My Mother’s Remnants

A Mother’s Remnants

Every Scrap of Kindness Is More Than It Seams

It’s hard to mask the suffering in the world right now, but a cheerful smile behind a colorful mask can lessen the pain.

My mother (in the center with a blue blouse above) was a schoolteacher, a homemaker, and a quilter. She gave birth to me nearly seventy years ago, but I still tuck myself into bed each night under one of her handsewn quilts. Someone said, “Those who sleep under a quilt, sleep under a blanket of love.”

The Edith Morgan quilt I keep on my bed is called a “cathedral window.” It’s very intricate, for every square is doubled over and shaped in the form of a diamond within a circle. It was a labor of love and a piece of art.

Though her handiwork was painstaking and priceless, I never knew her to sell one of her quilts. They went to friends and family, and a few were stored in the closet for a generation yet unborn.

When she passed away in 2000, Mom left behind a chest full of remnants, all cut and colorful, squared and ready to go. She didn’t expect to die, and she was planning her next project. Quilting kept the winter blues at bay. But with her passing, those final remnants were forgotten like the fallen leaves of autumn. They lived in the darkness in the old chest in the attic, seeing a flash of daylight only when a curious grandchild opened the lid, peered in, and carefully lowered it again so as not to pinch little fingers.

Two decades passed and there my mom’s remnants lay, buried in the darkness, never used, never fulfilling their intended purpose.

Then came the coronavirus and the world flared into crisis.

Mom’s granddaughter and my niece, Sara, a nurse, is treating coronavirus patients in a local hospital that ran out of facemasks. Sara called her mother requesting help, and my sister Ann happened to remember that box of colorful patches and squares of cloth—all cut from dresses and tablecloths and old shirts and pajamas, and all worthless. Until now.

Ann drove to our old homeplace, opened the chest, and piled the remnants into a basket. Returning home, she found her needle and thread and began making miniature quilts of her own—colorful works of art, lifesaving masks for nurses, doctors, and patients. Tiny blankets for stopping the bug and warming the heart.

It is a legacy of leftovers. My mother could never have imagined how her assortment of carefully cut squares would be used. I’m reminded of Aesop’s words: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Admittedly, these are insufficient for medical wards and operating rooms, but they serve the patients very well, as well as medical professionals in less intense settings. No doctor ever donned such a splendid mask, one designed to bring a smile to patients while, hopefully, saving lives.

Wearable Americana. A Joseph’s coat for the face. Heirloom for one’s health.

I hazard to guess few of them will be tossed away when their job is done. Perhaps they’ll be washed, sanitized, and used again and again. They’ll certainly be added to the museum of memories of those whose smiles were hidden beneath the masks. I may frame mine and hang it in the bedroom near its larger cousin.

So here’s my point. We can all become masked strangers committing indiscriminate acts of kindness. A smile. A “God bless you.” An encouraging note or phone call. An extra gift to the charity we support. A salute to a police officer. A wave to an emergency responder. A prayer for our doctor. A song from our porches. A shout to the neighbors across the fence or on the adjoining balcony. An extra bottle of sanitizer for an elderly friend.

            This is a time for blanketing our world with patience, kindness, and self-sacrifice. No scrap of sympathy is ever wasted, for God knows all the odds and ends of our decency. Our lives are not simply a mishmash of loose threads. They are preplanned and precious, and our deeds echo into the future, even beyond our own span of days. Almighty God knows how to stitch the remnants of our experiences into cathedral windows. The kindness we do takes on a life of its own—and only eternity will tell the full story.

I wish my mother could know about her final remnants.

But then, somehow, I think she does. She knew what our world is now learning—a life hemmed in kindness will never unravel.