I like to think that my mom is quite famous. Many times during our visit last week people would approach her and tell her that she looked familiar or maybe they recognized her and forgot her name. Many thank her. All share their personal story with her and usually get her up to date with their lives. Sometimes there are hugs.
My mother has been in social work almost her entire life. I spent my childhood going to the office with her – meeting mothers and babies as they apply for the W.I.C. program, listening to her counsel people on where to find affordable housing, teaching people to read, and helping people write a resume to get a job.
But most of all my mother is a good listener. She’s a quiet person(much like her daughter) who avoids crowds and longs for quiet conversation, who rarely talks about herself and takes the time to hear your story.
So she’s picked the perfect vocation. And she’s brilliant at it. And she’s retiring next year.
I’m having a very hard time picturing my mom not working. She’s worked outside of the home since I was about five years old. I was a latch-key kid and some of my fondest memories of childhood are of hanging out with my mom in her office. (This is also how I forgave her for being such a horrible baker).
But my mother is not one to sit idle. In the last few years she’s started a hobby that is turning into a business. It’s turning into a business because she is a good listener.
My mom lost her own mom six years ago. We still can’t really talk about it without crying. My grandma was a special lady. My mom left her mother’s funeral in Minnesota with a box of grandma’s old clothes in her trunk. Mom went home to Indiana to grieve.
Sometimes I try to picture how my mom did it in those months after her own mother’s death. How she carefully chose the clothes she did. How she decided how to cut out each piece. How she decided to sew it all back together into something exquisitely beautiful. How many tears she shed in the process. How many times she laughed at the memories they shared. Would she remember the certain times and places that my grandma wore that special blouse.
Within a few months my mom quilted a pillow for herself and for each of her six siblings. A pillow and quilt for her grieving father, and doll quilts for the granddaughters. All of these she handmade from my grandmother’s clothing.
When my grandfather died three years later my mom went back to work making pillows and quilts for all of us. I recognize his flannel shirt and his funny plaid boxers on my pillow. Everyday I see the pillow and think about him and how much he loved me.
And so it happened that someone saw my mom’s quilted pillows on her couch one day and they told a friend who had just lost her husband. That friend called my mom and pretty soon my mom is making 10 pillows for her. And then that friend tells some ladies at the cafe and pretty soon a lady who has lost her young son calls my mom. And then maybe that lady was showing her quilt at work and the lady who lost her sister goes home and sobs as she boxes up some of her sister’s favorite clothes right before she calls my mom….
That’s the way these things go, right? The good things build through love.
But truly it’s not just because my mom sews and quilts pillows from clothes from your loved ones lost. It’s because my mom is my mom. She doesn’t just take your box of clothes and write out your order and call you upon completion. She sits down with you and listens. She hears your stories of their favorite sweater. She hears how you had that romantic dinner just weeks before his death. She hears your stories about a boy who was too young to die.
And when she delivers your pillows and you cry at their beauty..their memories …she holds you and cries with you. Because that is who my mom is. The quiet one with the big heart, open arms and the ability to listen.
And this is why I think she’ll be very busy in her retirement.
I go upstairs and do my nightly bed check before I go to sleep. I tuck my girls back in and lightly kiss their foreheads as not to wake them. I smile as I look down at their American Girl dolls lined up ‘sleeping’ under their quilts. I bend down to tuck them in too and run my hands along my grandmother’s patches of clothing and remember that she wore that grey sweatshirt the day she met Esther. I sleep well knowing she’s still close.