My mother pieced quilts. With long, loose stitches, she wove together the fabrics of our
lives. Since I was the youngest of eight children, she spent hours mending frayed edges
and patching threadbare pieces. Patterns from well-worn lives formed the quilts: ovals of
my dead father’s army coat, triangles of faded overalls, circles of pre-depression parlor
curtains, rectangles of shiny serge, and squares cut from flour sack pillow cases. As a
child, I dreaded winter. The heaviness of the quilts weighed me down. They imprisoned
me in the smell of poverty and trapped me under layers of hunger, humiliation, and
Although I often went to school cold and unkept, the warm, old school building
cradled me in loving arms. Blanketed under squares of discipline, desires, and drama, I
washed away the dirt of humiliation with tears of excitement and hope. I ventured to far
away places with Dr. Doolittle. I was father’s helper in Dick and Jane’s world. Jane’s
mother was my role model. She did not piece quilts but made cakes and smiled. In the
second grade, I sat on stage dressed in a frilly, white dress and sipped tea while my
classmates sang, “Polly Put the Teakettle On.” When I was in the fourth and fifth grade,
I couldn’t wait for spelling bees and multiplication fact buzzes. Multiplication tables
ordered my thinking, showed me connections, and formed absolutes. I pieced the quilts
of my mind with patterns of creative, colorful words, and infinite angles.
I even loved homework, although my mother did not. Reading in the evenings
meant higher electric and coal bills. We went to bed early and let the quilts, rather than
the fire, warm us. Under the worn threads of past lives, my mind blazed with stories as I
huddled close to the flames of my spirit, school.
In the fall, I was always the last student to pay book fees. Paying fees meant
sacrificing food and coal. Usually, I was threatened by teachers who could not issue
books until they wrote receipts. If only my teachers had known how much I wanted
those books. I longed for them each year. The books were as precious to me as the coal
was to my mother.
During my middle school years, I struggled with the devastating toll of my youth.
I still cannot write about those middle school years. I can only simply say that I still live
with some of the nightmares and degradations. I can, however, speak about one of my
eighth grade teachers who gently tucked in some of my adolescent frayed edges and
helped me through middle school.
In the ninth grade, my Algebra I teacher, Mary Wells, who was battling cancer,
spoke softly, wrote inspiring quotes on the board, and encouraged me with her smile.
She, like the old, warm school building, rocked me in the beauty of her loving
countenance, and I loved school.
In my English class, Alice Miles nurtured me with poetry, proverbs, and
personable comments. “Invictus”, her favorite poem, challenged me to be “the captain of
my ship and master of my soul.” As she recited the poem, I knew that when I captained
my ship, I wanted to be an English teacher like Mrs. Miles.
Though my ship was tossed upon many stormy seas, henceforth as captain, I
pieced my own quilt. The patterns swirled into graduation, college, a family, and
teaching. Each year, I added pearly circles of devotion and silver appliqués of flowering
hope. I began stitching together the golden fringe of tomorrow that must be tatted today.
As my quilt widens, it is as light as a gentle, summer breeze. The patterns blend
into a sea of virtual beauty as radiant colors shimmer in waves of unclouded equality and
luminous harmony. It is the very fabric of the ship that I steer today, and it is the vehicle
of tomorrow for weary travelers seeking to leave behind the smell of poverty and the
frayed blankets of hopelessness.