Mystery and Communion

This summer I'm participating in a photography exhibition that highlights material objects in women's lives. Each participant chooses an object they've inherited from a woman in their family and writes a short essay about the significance of the object. The essays will be displayed with photographs of the objects as well as photos of the mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers...from whom the objects originated. I chose this quilt that my mom gave to me. The quilt began with my great great grandmother and has been passed down through five generations.

My essay:

This quilt originated with my great great grandmother who passed it down to her daughter, my great grandmother, who passed it down to her daughter and so on through five generations until it was passed down to me. I stretch out on my stomach with feet kicked up, running my fingers across the colorful squares of quilted fabric. I trace the mint green tulips and pink palm leaves; my imagination weaves fairy tales about the white crescent moons and tangerine suns. Such storytelling is inevitable with a quilt like this. Each block of fabric has a history to uncover. A blue elephant donning a top hat and cane dances across the lower edge. Did this jaunty pachyderm once tap tap tap across a baby blanket? In the center of the quilt a universe of creamy white stars melts into a seafoam sky. Did this space scape once glow and pulse within the curtains of a young boy’s room? Several small squares are saturated in maroon with audacious bursts of white. Were these popping dots proudly worn by a young woman on her first day of high school? The colors and shapes of each square reveal a history--a personal narrative nestled beneath the arc of a line or hidden within a deep shade of green. And yet, when joined together, these variegated pieces of fabric form a grand visual narrative and a collective human history. The quilt uses her language of color and form to speak of birth and growth, passage and curiosity, mystery and communion.

Still tracing my fingers along the quilt, I am awed by the realization that this blanket stitches together the lives of five women. When I get up in the morning and fold my quilt, I think of my mom’s hands folding the quilt and my grandmother’s hands and my great grandmother’s hands and my great great grandmother’s hands. We are all echoes of each other, our movements a response to the previous generation’s call. And when I wrap myself in the quilt at night, I am visited by the gentle, ghostly forms of my matriarchal line who remind me from where I came. We are separate and we are one. We are living and we are dead. The curve and hue of our experiences are different. And yet, when joined together, our varied lives form a grand narrative that speaks distinctly of indomitable womanhood.

Foxy Brown And Her Radiant Heart

(l-r) Me, Mom, Great-Grandma, Grandma, Autumn colored afghan

My family and I drove to Rupert, Idaho this week to visit my great-grandma. One afternoon during our visit, we went to the Minidoka County Museum and dug through their archives. In our digging, we unearthed one of my grandma's old high school yearbooks. What a find! There were several pictures of grandma and boy was she a knock out! I'm going to start calling her Foxy Brown.

Is it any wonder she was such a beauty? Look at her mother (hereafter known as Foxy Brown Two).

Grandma Two in her 30's

Oh, these grandmas of mine are beautiful. No doubt about it. But what I love so much is how dismissive they've always been of their beauty, how invested they've been in cradling the vulnerable, gesturing compassion, and wearing tenderness on their sleeve. Those faces, as gorgeous as they are, don't dare compete with those radiant hearts.

Sugar Foot

"Grandma Oak"

My mom and I spent four perfect (really, they couldn't have been more perfect) days with my grandma in Salem. Our days unfolded as follows:

7:30 am Wake up and exercise. Grandma goes to the gym for her lap swim. I go for a run in the park where that giant oak tree (lovingly christined "Grandma Oak") stands in all of her splendorous oakiness.

8:00 am Return from run and crunch on grandma's high fiber cereal for breakfast. Toot unceasingly for the rest of the day.

9:00 am Shower. Wash hair with the Suave Seabreeze shampoo grandma keeps in her bathroom for such occasions. Set hair in the hot rollers while waiting for that darling Zac Efron to make his appearance on the TODAY show.

10:00 am Depending on the day, grandma, mom and I either visit a museum, go to a used bookstore or go shopping in old town Salem which still sports a little bit of that throwback mid-century charm. Driving to our destination, grandma will inevitably encounter some pothole, pedestrian or fellow driver who will frustrate her to the point of inciting a "Sugar foot!" or "Oh, critter!" I have to admit that grandma's choice of expletives is decidedly more endearing than mine. I should consider switching over.

11:30 am Out to lunch (because this is a special week and a plain sandwich at home just won't do.). We all order salads. Every day we order salads as part of our generational hobby of watching our weight.

1:00-3:00 pm R & R (Rest and Reading) time. This is my favorite part of the day probably because it reminds me most of kindergarten. This is the part of the day where we return to grandma's house after a very vigorous afternoon of shopping and lunching. We can take naps or sit together in the family room and read, but whatever we do it has to be respectful to quiet time. I read my Latin American art books, my mom reads The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and I can't remember what grandma is reading. She reads everything.

4:00 pm Walk. We walk through the neighborhood and through the park. We talk about my mom and her siblings when they were young. Mom and grandma laugh about the time my mom crashed the car at the drive through diner the day after she got her license and the time my otherwise very well mannered uncle got caught heckling old ladies on the street.

5:00 pm Dinner snacking. We're so tired from the day's relentless activity that none of us really feel like preparing dinner. So we just snack on pretzels and popcorn and tuna salad. As far as I'm concerned, dinner snacking is where it's at.

6:00 pm-10:00 pm Crime shows. There are about 79 crime shows in syndication right now. Grandma watches about 77 of these. CSI; True Crime Stories; Bones; Pink Furry Handcuffs. Maybe not that last one. The crime show portion of the evening is often punctuated by Facebooking time wherein grandma spies on all of her grandchildren via their FB pages.

10:00 pm Bedtime. I sleep on the pull-out bed in the office where the wooden Don Quixote figurine sits on the bookshelf and the black and white photo of my young, enlisted grandpa is tacked to the wall. I find it all very comforting.

You see, such loveliness really belongs in the domain of the retired. I've come up with a plan to be retired now and work when I'm older, committed to disproving the adage that youth is wasted on the young. I will not waste my youth on work when there are walks to be taken, naps to be enjoyed, books to be read, and endless crime shows to be watched. I can't help it: retirement looks GREAT on me.