So this is a ghost story about how we are haunted by things.
In the mid-1980’s, my mother was a cross-stitch artisan. She made some absolutely flawless work. We had even tested out several design software packages to create our own patterns for images. I also created some pieces, but nothing as intricate or challenging as the pieces she made. For my grandmother’s birthday, she had a brilliant idea of making an entire cross-stitch quilt.
The quilt design was 25 squares, each with a different rose picture. My grandmother LOVED roses. I was to make 12 and my mother would make 13. Once they were completed, we would have it sashed with green ivy fabric and quilted by the ladies at The Neighborhood House for a donation.
Whatever else was going on, we made that happen. It was a beautiful quilt.
And this was a big deal to us. My grandmother, the quilt’s recipient, had made a masterpiece of her own that had hung in a couple different fabric/quilt shows and museums. She had make a double-embroidered quilt of all the birds and flowers from all 50 states in alphabetical order. It was enormous! Five years of work, countless episodes of All My Children, holding her mouth just right while threading the needle. She had a bent fingernail because of the constant pressure against the fabric to get the stitch just right.
My grandmother loved our gift. And being from the generation who lived through the Great Depression, she wrapped it up and put it away for safe keeping. I would not see it again for 30 years.
When my grandmother died, my mother moved into her house. She quietly gave the quilt to a childhood friend of hers. The quilt was still new – wrapped up and folded neatly in plastic. And in exchange, he gave her a lamp.
It was no ordinary lamp. He had lovingly made a Tiffany-style pink and white lampshade just for her and attached it to an ornate metal base. It was a table-lamp and it suited my mother and all her pastel belongings to a tee.
Now these were two specific, unique and priceless things. A great deal of feeling and sentiment were attached. A great deal of creative work (including my own) transpired to bring them into being. The trade between my mother and her friend was one of equality and mutual admiration. And yet, they were THINGS. Not people. Not loved ones. Things.
When my mother passed in 2010, it was a chaotic time. I am an only child and there was no will. I did my absolute best to put the nuts and bolts of her life in order and try to honor her in a way that would suit her. I did not allow myself to grieve in public or at all for at least another two months. I had help. My mother’s friend Shirley and her close neighbors, Sonya and Emilio helped me immensely. We sold as much as we could to take care of funeral expenses and set up a memorial service.
I held my breath for two months. I dealt with releasing her house to the bank and sending out death certificates to creditors. I felt loved and supported by people who just showed up and pitched in. Because we all loved her.
I held my breath and when I exhaled, I was alone. One night at 2 a.m. I just sat up in bed. Her dog Doc, who became my dog, laying on the end of my bed staring at the closet. Her ashes were on my top shelf. They had handed me her remains in a green velvet bag. I awoke and began to really feel the empty space in my life where she had been. We had talked daily often more than once. She made me laugh. She was the best grandma to my son. She was gone.
And there was not a THING that I wished to hold on to. None of it contained her heart, her soul, her spirit, her light. I didn’t need any of it because I carried the best of her with me. Always.
I had neither the quilt nor the lamp. And I was grieving and healing.
And it slowly got better. I miss her now, today, this moment. So does everyone else. And we live on connected by that.
So this is the haunting part, the life lesson:
A few months ago, my mother’s childhood friend showed up and found me. He had the quilt. Honestly, I didn’t know it still existed. But there it was, still folded immaculately in pristine plastic. He wanted to give it back to me. And, just for kicks, he wanted to know if I had the lamp. Because in his eyes, I had not been a good steward of my mother’s THINGS. Because at some time while I was holding my breath and THINGS were being sold, I let the lamp get sold too. Because when I was dealing with the tidal wave, I did not happen to grab his lamp and anchor it to myself while I withstood the storm.
I was polite. I understood his point of view. I told him honestly that I did not know here it was or whom had it. He talked on in a very heavy-handed way about disrespect.
“I’m giving this back to you because I know where things go.”
He was trying passively to shame me for not possessing HIS lamp. A lamp that was his then my mom’s, but never mine in the first place. A lamp that was so important to him still, that six years after my mother’s death, he found me just to emphasize its loss.
I remained polite. I much prefer people who speak plainly if they have an issue with me. But it was apparently that HIS lamp and HIS loss were not MY lamp nor MY loss.
I never wanted the lamp. I never wanted the quilt back. It was given as a gift. And my understanding of a gift is that once it is given, you do not take it back.
His attempt to hang six years of guilt on me for a lost THING didn’t work. In fact, it made me very sure that I will never charge another person with curating or keeping my THINGS.
I have the quilt, but I am donating it. The quilting is still crisp. The stitches still look fresh. In its 30 year existence, this quilt has never warmed anyone. It has never been loved. Its beauty has been made bitter by those who buried it away, suffocated it in plastic in the back of a closet. I am hoping that donating it allows the magic to finally grow. So much care and love went into it.
My real hope is that whomever ended up with the lamp truly finds joy in it. Maybe it’s a beacon for a little girl reading stories. Maybe it’s the perfect source of light and comfort for someone who is alone. It could not be any of those things for me.
It was never my lamp.