Friday, November 27, 2009

Hateful. Grateful. Full of Love.

Last Sunday, my mom and I went up to Healdsburg to visit her best friend (my godmother), Marie (Mimi, to friends and fam). I wasn't sure what to expect. A phone call from Mimi's granddaughter to my mom just a few days before that let us know that she has "4th stage lung cancer".

I hate cancer. Cancer took my Grandma Dot and my Aunt Patty. It took my Grandpa George before I even got to meet him. Cancer took my Grandma Mary's mom, when Gram was just 11 years old. Cancer took my childhood friend, Anthony. Cancer takes siblings and husbands and wives and sisters. Cancer takes what cancer wants, and I hate cancer.

On Sunday, I took 200 pictures and an hour of video, tucked in the corner while Mimi and my mom laughed, hugged, teared, and shared. She's still Mimi. Cancer can't take love, or hope, or memories, or the touch of a hand.

When we left last weekend, Mimi sent me home with a suitcase full of her own memories, in the form of clothing...worn by her husband (my godfather) who past last November from diabetic complications. (I hate diabetes, too. I am hateful.) She and Glenn had been living in Hawaii for many years, and these were, I dare say, the happiest of her life. As she pulled out the typical Hawaiian shirts (think Magnum, PI!), she had a story for each one. I couldn't quite watch, as my mental images were all around my mom having to leave the room just days after Glenn's funeral (of course she got on a plane and flew to Mimi's side) because she couldn't bear to watch Mimi packing these shirts, pausing on each one, and here we were, a year later, his smell and her tears forever part of that fabric, and I pasted a small smile on my face and nodded and hmmed over each story, because who would it serve for me to break and down and cry (the way I really wanted to) to leave the room (the way I really wanted to) and so instead, I started mentally cataloguing the stories....sorting them into piles as she passed them over to me...the creative process taking over and soothing my heart, because what she wanted was a blanket, made from these clothes, and this I can do.

(ps...I'm sorry, you'll just have to to deal with the above paragraph! I cannot bear to re-read it for editing, so if it's raw and rambling and it must be because that's what I am right now, too.)

On Monday night, I lugged in that suitcase from my Mommy-Van and I spent several late hours (after putting my kids to bed) cutting and ripping seams and arranging and re-arranging and cutting some more and ironing. I dragged the sewing machine, a folding table, and the iron out into the living room and set up a make-shift sweat shop for one. By Tuesday night, my living room looked like this.

And I had a crying hangover and my nerves were jagged and I called my mom and told her I didn't think I had the emotional strength to do this.

My original plan was to spend all my non-working, non-kid-caretaking hours on this project, so my mom could take it back to Mimi when she went up to visit today. But then there was the birthday party Tuesday night and a last minute Zoo Date with my own childhood friend and her three kids (and they live 5 hours away, and I NEVER get to see them, and hello, perspective, I'll not be missing that) on Wednesday...

And by Wednesday morning, I'd 'only' gotten this far. And I have NO IDEA what I'm doing. I'm a total novice sewer in the first place, and I have absolutely NO design background at all. I'm using cotton jerseys and linens and rayons with total abandon and no regard for my sewing machine or my sanity.

Emotionally and physically spent, I forged on.

Mimi's daughter Jenny emailed me a couple of photos, including this one. Could you just swoon?! Mimi and Glenn, I'm guessing they are about 20 years old in this photo. I printed this picture (and another, taken just a few years ago) onto photo fabric, and then used them both as blocks in the quilt.

This center block section (all outlined with the black fabric from one tank top and parts of two Hawaiian shirts ~ plus subsidized by a pair of black pants that no longer fit Tommy) includes t-shirts from their daughter and their son, plus a t-shirt from Jenny's first husband (and, therefore, with the same name as their two grandchildren) an "everyone loves an Italian girl" t-shirt my mom sent Marie some years ago, and a pair of shorts that Glenn LIVED in.

The shorts are these crazy tropical fish, and I was able to use the pocket of the shorts (which sit in the very center of the quilt top) to tuck in a tiny picture of them.

The picture is printed on fabric paper and then attached with a ribbon. I made it interchangeable, as I was hoping to get a third picture from Jenny, but in the end had to use one of the two that are also their own blocks. Someday, I may get a proper third photo, and this can be changed out when I do.

At some point, and I can't remember exactly when this happen, the entire project went from "my worst emotional nightmare" to "pleasant preoccupation". Something about putting it all back together, about using the cult of get it done, released me and I really began to enjoy this. I was thinking a lot about my cousin Kelly's Thanksgiving idea during the making of this quilt, and though I couldn't bring myself to say that she'll be thankful for me doing this (I'm just too humble for that!), I was able to think of it as a service project, something that I would turn over to it's rightful owner in due time, and that must go with a spirit of love and giving, not burden and angst. I wanted to embue this cloth with the proper energy, and soon I was really enjoying the project. (I am grateful.)

On Thanksgiving, after supper, I made the backing on my mom's sewing machine. I used green flannel (her favorite color) and some fabric she sent with me that she had brought with her from the island. I zig-zagged (the logo portion of) three t-shirts that Glenn loved to wear down the strip of tropical fabric.

Then I printed (also onto fabric) "Glenn and Marie A Love Story" and sewed that onto the backing as well. And it is! Married young, they had two children. They divorced, and Glenn had another child and Marie also had two more. Other marriages and relationships took place, but they were always (despite the divorce) the best of friends and totally devoted to their children. When Mimi and my mom turned 50, they visited Glenn in Kauai. And, with new eyes, it may well have been the start of the new beginning that became their RE-marriage several years later. True love, always.

I kept the 'theme' on the back by using a particular three t-shirts. These shirts, to me, represent the TRUE LOVE of a real that travels across time and space and endures... one that doesn't judge...that revels in the differences between a man and a woman, and doesn't care what anybody on the outside, looking in, might have to say about what goes on between any two people who have made a commitment... these are what Mimi called "Glenn's booby shirts" and one is a wife-beater style tank from a local bar/crab shack, and the other two are from a surfboard company, featuring buxom island babes, with such catchy phrases as "nice papayas" and "ride a woody" (board brand) and I'm sorry, but only true love makes you save those in a box for 12 months and 3000 miles.

After coming home from Thanksgiving dinner, I basted the three layers of the quilt, and bound the edges in basic black. I just machine sewed the binding. (I was so happy with the outcome! The blanket isn't too thick, with Warm and Natural batting on the inside, so it didn't pucker or purse at all (which totally happened when I tried to machine stitch both sides of a binding on a crocheted blanket I did before, because it was just too thick). I've machine stitched the underside, then hand stitched the blind hem to finish off projects before, which I like, so I wasn't sure about machine stitching BOTH sides of the binding. I only did it for time (I finished this thing at two thirty this morning!) and I was very very pleased with the finished look. Yay!

Here we go. There's the center block, and the photo blocks, and all the other blocks are made up from Hawaiian race running t-shirts and Hawaiian opera t-shirts, and Hawaiian sports bars, and honu-Hawaiian shirts, all of which represented ~ to Mimi ~ their wonderful life in paradise, and I used the cut-up Magnum PI shirts (plus one dressier outfit Marie loved that Glenn bought her while they lived there) to make all sashings and borders.

I carefully folded the blanket (secretly, how shocked was I when all the edges matched and the corners squared up, even during folding?) and strapped it back into the suitcase that she had used to pack up all the clothing. My mom picked it up on her way to Mimi's house just a few hours ago. (I am full of love.)

I hope she likes it, as much as I liked making it for her.


  1. "Old guys rule!" And so do you. I send you the hug...the hug that know how hard these gifts are...amazing isn't it, that you want to do something that is so painful...


  2. Thanks, Brit and Michelle! (Yes, Brit, I thought of you the WHOLE time I was making, I didn't quite "get it" before...consider me schooled. :) My mom gave it to her, and I'm happy to report that yes, she loved it! And, best news ever, it fits her bed! When I was measuring for the backing, the quilt top came out at 92" long by 65" wide. I wasn't shooting for a certain size, just trying to use *every single piece of clothing she sent* (and I came so close).

  3. Found you whilst looking for a crochet rag rug pattern then fast forwarded to this post. What an incredible act of love and what an incredible love story. God is in the details - always.

  4. I love you so much and I was so touched by your love for your Mom, Mimi, Glenn and the whole family. This is a wonderful project and will be treasured for many generations to come. By the way, I ONLY use Warm and Natural. I think it is so easy to work with.

  5. Wow. WOW. What a labor of love! And the finished product is absolutely beautiful!

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