If you’d asked me a month ago, I would’ve said I didn’t really have any heirlooms. Part of that is due to my being the first grandchild of my family; a lot of my toys and clothes ended up as hand-me-downs to siblings and cousins (and later nieces and nephews). Part of it is also the fact that I moved overseas. When I took off for London in 1999, I went with two suitcases and a six month working visa. I had no idea how long I’d be there. All of my “stuff” was packed up in boxes in my Mom’s basement, I think. On a few of my subsequent trips home I’ve rummaged through and carted some stuff back with me, mostly treasured books and photographs. (I think I’ve even got my high school letter jacket.) But really, most of the items in my house in Sydney are things that I’ve bought with the Snook over the course of the last 13 years. That’s just how it worked out.
My Mom, as you guys know, is a really good quilter. On her first visit to Sydney six years ago, she brought us a kickass Darth Vader quilt. On this most recent trip last month, she opened her suitcase the first morning and pulled out another quilt for us. It’s a traditional design made up of colourful scraps and white hexagons. The actual quilt top is an antique that she bought at an auction or somewhere (she likes to do that), which she then finished and quilted. Needless to say, I loved it. Isn’t it pretty? It’s such a nice gift, right?
But that wasn’t the only surprise Mom had in store. She waited until the evening of the first day and announced she had another quilt for me. She pulled out a flash of purple, and I started sobbing before she even had it unfolded. I knew what it was instantly. It was a quilt I had never expected to see again.I was nine years old when Mom made me my first quilt. I have vague memories of “helping” her design it. It had to be PURPLE, of course. It had to have a lace border around the edge. It had to have my name on the pillow area in big swoopy writing. The design was a traditional one called “Sunbonnet Sue,” which I persist (to this day) of thinking of as “Holly Hobby.” I remember picking out the colours of the dresses and the coordinating bonnets. I’m pretty sure Mom hand-quilted the whole thing, and when she was finished she embroidered the date in the corner: January 2, 1982. I put it on on my bed where it remained probably until I was in high school. I loved it. But I was a kid, and I wasn’t careful with it. I dragged it all over the house. I took it on sleepovers. I’m pretty sure I even dragged it outside once to use as a picnic blanket. (I think I got yelled at for that one, quite rightly.) The last time I saw my quilt, the fabric was starting to wear through in places and the white panels were discoloured. I hadn’t even thought of it in years. If you’d asked me, I probably would’ve guessed that it was balled up in a box somewhere, or maybe that it had even been thrown out.
So when Mom unveiled my quilt, I cried. You guys, SHE FOUND IT and SHE RESCUED IT. She told me all about her restoration efforts, but I was too bedazzled to take proper note. (So please, correct me if I’m wrong here, Ma.) I think she said she painstakingly cut out each of the original appliquÃ©d Sunbonnet Sues (and also the plain quilted ones) and transferred them to new backing. She pretty much disassembled the whole quilt. She bleached all of the stained and discoloured areas and patched the holes. (It’s still not perfect, but hey, the thing is 20 years old at this point.) The lace was unsalvageable, but she had the great idea of adding on additional (purple!) borders to make it fit our queen bed. (The original quilt was only a single.) She then put on a whole new backing and quilted and bound the whole thing. It’s magnificent. I tweeted on the night that I felt like the old guy in AmÃ©lie whose box of childhood treasures was returned to him. I never, ever thought I’d see this quilt again, much less restored to such glory. It may well be the most amazing gift I’ve ever received in my life.
So that’s my amazing quilt from my amazing mother. I still can’t quite process it. What a wonderful surprise. I finally have an heirloom, a tie between the grown-up Kris that lives in Sydney and the little girl Kristy that lived in Indiana. It still makes me cry. Thank you, Mom.
Rest assured; the quilt was only on the bed long enough to take the photo. I’ve learned how to take care of things now (which often involves keeping them away from cat butts)!
Update from Mom via FB: “One more item of note: it STANK and I had to work on it like that. It was so fragile that I didn’t want to wash it until I had it all quilted and stabilized…..”