A Conversation

Did I know that it would be the last time I ever talked to you?  …and when I say talked, I mean where I could actually reach out and touch your hand.

Of course I feel like I talk to you often, but it is an indirect kind of conversation–wistful thoughts echoing in my head.  I do allow myself that though.

But the last time, sitting on your bed, neither of us said anything about probably the biggest fear and sadness we both felt, that it would possibly be our last conversation together.  How did I have the strength to walk out of that doorway? Did I look back and see you lying there? I can’t imagine not, but I have no memory of it.  I unfortunately don’t even remember anything about what we talked about, because I don’t think either of us wanted to talk about the important things we could have said to each other, because in doing so, it would be admittance of the probable fact that we would not see each other again.

I would not have the strength to walk away from you now, so I guess it is good it is in the past. How could I have done it? Yes, there was a plane to catch, and I am sure that dad called for me from the other room, telling us it was time to go.  But right now, I can’t comprehend leaving you.  I must have been buoyed up by my youth, purpose in the adventure that lay ahead and the conviction that you wanted me to g0- and your love. My life was surging forward and I know you didn’t want to hold me back.  Yet without you now, it is stagnant at times; memories resurface and then slip away.

I grasp at anything that may hold you to me and bind you in my life and that of my family.  In the last ten years there have been little discoveries,  such as the notes you made in the margins of “The French Lieutenants Woman.”  Here again, I only have these fragments and clues to what you may have felt about Sarah and her possible endings, and what that tells me about you as a person, and aspects to who you were that I never got a chance to find out.   I imagine that you related to her a great deal, and I wonder which ending you may have preferred.  I would have written a different ending for you, one which you deserved.

Other things make sense and are easily understood.  The North Carolina pottery; your jewelry box, the painting of Venice. How woud I explain though, the fact that I have a half filled Clinique lotion bottle under the bathroom sink that I never could use up and now cannot throw away?  Steffan and dad and I all had an unspoken agreement not to take down the 2000 calendar hung on April in your bathroom.  It was just there.  Until of course, Steffan’s friend pulled it down, laughing that we had such an outdated calendar on the wall.  It was 2005, so to him it was absurd.  But for us it was profound. The unspoken agreement that the three of us had not to take it down expressed the feelings that none of us wanted to talk about.   Would you laugh at my clinique bottle, the coupon for grape ocean spray you clipped that expired in January 2000 that I still have, and the bathroom calendar, saved now in a bin underneath my bed? All of these things are my little conversations with you, and all that I now have.

There was one last thing, however, that I had been putting off, because it seemed to be the last chance of discovery I might have at a new conversation with you.  Again, it wasn’t much, but it has been ten years, so there is not much territory left that I haven’t already uncovered when it comes to collecting memories of you.  Everything else of yours I had already looked at, opened, put away, gave away, and yes, thrown away. Even I realize that there is only so much memory one can eke out of old worn-out clothing you didn’t like anyway, or your Rowenta iron when it burnt out.   (I figured you would approve of me buying a new Rowenta anyway).

So there it was- sitting in our guest room since our move in in November, – 4  boxes of sewing supplies and fabric. Of course over the past ten years I have already gone through and set aside most of what I thought I liked and would use. Additionally I had fabric of my own and a few patterns I added to the mix.   Yet there were still quite a lot of your quilting fabric, accessories and notions I hadn’t really organized, and finally I decided I needed to do it.  I think I put it off because first of all, no matter where it came from, it was a bit of a daunting task.  In the move, things I had already organized and used got thrown in with the rest.  Many objects I had no idea what they were for or why you bought them.  However, I think I also put it off because I knew that there might be some discoveries to be made in these boxes, and at least for what I have in my possession of your things, the last possibility of another conversation with you. So here it is, my new last conversation with you, ten years later. *************************

I didn’t know it was going to be such a big project, and that I would find so many little things to talk to you about, so I didn’t really think of making a “before” picture.  This is actually the mid-way point.  I had already organized all of the sewing accessories and notions.  Previously, they were in two medium-sized boxes.  You had things in little hard plastic cases with purple lids.  Perhaps you had an order to them, in fact I’m sure you did, as you were quite organized, or at least I know you wanted to be.  However, a combination of whoever packed up your sewing stuff and my rummaging through it in a non-organized fashion, resulted in quite a jumble.

You would hopefully be pleased to know that I have the most commonly-used items organized according to kind in their own separate containers (labeled) inside of the two small pull out drawers pictured below.  For example, bobbins, sewing needles, machine feet,  seam rippers etc. are in their own little clear plastic case.  I dropped and broke that old magnetic pin cushion, sorry. Yes, I even tried to still use the one  good half with the exposed block of magnet for a while, but that ended up being to messy, not to mention unaethstetic.  I ended up being ok with  relegating that to the trash pile, mostly because I found an old cloth red pincushion, which I cheerfully stuck with all the colorful pins I found. Everything else that I didn’t feel I would use as often I put in a J.Crew shoebox and my GHD flatiron box.

There are some curious objects in there I am not sure what to do with.  Perhaps I can ask Marilyn someday. Or maybe walk the aisle of a sewing store and see if I find any of them with instructions.  There’s a really interesting looking sewing machine foot I have no idea what to do with.  I’ll have to look it up online. You see, these are the things that I wish you were around for. It would be so easy to call you up and ask you what the heck this strange curved needle is for. Darning you say?  Well actually, if you were still alive, you would still have all these things, not me, so I guess that is a moot point anyway. So I will move on. Just so you can picture it, the “BEFORE” picture would have consisted of about 3 or 4 medium sized boxes with fabric stuffed in one of three places:  Ziploc bags, loose in the box, or stuffed into a smaller box.  Also in the boxes were random larger accessories like embroidery hoops, the aforementioned notions, a few mats and rotary cutters. Mid-way point picture below.

Here I have organized all the fabric according to color, and then separated the prints and solids. I also separated the fabric that I dyed from that as well. There are other boxes you cant see here, with your “crazier” prints and fabric I probably won’t use frequently. Here is the after picture. You can see I bagged the fabric and put all of your sewn pieces together.  I will think about what to do with them, but there is no rush. They are in a safe place. By the way, I ironed every piece of fabric pictured here.  That took the whole day. Literally.  Although it is a chore I don’t mind- it was peaceful and I entertained myself by watching old episodes of LOST and listening to a book on CD.  I had a back ache that evening thoug. I never thought ironing would be so strenuous!  Speaking of strenuous ironing, something that I think is funny that I would have loved to have talked to you about is extreme ironing.

Somehow I feel I need to get in on this sport somehow.

So in retrospect, my ironing was a lot easier.  I also got to think a lot about you and your fabric as I was ironing each piece.  Where you got the fabric. If I remembered it and even more specifically, if I remembered your plans for it.  What I might do with it.  If I liked it or not.  Why you might have liked it.  I have more questions than answers, but you see, I am used to that by now. You have so many lovely spring and summer floral prints, cut into strips and many of the same into small squares.  What were your plans for these?  I’m thinking a colourwash quilt?  I know you had a book on that.  I really enjoy this because most of these fabrics I am sure I would never buy, yet together I love them.

Cut squares

Paired Together

Something I found over and over again were specifically bagged fabrics.  You had carefully put together complimentary fabrics in bags for some specific purpose.  This above is an example of that.  I notice the same color palette of pastel pink, purple and gold.  I also find the contrast of the brighter yellow and red interesting.  I feel the styles complement each other well too.I have no idea what you had in mind for this bag and I wish you could tell me.  The middle fabric has music notes and composers name on it, so I am guessing something for Heather?

This whole issue of what to do with your bags was a conundrum for me.  I had kept the bags together on purpose.  Again, this goes back to my issue with keeping strange mundane objects, however it was hard for me to upset the things you had once set together.  In organizing a box with random things in it, I would never again be able to look at that box and see exactly what you had set in there yourself.  It was hard for me even to open the lid, because you were the last one to close it, and once I opened it, that connection was gone.

A bit over dramatic, I know, but that is a bit how I feel about these kinds of things. I finally had to decide that you would rather the fabric be used than it sit in the neatly organized ziplocs for an eternally unknown purpose.  See, it gets tiring to have to make these kinds of decisions on what you would probably want or not want for me to do.  I imagine me calling you on the phone and saying, “Hey, I have this bag here with a strange african print, a calico and  a red and white text print that says “I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU” in red, but underneath in white overlay, it says “Now take out the trash, do the dishes, and mop the floor.”  So…….what exactly did you have in mind for these fabrics? Are they supposed to go together, because I’m not really getting the connection here. I ended up redistributing almost all of your ziploc stashes. It was hard for me to do that- I felt like I was erasing the blueprints of the projects you never did. However  I have to stop thinking of your fabric as quilts and projects you never got to do, but new things I can do  and ideas I may have that are inspired by things you have done, or might have done.

I came across things in the boxes that I had never uncovered before:

What were you going to do with this?

Ugly scrap

I tend to keep scraps as well when I could probably  just throw them away.   Above is one of yours.  Did you intend to keep it for some reason, or did it get kept by mistake?  Should I just throw it away now or keep it as a memento?  It’s probably not one of your best scraps anyway, so I might throw it away.

It’s funny, a lot of the fabric I remember liking in middle school, and wishing you would make me something out of it, but now I really don’t like it. This pretty much applies to anything fluorescent or with a lot of bright colors/metallics.  I don’t really like the two bright colored fabrics underneath the wavy one,  but for some reason, something about that wavy bright fabric on top really speaks to me. I have no idea what I might ever do with it, but I am glad I have it.

Snow Dyed

You inspired me to start dying my own fabric.  I remember coming home from school and seeing all the fabric drying outside that you had dyed with your fiber arts group. Vibrant shades of greens, blues and pinks.  I begged to use some of it and you suggested that I learn to do it myself, which I promptly did.  My first quilt which you were there for part of, was composed of my first hand-dyed and painted fabrics, with some of yours mixed in too.  I guess I got to use some of them after all.

Snow Dyed

You would have been really interested in this new process I tried out this winter, based on an article Aleida sent me.  I arranged the prepared fabric in a plastic bin, packed snow on top of it, and then poured the dye on top of that.  Fiona really enjoyed the process as well.  From the safety of her high chair of course.  

Fiona was very intrigued

Speaking of Fiona, you might wonder what she was doing during this whole time.  Well, I kind of let her get into things in her own little way.  Which made the house one huge big mess for the time period in which this project was going on.  Rijen was a good sport about everything though.

"Organizing" the spice cabinet and recipe books

"Organizing" media and cards

A conversation I wish I could have with you now that I am an adult would be the ways we are alike, and whether it is just genetic, or whether it is things that I just learned from you.   I would like to think that we are alike in a lot of ways, however it may also be that I especially am interested in continuing to do things like sewing in part because it is a genuine intrest of mine, but also because it is a way for me to preserve your memory. There are several things that maybe I either consciously or subconsciously make an effort to do because they remind me of you, and make me feel connected with you even though you are not there anymore.

Other things I can’t control or wouldn’t know unless someone told me.  My older siblings have mentioned that I look more like you now that I am older. I wish I looked this good without makeup!  I have tried in vain to get as good as a school picture as you always did.

Mom's school picture

Marilyn told me that she has noticed that many of my facial expressions remind her of you.  You had no idea at the time of our last real conversation that I would end up being a teacher.  At the time, I had no plans to be a middle or high school teacher.  There are so many times which I would have loved to have talked to you about teaching and have gotten advice about it.  I have a sense that the strengths and weaknesses I had as a teacher may have been similar to yours.  I wish I could talk to you more about it.

One specific thing I found in your notions box floored me in showing me how alike we are.  I actually made this discovery about a year ago, but saved the evidence and came across it again last week.   I had been using the rotary cutters and spare blades that were left in your sewing boxes.  It was really nice not to have to purchase those myself because they can be expensive.  However, when I noticed that the blades weren’t cutting very nicely anymore, I decided it was time to replace the blades.  I had no idea how old they were anyway.  So I bought a set of new blades, and used the new blade case to discard the old blades, as it recommends on the package.

However, as I was about to toss them, I thought- Hm, maybe I should keep these.  I remember how you would warn us never to use the rotary blades for anything but fabric, as using them for paper or (gasp) pizza would have gotten you pretty upset.  So, what if I wanted to use them to cut paper or something other than fabric? Maybe I should just keep a few to have on hand.  So, I took a sharpie and labeled the blade “OLD,” put them in a box and forgot about them.

Until I found YOUR sharpie labeled blades!  I found that pretty hilarious, that we both had done the same thing.  It was like we were sharing a little joke after all.  Now I will probably never throw these away! But I’ll still use them if that intensive paper-cutting project where scissors are not an option ever comes up!

The old blades you labeled

The old blade I labeled

My favorite discoveries after the rotary blades were the pieces you had sewn together.  Some of these I already knew about and had seen a while ago, and was looking forward to looking at again. For example this vest you started. Was it for you? Your sister Marilyn?

Unfinished Vest

This was one of the most major things you had put together.  I didn’t realize I would find so many other little things though.

Here they all are- the sewn pieces that never made it into a finished project- for whatever reasons you cannot tell me.  I think some of the sewn pieces you decided not to use, but set aside to keep anyway.  Others though, like the yellow, purple and orange square above were  just unfinished.  This square was the only one of its kind.  When I look at it, you are telling me how you used to stick with traditional patterns and colors, but here you took a traditional pattern and made it vibrant.  Your quilting really became very bold and even outrageous in those later years.  Putting these sewn scraps all together here creates a virtual quilt of your possibilities and ideas. It’s the best I can do for them right now.

My favorite sewn scrap was this one:

Mainly because I found it last, after I thought I had gone through everything.  I was feeling a bit sad, as it seemed like our conversation had come to an end…..this one little square fell from between two similar colored fabric pieces. It was like one beautiful little window, and one last “I love you.”

I’ll end this conversation now though, as all the fabric is now folded, organized and put away.  There aren’t any more boxes to open and think “The last time this was opened, it was mom opening it.”  Or “The last person to put these random objects in this bag was mom, and why did she put these in here like that?”  Some things I had to disrupt and some things I will preserve.

Some things I am not sure what should be done with them, but I am happy not to worry about them too much and just let them be.  I am actually specifically referring to the quilt squares that you had been working on right at the end of your life. They were so beautiful and colorful, and I almost think that I may have been the one to inspire you. The quilt I first started before I left was of my dyed fabric and it was a crazy quilt.  Of course you gave me the idea and instruction to do it, however you were working on totally different projects at the time.

My first quilt

I’m glad I have this picture of the quilt,  I’m not sure if I have any others, and now there is a hole burned in the middle of it, right about where my nose is, so it won’t ever be quite the same, although the burned part gives it a bit of character. (Story later).  It is hard to see in the picture, but there is no pattern to the squares, they were sewn together organically.  That may be a strange choice of words– it wasn’t haphazard, but there is no set pattern to it.  You never got to see it finished, but you saw enough of it I suppose to make you want to start one of your own.
Where my quilt was mostly blues, greens and yellows which washed into each other, your quilt squares have  bold, bright colors which are vibrant and alive.  They are beautiful, and I wish you could have finished it.

I never knew that you had started a similar type quilt until your funeral, when my sisters had the quilt pieces made into a beautiful flower arrangement displayed at your funeral.  I know I have a picture of this, but it is not at hand right now. Perhaps later I can insert it in here.  I do have all the squares, and this time I spread them out.  I wonder if this was the finished size or if you intended to make more. Had you already decided in what order they would go?

On this day, I looked at them, arranged them in different ways for fun, and then let Fiona look at them.  Perhaps it is just the bright colors that interest her, but I would like to think that she has inherited our love for fabric and design.

Goodbye for now, mom.  I miss you every day & love you so much.  I will end, finally, with one of my favorite pictures (and memories) of you.

The day we went to a museum together. You were too tired to walk around.

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8 responses to “A Conversation

  1. What a great, sweet post. Although it was too early in the morning to be making me cry like that!
    I think you should make a “Mom quilt”. Use all of the pieces that she already stitched together, and halfway made projects (the vest even) and make a quilt out of it all. One big amazing quilt out of her stuff that would be the ultimate memory of her.

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  2. Megan, I’m proud of you. What an amazing conversation. You indeed had a unique connection with Mom and still do. I am realizing that we all had a connection with her in different ways. I love you.

    Heather

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  3. This article made me cry and it made me remember the day we went to San Francisco and we talked about your mom and how you started crying. I felt awful b/c I think I started the conversation about your mom. I guess I never realized that back then not much time had passed since she passed away, or maybe I can’t remember that I did know back then (probably). I wish this would have never happenend to you. It is my biggest horror to have to go through something like this myself one day. I think of you a lot, even if you might not think that I do (b/c I didn’t have any pictures of you on my shelf in 2008, I have 4 of you now). I also thought of you during our trip whenever we saw a Rainforest café. I even went into the one in Atlantic City to see if they still had these funny little things we laughed about so much. They didn’t. I would have brought you one, just for the memory of it. I hope mine never breaks so that I can keep it forever and think of you when we cannot see each other b/c we live too far apart. I miss you and I was looking forward to seeing you this weekend and finally meeting Aleida. Guess it wasn’t meant to happen now. Hope to see you soon. I’ll go wipe my tears away now. (Remember, how you said I wasn’t very emotional? Well, I cried when we left Angela and her family. Alex can prove it 😉

    Love,
    Denise

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