I’ve read that there are about 20,000,000 quilters in the US. In my travels I’ve met a lot of them with some pretty marvelous stories. But, no story touched me like the one I’m about to tell you. I’ve changed the names and locations….but, everything else is as true as can be.
I was eating at a Japanese restaurant in Georgia. The kind of restaurant where you sit around a table with strangers, while the chef cooks your food, all the while juggling knives and causing big flames to erupt right before your eyes. Not really the place for in-depth conversations. Still, I began to converse with the woman next to me.
We talked about how likely it was that we would get our dinner without being seriously sliced or diced and then moved on to where we were from and what we did for a living. Well, when she found out I worked for the American Quilter’s Society the conversation took a turn. She was a quilter. We talked about Paducah and shows and what kind of quilts we liked to make.
She got very quiet for a minute and then looked at me and said, “Let me tell you a story.”
“I was adopted as a baby. I had wonderful parents and an absolutely perfect life growing up. Still, I always wondered about my birth mother and father. Since, I never wanted my parents to feel that I didn’t love them, I never pursued any searches for my birth parents.”
“When my father and then my mother passed, I decided to find out whatever I could about my birth parents. It wasn’t easy and it took me years to track down any information at all. I finally discovered the name of my birth mother and with the help of the Internet found an address and phone number for her.”
“I tried calling twice. Each time I lost my nerve when a woman answered and I hung up the phone.”
“Finally, I got up the courage to drive to the address. It was about four hours away. I can’t tell you how long I stayed in the car trying to get up enough nerve to go to the door. By the time I actually rang the doorbell, I was shaking with fear.”
“A woman who looked just about the right age to be my mother answered the door. I asked her if Mary Smith was at home. She got a suspicious look on her face and asked why I was looking for Mary. I explained that it was a personal matter.”
“She then told me that Mary had died the previous year. I must have looked really stricken because she asked me to come in and sit down. I told her that I had been looking for my birth mother and that according to the records I had been able to find, Mary Smith was my mother.”
“It was her turn to look stricken and stunned, too. The lady was Mary’s sister and her name was Emma. She knew the story of Mary and her baby and so over the next several hours she told me about Mary’s life.”
“Mary had gotten pregnant when she was 17 years old. No one knew about the pregnancy but Mary’s mother and sister. During those days, it wasn’t something you could talk about and there was never any question of keeping the baby. Mary was sent away to have the baby and no one else ever knew. She never saw the child but knew that it was a girl.”
“Emma said that Mary was different when she came back. There was an air of sadness about her. She attended teacher’s college and became an elementary school teacher. Mary never married but loved the children that she taught. Mary received numerous teacher of the year awards and was revered and loved in the community. ”
“Mary’s main passion in life besides teaching “her children” was quilting. She made quilts for family and friends, but her main passion was charity quilts. She made baby quilt after baby quilt and donated them to the hospital, police force, missionaries, and anywhere there was a need.”
“When Emma’s husband died she moved in with Mary and they had lived together for the last ten years. She said that she constantly nagged Mary about all of the fabric scraps that Mary saved.”
“Whenever, Emma would try to get her to throw or give them away, Mary would patiently say, “No, someone will come for them someday.” It was always the same reply, “No, someone will come for them someday.”
“I saw Emma looking at me strangely and then she said, “I think it was you. I think she was saving them for you.”
“I left that day with immense bags of scraps from Mary’s quilts. A carload really.”
My new quilting friend turned to me and said, “So, you see I had to become a quilter.”
“Throughout the years I have made quilts for my children, grandchildren, friends, and, of course, baby quilts for charity. However, every quilt that I have ever made has contained fabrics from Mary’s scrap bag. I like to think that it is our connection to each other and her connection to the family that she never knew.”
That was the story that the stranger told me at dinner that night. I never saw her again but, I never forgot her story.
Connected through quilting…all 20,000,000 of us.