(WOMENSENEWS)–When I was a young child, countrywomen gathered to sew quilts for celebrations and passings. Mother took us with her when she met with her friends in the basement of the rural Methodist church, beside the dirt road at the edge of the sugar beet fields. We were told to play quietly with our coloring books while they worked. Sometimes we did; other times we did not and chose instead to run wild through the church.
The women stacked their scraps of cloth next to the folded yards of batting on the table near the wall. I saw my dresses there–pieces of them–and wondered about the other striped and flowered samples of fabric. To whom did these fragments belong?
Sometimes I snuck under the stretched material on the large wooden frame and listened as the women stitched and knotted. They talked about their families, about local people, about their hardships and about love. When they cried, I cried–even if I did not quite understand. It was their emotion that spoke to me. Later I would ask Mom about what I had heard, but she always said it was private, not something for me to know. I was left with just strands of stories–and feelings.
“He grabbed me around the neck,” Bonnie said. “I can’t even wear my pearls now, can’t have anything around my neck.” Why not? I thought from my hiding place near her feet. As the women consoled her, I was left with questions–and fear. Who did this, and why?
“Mary lost her baby earlier this week. It wasn’t full-term. She got to hold it, though,” Dorothy explained. “When I lost mine, they took it away,” she said tearfully. Mom whispered something in return, and I strained to hear–something about another baby lost before its time. I desperately wanted to know more, but I never did, until many years later.
“Did you hear about Jane’s husband? Cut his arm on the blade of the plow and hasn’t been able to work since. Awful, awful,” Patty said.
“Do you suppose we could bring over dinner?” Mom replied.
The women quickly agreed and then decided to alternate nights among them. I thought about Theresa and wondered if she was okay. Her daddy was hurt, and that made me sad. Was there something I should do too?
I learned a lot through the stories these countrywomen shared. Their cloth leftovers rhythmically sewn one to another helped me see the interconnectedness of life–though at the time, I understood only that the collected and fastened snippets created something beautiful for a family in need or for newlyweds just starting their life together.
My most beloved quilt was a patchwork of a star radiating to the four corners of the comforter. This giant mandala of color had life sewn into it: my lilac polka-dotted Easter dress, my sister’s flowered apron that earned her a blue ribbon at the fair, my mother’s seersucker blouse–all were there, the remnants of cloth that we no longer needed.
When I finger the fabric pieces, some soft, some crisp, I see my grandma, her hands stiffened and her eyes dim with age. I hear again her stories of sorrows and joys, and I see my own. This quilt, more than the others, pulses with the beginnings and endings of life.
I don’t sew like I did as a child. My writing has become my stretched cloth; it is the medium for my stories.
Excerpted from “Letting Go into Perfect Love: Discovering the Extraordinary After Abuse” by Gwendolyn M. Plano. With permission from She Writes Press, copyright © 2014.
Gwendolyn M. Plano spent most of her professional life in higher education. She taught and served as an administrator in colleges in New York, Connecticut and California. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from San Diego State University, was awarded a master’s degree in theology from the University of the State of New York and then completed a master’s degree in counseling from Iona College. Finally, she earned a doctorate in education from Columbia University. Plano is also a Reiki master and a certified lifeline practitioner. This is her first book.
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