Planted Wishes for Mother
My love of flowers and gardening developed over time. When I was a kid, I couldn’t understand my mother and grandmother’s enthusiasm for all things ‘green.’ They would spend hours planting, transplanting and weeding—all tasks I saw as an unnecessary waste of time.
As many of the lessons we learn from our mothers…they are not fully appreciated until much later in life, and so it was with gardening for me.
The story, Planted Wishes, came about, in large part, because of the strained relationship with my own mother. In that way, the plot loosely follows my own life. Like my protagonist, Laurel, the worst time in my own relationship with my mother was from my teens until my mid twenties. For many years though, I prided myself that I wasn’t like her…that I’d done a better job mothering my own kids than she ever could. My painful childhood, the poverty and neglect, was the wedge between us for many years.
I’d be lying if I said that there was one day when I let all the resentment go, because it was more like a series of small steps to bridge the distance between us. A big step along the forgiveness path came in 2002 when I took a cherished story by Whitney Otto, How to Make an American Quilt and brought it to life when I sent all the women in my family a quilt square. Everyone was to create a square and then we were to converge on my mother’s house, in North Carolina, that summer. I chose to stitch lily of the valley flowers on my square, but not to honor my mother, instead, to honor my Grandmother Ruthie.
As usual, everything didn’t go exactly as planned and stitching many lily of the valley blooms onto the 12 x 12 square proved more frustrating and time consuming than I ever imagined. I delivered a scrunched up square with tiny stitched flowers that went every which way. Clearly, mine was the worst offering and that hurt extra much as I was a newly graduated Home Economics teacher! My mother tried to smooth things over with comments like, “no two flowers are ever alike.” I knew it had to be re-made and she said she would, “fool with it” for me. Needless to say, we didn’t have time to construct the quilt during that visit and we ended up leaving my mother with all of the squares to sew together.
Life got busy with dance lessons, basketball tournaments and the like and finishing the quilt was far from my mind. Then, in 2009, my sister said that my mother was having some health troubles and that I should make an effort to come down and see her. By then, my mother was seventy-eight years old and time was taking its toll on her. Intellectually, I knew my mother would age-the kind of decline I could experience from afar while living in New York. But experiencing it, that was something entirely different.
Emotionally, I wasn’t prepared for any of it. She left New York thirteen years prior, when she was a very young, spire sixty-five year old. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t seen her in that time, but changes in her health came quickly towards the end of 2008 and into 2009. Those changes were more gradual for my sister who lived with my mother and saw the subtle day-to-day changes. For me, my mother deteriorated in an instant and that was hard to fathom.
I felt her protruding shoulder blades beneath the shirt when I gave her a hug, my hands able to feel every bone down her spine. She no longer stood eye to eye with me or toe-to-toe for an argument. She was frail, old and tired, not the person I remembered. I was ready for the fight, the usual tension between us, and instead, I felt this warm, fragile body in my arms. I closed my eyes so I could hide the tears.
The completed quilt; she couldn’t wait to show it to me. She ran her hands along each of the squares and stopped at mine, the one with the hand-stitched lily of the valley. It was there, among the hand-embroidered leaves and the hand-sewn lily of the valley that my mother taught me about forgiveness. She fixed my mess and in the process showed me how to be the bigger person, how to get past my own ego and suck it up. She didn’t tell me what I did wrong; she didn’t remind me how nice it was of her to fix it for me—even though I didn’t honor her with the quilt square. Instead, she fixed my mistake, a gesture only a mother could do after the strain between us over the years.
It was then that I fully understood the capacity of a mother’s love for her children, despite anything they do to hurt you, you still love them…unconditionally.
I had my sister send me pictures of the quilt for this post. I wish I had a picture of my square before my mother fixed it, but I don’t.
I was so preoccupied with my square that I never realized that my sister-in-law, Jaime, said it best with her square:
It says: “we may not all be cut from the same cloth, but we are all patches on the same quilt.” That is so true…
Now it’s time that I honor my mother this Mother’s Day:
Planted wishes for Mother:
Yarrow for health
Phlox because she always planted them, they mean: “our souls are united”
Marigolds for health, joy and remembrance
Moss for maternal love
Hens-n-chickens because she loves them
And, of course, Lily of valley for a return to happiness and because its time…
My mother is now eighty-one and my sister has set her up with a way to voice all her stories onto the computer. I truly can’t wait to hear them…