I have no words

When I was five, my parents got divorced. For many long years, my mother raised me by herself. She worked a job that didn’t put any of her great intellect or passion to work, for long hours, to support us both and to make sure I had every opportunity. And I could be a selfish child, and didn’t always appreciate what she gave up for me.

Today she visited Boston and I didn’t get to see her long; perhaps only an hour. I showed her the office at GAMBIT, and she met my co-workers, and she drove me home. In the car with her were some gifts she wanted to give me… mostly things for the kitchen, as she is notorious for encouraging me to cook. I got a blender and a potato masher. And one other thing.

“Open it. It’s a present, after all.”

Inside was this:

She said the stitching wasn’t perfect, and that she’s sorry it took so long because she wanted to give it to me when I got my PhD, but that it took time to do all of this by hand.

And then she needed to leave, as it’s a long drive back to Syracuse. They were only here for the day. I hugged her, and thanked her, and told her it was perfect. She and my stepfather’s dad, who came with her, got in their car and headed off home.

I managed not to actually break down into real tears until just now, taking those pictures and making this post.

On that quilt is everything. My kindergarten graduation. My high school letters. The shirt designs from every play I was ever in, and from every high school I ever attended. Pictures of my family at my high school graduation, my bachelor’s graduation from Wisconsin. Shirts from Chadbourne, and Syracuse, and Ohio. She said the Syracuse University shirt came more or less literally off my Grandma Harper’s back. And she said it wasn’t perfect, but she wanted me to have it.

It was all the things I ever loved, all the things I ever did that made me who I am, right here. Stitched by hand, by her, as a reminder to me.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank her for it. Words are maybe the only thing I’ve ever been good at, the only thing I ever really had a talent for. And right now I don’t have any that are appropriate. In the end they are limited and I don’t know how to react.

I’m listening to this song — http://youtu.be/yHNYxwzB9xU — on loop, because it’s the closest I can come.

But I will give it a try.

Nothing on that quilt, nothing that was ever true and meaningful in my life, nothing in my life that ever led me to think for even a moment that I was ever worth anything… none of it would have been possible without the woman who sat there and sewed every stitch, and gave it to me and said it wasn’t perfect, but that she wanted me to have it.

There has never, nor ever will there be, anything more perfect than this gift, no matter what she says. Because this isn’t just a reminder of me. It’s a reminder of her.


2 thoughts on “I have no words

  1. What a wonderful tribute. I wanted to share a story with you about a t-shirt quilt I made for my son when he went to college. One night a student came to his room and noticed it on his bed and asked about it. Our son showed him all of the t-shirts and the label on the back and the student said, “Man, my parents suck.” Let’s just say, you found better words.

  2. I was also lucky enough to have one that my parents had gotten made. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking at it now t-shirt quilts are sort of way more personalized and meaningful versions of those achievement pages.

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