My mama was SO organized. She would alphabetize my spices, arrange my cupboards, fold my laundry. Her closets were perfect, her cupboards enviable. She had many talents and one of her best was her ability to sew. From a young age, she sewed. Into a young adult, she sewed for others. Suits, dresses, baby clothes. She sewed my own clothes until I begged her to let me B U Y a swimsuit. She even crocheted my hair ribbons. She sewed my “going away” suit on my wedding day, she made my wedding veil. She made my first child’s crib ensemble, their bassinet cover, and their baptismal gown — both heirloom quality.
I had attempted feeble efforts of sewing. A pair of wrap around shorts when I was 12, a dress that never made it to the sewing machine when I was in my 20s because I fucked up the pattern and the cleavage would have gone down to my navel. It sat in my measly equipped sewing box for over a decade next to my Singer sewing machine. Her best friend from childhood, little Marilyn, made her a Levi quilt, made of family scraps. I collected my own children’s discarded jeans for two decades before I finally let them go. They had traveled in a large moving box to three different homes over a span of two decades before getting wet and mildewed in a storage shed and rendered useless.
Then on a Sunday morning, at a local breakfast place waiting to be seated, I discovered a darling little shop next store. The window display called to me and I wandered in. It was a quilt shop. It was lovely. I took their calendar schedule and some other handouts and went back for breakfast.
It took me about six months to confess to my mama that I was taking a quilting class. She responded exactly like I expected. OH MY GOD, that’s fantastic, what is the pattern? what fabrics are you using? OH! OH! OH! I had to dial her back several notches. This was the same woman who, when I announced we were trying for another child started tracking my menstrual period. (We had a great relationship, but sometimes we had boundary issues.) She immediately scheduled mother/daughter quilting weekends in which I shrunk away from the calling. I was wrong.
While my mother would go on endlessly about fabric and textures and combinations, I had the attention span of a gnat. I was my usual self—on the fly, just go with it. She went with it. She would overthink fabric and I would throw 7-10 fabric bolts together and she loved it. My first quilt had a turtle theme. I built the fabrics around the turtles. She would reciprocate by showing me the correct way to cut, how to bind corners…none of which I had any experience OR interest in. She would see my frustration then do an about face and show me her secret shortcut. Worst case scenario – she would swap roles with me, letting me sew a straight seam while she basted my quilt in preparation of its finish. We jelled like never before. We made several quilts for our family reunion auction. It was really really cool.
The last year of her life, she finished her last quilt after her initial lung cancer spread. She had just finished brain radiation. It was the most intricate quilt she had ever done. She received “best in show” at her last quilt show. This same quilt she dedicated to me — her only daughter.
What I have failed to mention in this blog is this. Not only did my mama have her own quilting room, with her ever expensive sewing machine, serger, and hoards of expensive beautiful fabric. Her sewing kit was unlike any other. My mama bought the biggest fishing tackle box she could find. It held all of her sewing goods –bat hands, endless sewing needles, thimbles, thread, more thread, some things I still can’t put a name to, hundreds of dollars of specialty sewing scissors that are right handed (I’m left handed). Anything I would ever need for any sewing job (big or small) was held in this box. Between my mama’s death and my more than full-time job, I have not sewn since she passed. I have great hopes. I have fabric, patterns, more fabric. I have a baby quilt that is on my “to do” list. Yet, I go to this tackle box for simple things.. My son needed his Boy Scout uniform patches updated. I hauled it out for the first time in over two years. As I opened the box, my mama drifted out from its contents. Like a genie from a bottle. I felt her presence clearly, fully. It was a bit surprising, but not really. This was her essence. What I didn’t expect was her looking over my shoulder.
Mama: “You know, I used the clear thread. You should use the clear thread.”
Me: “I don’t have time for that and I suck at it.”
Mama: “The stitch is crooked. Are you going to fix it?”
Me: “If they have to flip his sash over, to inspect my handiwork, they aren’t my friends. Cut me some slack. Mama, you did an A+ job on Anders’ uniform when he made eagle scout. The bar is high. The leaders are shaking their head at Aaron’s dismal display of a proper uniform. I just need to get the patches in the right place.”
The conversation continued. When I was done, I closed up the tackle box, and my mama drifted back inside; but, not before I thanked her, told her I missed her and I loved her. She replied in her usual fashion, “Loved you first, Mija.” I replied in my usual response, “I loved you last, Mama.”
Fast forward to last month when I had to pull out her tackle box again. I was making a felt Christmas tree for my two sons as college students. I hauled out the box in search of good scissors and a chalk pencil. I heard my mama again.
Mama: “You coming to sew with me?”
Me: “Not yet, mama. I’m just looking for some good scissors and a chalk pencil.”
Mama: “Mija, they are on the left, second shelf. The invisible ink pens may be dry by now, but you can use the chalk pencils.”
Me: “Thanks, Mama. I miss you. I can’t sew yet. I’m not ready. But someday I WILL be ready”.
Mama: “Loved you first, Mija.”
Me: “Love you last, Mama.”
Honestly. I’m not sure I can ever fully sew with my mama’s presence again. It is still just too painful. It may take the appearance of my own grandchildren to bring out my own essence. I can cook, I can crochet, I’m learning to knit socks so that I can recreate her annual Christmas gifts, but the tackle box – It’s a big step and I’m just not emotionally ready to “tackle” it yet.
I do know this. If I ever need my mama – all I have to do is open the tackle box. She is there. Waiting for me. Looking after me – as she always has, but just in a different form.
Loved you last, Mija. ❤