The Tale of Two Quilts

“What goes around comes around.” — The basic definition of how karma, the law of cause and effect, works.

“And in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take.” — Lyrics from the Beatles song, The End, composed by Paul McCartney and credited to Lennon-McCartney. It was the last song recorded collectively by all four Beatles from the album, Abbey Road.

This is a tale of two quilts, two long-term relationships, two sisters and two lessons about karma.  

The Backstory

Depending on your personal belief system, life unfolds based on the tenets of the religion, personal values, or philosophy you embrace and the choices you make. As a baby boomer, and as a recovering person the past three decades of my life, my personal philosophy is an amalgam of the lessons and resulting alchemy of my journey: it has evolved over decades, yet for the most part, reflected the culture of the times. I am a product of my generation.

As a young girl of German-Irish-Dutch heritage growing up in Racine, Wisconsin, I was raised Roman Catholic, though my Dutch ancestors were Christian Scientists. I attended public school and like many Catholic children on Sundays after Mass at St. Patrick’s Church, Catechism lessons. There was a time as a dreamy girl I loved the stories about the Saints, especially the women. I laugh as I write this, but I aspired to be a martyr and a Saint.

As a teen during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Church took an active role protesting against discrimination and for the equal rights of blacks and other ethnic and racial minorities in my home state of Wisconsin, led by Catholic activist, Father Groppi in Milwaukee, while priests such as the Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip, protested against the war in Vietnam. Soon many priests looked like folk singers, and often left the altar, their stage, to play their guitars, and walk and preach among the congregants.

Father Groppi Photo Credit: sheperdexpress.com

Father Groppi
Photo Credit: sheperdexpress.com

Simultaneously, the Church took strong positions against abortion, birth control, and divorce. This is when my disillusionment began. My maternal grandmother had divorced her philandering, bigamist husband and for that reason was denied the sacrament of Communion.  She fought for years to receive a dispensation from the church and was denied, despite her pious life and raising her four children as a single mother. I left the church. I became a lapsed Catholic and agnostic.

I began my education as a college student alternating with sabbaticals as a novice political-activist, flower child-hippie, and recreational drug-user (unlike former President Clinton, my contemporary, I inhaled). In school, I took classes, Intro to Philosophy, Social Psychology, History 101, and attended Teach-Ins during the October Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. I forged a belief system that was a hybrid of Existentialism, Taoism, and the words of Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan and The Beatles.

In the student lounge I congregated with the class-skipping, card players who engaged in lively political discussions, or hung out with my Dashiki-wearing friends with the most amazing Afros and learned from them what it was like to live as a minority in a dominant white culture. Shortly afterwards, I dropped out of college, and out of what my soon-to-be husband, Frank, described as the “psychedelic, rock-a-rock, bullshit,” of the counter culture, which had taken a downward spiral into addiction.

We became middle-class and anonymous for a period of time, both living and working in Kenosha, Wisconsin, at blue-collar, working-class jobs,  Frank at Anaconda American Brass Foundry, and me at Jockey International. I became a member of the International Textile Workers Union, and soon saw inequities in how women were treated in the workplace and by the unions. My feminism began to evolve and soon Ms. Magazine was launched and I became a subscriber, both to the magazine and the politics.

At Jockey, I met Gloria as in G-L-O-R-I-A! She was a lesbian and we scheduled a once-a-week date listening to Bette Midler, sharing a joint or two, a bottle of red wine and long evenings of conversation about life. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were falling in love, or infatuation, though we each were in committed relationships, Gloria with a young woman artist, and I with my husband Frank.

The temptation was strong and the confusion about my sexual preference prompted me to talk Frank into a geographic escape. We both had positive experiences in Madison, Wisconsin, and I convinced Frank I wanted to return to school at the University. I was accepted and soon found myself as an undergraduate again, majoring in Communication Arts, and spending time in Afro-American Literature lectures, theater classes, and more.

For many reasons I was not a good student, I was smart and curious, but very distractible and lacked the necessary discipline to study. I returned to full-time work as a screen-printer working with my hands and learning a technical craft.  It suited me. Soon I had my work day life and my evenings learning about feminism, first as a member of a Feminist Consciousness-Raising group and later as a facilitator and trainer, while Frank was pursuing his card-playing hobby, including duplicate bridge, poker, and gambling at the horse races or casinos in Las Vegas (yes, he had been one of the card-players years earlier in the student union with strong political beliefs).

Fast forward, I had a couple affairs with women; we “opened” our marriage for a time which was a trend in the pre-AIDS, sexual freedom of the late 1970s, disco era. On the evening of our seventh wedding anniversary Frank encouraged me to separate from him and figure out how I wanted to live my life, to remain committed to him as his wife, or explore my evolving sexual preference without him. Complicating this time for us, I had developed a serious drinking problem and he a gambling addiction.

We separated and I explored what I have referred to as my “lesbian adolescence,” having a series of relationships with women and “coming out,” identifying as a lesbian to my friends and family. I continued to be active as a member of NOW (National Organization for Women), and as a member of the National Committee on Consciousness-Raising. I fought for the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights and freedom of choice, and equal pay for equal work.

Frank and I divorced and my drinking escalated. Finally, after a series of failed relationships, I realized I needed to get sober. I was lucky, my timing was perfect, it was the early 1980s and the recovery movement was at its peak, with the founding of the Betty Ford Center, and high-profile celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor recovering at the Betty Ford Center, and Liza Minnelli at Hazelden in Minnesota, who followed the 12-Step protocol of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Concurrent was a growing awareness of children of alcoholics, referred to as Adult-Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) and treatment programs followed. I attended an outpatient recovery program at the Madison Family Institute (MFI), first getting sober then dealing with my family of origin and Al-Anon issues. To augment my recovery, I actively attended AA, ACoA, and Al-Anon meetings and began identifying the role of spirituality in my life, of a higher power.

Some of the benefits and byproducts for me of a 12-Step recovery program was learning to take a daily inventory of my behavior, how to make amends to those who I had harmed, to live in the present, “one day at a time,” to “let go and let God (however I defined my higher power),” to remember, “this too shall pass,” “easy does it,” and all the slogans of the program and the Serenity Prayer.

These became my tools for living. I also began the discipline (yes, I was learning the importance of the habit of discipline) and kept recovery journals which led me to become a writer and blogger today.

Another byproduct of recovery, after continued hard work, a couple more intimate relationships which didn’t last, and a decade of individual therapy, I finally learned to how to have and be in a healthy, committed partnership with a woman that lasted for 15 years. It was equivalent to a marriage (it predated the recent changes in the law). We separated for a number of reasons, yet consider ourselves chosen family.  I also made amends to my ex-husband, Frank, and we spend time together with our families back in Racine.

The Tale of Two Quilts

I apologize for the circuitous journey I took you on to reach the beginning of The Tale of Two Quilts. Like many tales, the backstory is important for understanding.

When Frank and I married, my sister Roz, a talented quilter, made us a beautiful wedding quilt as her gift to us. It was a stair step design in greens and yellows abundant in delicate wildflowers, with yellow yarn tying sections together. She embroidered her name and the date. It was intended to be our family heirloom and keepsake. Did I say it was beautiful? It was.

Quilt

During my “trial separation” from Frank so many years ago, I took only the essentials that I needed to setup household in a small sublet apartment I rented on the corner of Broom and Johnson Street (a building that was recently torn down and replaced by The Domain, high-rise luxury apartments). Down the block from my separation sublet was Lysistrata, the feminist-restaurant and bar which was my hangout before it burned down.

I left the wedding quilt with Frank, first as a temporary decision, later permanently, when we divorced. I left the quilt with him at what had been our shared home. I felt guilty for breaking our wedding vows and for leaving the marriage. I left Frank, the marriage, and the quilt behind. In later years, I learned that Roz was deeply hurt by this decision.

Over the years, I can’t begin to count the number of quilts Roz made for family members, each lovingly designed and the fabrics chosen for the person who received the quilt. Some family members received multiple quilts, first were baby quilts, later quilts designed for when they were children, for her son, then nieces, nephews, grand nieces and grand nephews, and her grandchildren.  She made quilts for her parents and her siblings and their spouses. As family members grew up they may have received a second or third quilt for their birthday, at Christmas, for a wedding or the birth of a child. All of her quilts were well-used and well-loved.  We were all kept warm and comforted by her handiwork and her heartfelt love for each of us.

Roz continued a tradition that both our maternal and paternal grandmothers and great grandmothers had established, though their craft was knitting and crocheting afghans and crocheted bedspreads. My mother’s needlework was beautiful embroidery. I have been promised to inherit the embroidered Serenity Prayer she made while she was getting sober over 20 years ago.

010When I was in my long-term relationship, my partner Cindy’s turn for a quilt came up. Her mother had died a few years earlier. Cindy asked Roz to make a quilt with fabric she had saved from her mother’s clothing. The remnants of fabric held a lot of meaning for her. Unfortunately, the fabric was threadbare; it wasn’t sturdy enough for quilting, even in the hands of a master quilter like my sister.

Instead, Roz asked Cindy what colors she liked for the comforter for the master bedroom Cindy and I shared. Roz crafted a quilt with burgundies and yellow, forest greens and playful designs, plaids and ginghams, stripes and checks, swirls and paisleys, squares of different fabrics including the flannels that Cindy preferred for winters. Roz signed and dated a corner of the quilt on a piece of shimmering pearl satin. It was made to be washable. We had dogs that slept with us. Roz never missed a detail.

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My sister Roz died unexpectedly of heart failure at the age of 60, the summer of 2012, two days before the fourth of July during a heat wave. She had recently lost her job and her way, and couldn’t afford to turn on the air conditioner. She took a shower to cool down, sat on the edge of her bed; fell to the floor, as she suffered a fatal heart attack, dying instantly. Roz was my first friend.

Her death was an unexpected loss for our family and for her friends who loved her.

A few weeks ago, after Cindy and I made some amends to each other for mutual betrayals of trust and broken vows, Cindy asked me, out of the blue, if I’d like to have Roz’s quilt or pass it on to someone in the family. She would have it cleaned at the dry cleaners. It was full of dog hair from Penny our English Spring Spaniel and from Koko, Cindy’s long-haired Chihuahua and Pomeranian mix.  I said yes, and thanked her — and thanked her again.

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The day I picked up the quilt I was immediately filled with emotions. I had not seen the quilt for a number of years but instantly became overcome with tears. Holding it in my arms, looking at the colors and designs of the fabrics lovingly chosen for the recipient of her gift, recognizing the workmanship and love in every stitch,  and finally seeing the signature heart with her name in her hand, I felt like I was hugging my sister again.

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I must admit, today, after all these years and the evolution of my crazy quilt of beliefs and philosophies about life, of a higher power, and a path for living, I believe in Karma. “What goes around comes around.”  I also embrace the lyrics to the final song the Beatles recorded together, The End, from their album, Abbey Road, “And in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take.”

Yes, this is a tale of two quilts, two long-term relationships, two sisters and two lessons about karma.

Since I’m a cinefile, I can’t pass up the opportunity to connect the dots between my life and movies. I offer this film recommendation about family, quilts, and love. A bonus, Maya Angelou appears in this film.

How to Make an American Quilt

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One thought on “The Tale of Two Quilts

  1. skfinn2013 says:

    A delicious read.

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