sisters, but to also be dressed like my mother!   I remember the trips to Penny’s in Bluefield, the bigger town that was near our hometown of Princeton.  I loved the escalator ride down to the bottom floor, where we would choose patterns and fabrics and buttons for our new clothes.  Never did we go to the ready-made clothes upstairs or enter a dressing room.  Our clothing was there amongst the bolts of fabric, waiting to be matched to patterns and later sewn into pretty dresses and jackets and blouses.  I do believe that I took the longest to select the fabric to match the patterns as I had such a difficult time seeing the finished product in my head.  I would stand there, rubbing the fabric between my fingers, trying to visualize a finished product that somehow wasn’t materializing in my mind.  I can imagine Mom’s frustration as I lingered there trying to make this important decision………..as well as the rolling eyes of my sisters who had finished this process long before I did.
 
Mom worked full-time after we were all in school, yet still managed to sew all of our clothes.  She was a natural at this art, yes, but it still took lots of time.  She would sew late into the night, her dedication undeterred by her tiredness.  I never gave enough thought to how tiring this effort must have been to her until I had children of my own.  How did she do it all?  I have no idea, really, but she did.  Her work was not only beautiful with matching plaids and perfect zippers and flawless fit, but each stitch was filled with a love that wasn’t recognized by us until years later. 
 
One of my most special memories was of the year when we were teenagers, and Mom made us skirts for Christmas.  I don’t know how many skirts she made, but there were quite a few.  Then she not only began looking for matching sweaters to wear with each skirt, but matching knee socks as well.  She did not give up this quest for the correct colors of sweaters and socks until each skirt had what it needed to make it a perfect ensemble.  We learned about this later, from Dad, who accompanied her on many of these trips.
 
Dad, who was color blind and absolutely no help when it came to matching colors of anything, would patiently take Mom on many of these shopping trips.  I can still see him standing silently on the sidelines in the fabric stores, hands behind his back and a sweet smile on his face.  He never rushed Mom or any of us, but stood there until we had come to the point of methodically selecting every button and every spool of thread.  I can still hear him say, “Did you know that there are 53 light bulbs in this ceiling?”  Or, “Did you know that there are 271 zippers in that display?”  Dear, sweet Dad!
 
John and Jeanie’s Quilt

When Mom and Dad both retired, Mom only continued her sewing.  She had sewn for her children, for grandchildren, for friends, for the Crisis Pregnancy Center, and who knows what else.  Upon retirement, she decided to take up quilting.  Of course, she was a natural at this skill.  She practiced by making her and Dad a lovely quilt, and then took up the goal of making each of us five children and spouses a quilt.  These gorgeous works of art were each sewn entirely by hand with no sewing machine used.  She had us each pick our pattern and our colors – there I went again, having to make this difficult visual choice!  Mom never wasted a minute in any day, and before long she was completing our individual, personal, 
gorgeous quilts.  Dad took her to countless stores and quilt shops, patiently waiting over and over again as she selected just the right fabrics.  Each stitch was a labor of love……….each completed quilt a perfect picture of her devotion to her children.  I keep my quilt hanging in our kitchen area so that we can see it every day and enjoy its beauty, and bask in the warm memories that it evokes. 

 
Mom made many, many quilts during the next few years.  She made quilts for missionaries; she made a special quilt for a dear friend who had no mother of her own to make her one; she made a quilt for the Prophet’s Chamber at church where missionaries 
stayed when visiting; and she made a memory quilt that has special fabrics and mementos from each of us children and our children.
 
 
Bob and Jan’s Quilt
Jimmy and Kathryn’s Quilt

Mom has Alzheimer’s now and lives in an assisted living center.  Tomorrow she will celebrate her 86th birthday.  Dad knew that Mom was showing distressing signs of forgetfulness before he passed away nearly four years ago, and he worried so about her.  He would be happy with her living arrangement now and with how well cared for she is.  She doesn’t sew at all now.  She’s even forgotten how to put her jigsaw puzzles together that she loved so much.  Sometimes she doesn’t remember all of our names, and definitely not the names of all the grandchildren and great-grands.   But she is sweet and she is happy and she still seeks to serve others.

 

Bob and Mary Beth’s Quilt
Gary and Patty’s Quilt

And just as our keepsake quilts will always be an heirloom to pass down to our children, even more so are the pieces of our lives that she shaped and fashioned together with her tireless love and effort.  She took care of us, providing the atmosphere of a happy and warm home to treasure as she sewed and cooked and played and laughed.  She made sure that we had family devotions every morning before school because Dad was at work and so it was up to her.  She took us to church when Dad was working late, and didn’t just drop us off – she was there, too, worshipping and serving.  She  showed us how to love and how to work and how to pray and how to laugh and how to persevere through hard times.  She exemplified great care in 

how she took care of her mother for 14 years, as well as her mother-in-law for part of that time.  And she loved Dad, totally.  She never left his side, especially for the eight years that he fought cancer.  Even when they no longer could share their bed they had slept in together for 59 years, she slept right beside his hospital bed, her arm and hand resting on him between the bed rails. 

These traits of our mother are the stitches that are sewn into our very being.  The pieces of our lives were begun by her, thought-out and cut, measured and pieced, day by day.  As the years marched on, the shapes of our lives began to unfold.  The beauty of the various patterns began to be seen.  These are the treasures that are eternal.  These are the heirlooms that have more value than any quilt will ever possess.  And while our mother may not remember much anymore about the details of the past or the present, we have the evidence in our lives of her love and her faith…………a beautiful quilt of a life well lived.