A second act. Act two. What is it?
Aside from the second act in a play, a more contemporary usage of the phrase is a second career, often undertaken in retirement when one is less constrained by earning a living and putting food on the table each week. Hopefully one feels freer to follow a passion or love, without particular regard for financial reward or gain.
But people aren’t the only “beings” with a potential second act.
The recent hurricane tragedies have been ripe with stories of rescued animals. I’m an unbelievable soft touch for our furry friends and not only do I actively involve myself with animal rescue, and have for decades, I also support several groups, particularly in situations like the recent devastating hurricanes.
Aside from living sentient beings, sometimes inanimate objects such as quilts have a second life too. Although, I have to tell you, making and distributing “care quilts,” I have always felt that a quilt had a special calling to help comfort and cure people. Those of us constructing them are simply hearing that calling and cause those quilts to be born, so to speak. Midwives, in essence – not the story, only assistants in the process.
Sometimes, giving quilts and others a second life or opportunity helps to heal both the recipients and the donor.
In the Beginning…
I grew up quilting with my mother around a quilting frame in the local church basement with the Missionary Circle. Although somehow, in that time and place, the irony of sending quilts to Africa escaped me. I think it was the thought that mattered, at least I hope so.
I also made quilts by hand with the scraps from making my own clothes. I didn’t feel underprivileged at all. I loved the “custom clothes” I could make, generally out of remnants from the sale bin. I also loved using the scraps for things like matching doll clothes made by hand with no pattern. Later, as a teen, I made quilts with those scraps, often taking my quilting bag along when I babysat for after the kids were in bed.
When I was in college, I didn’t have time to either make clothes or quilts, but after I graduated and started a family, a few years later, I returned to quilting. There was something soothing and having moved away, quilting connected me with my roots, both figuratively and literally.
For (at least) hundreds of years, women have made quilts for utilitarian purposes, for warmth, to salvage any possible piece of fabric which was expensive both in terms of labor and cost, and to bestow as gifts on those they loved. Wedding and baby quilts are legendary.
Making a quilt was and still is quite an investment in terms of both money and time. For those who don’t know, quilts cost hundreds of dollars and hours, both. Trust me, it’s a lot easier and much quicker to take half the amount of money a quilter invests in a quilt and purchase a very nice gift card.
If someone makes and gives you a quilt, I guarantee, it’s a gift straight from the heart or they simply would not bother. But not everyone understands, cares or treats quilts as gifts of love.
The Quilt Disrespecter
My former mother-in-law comes to mind.
In the early 1980s, in-between a career, a young family and animal rescue work, I managed to make my former, now-deceased, mother-in-law a quilt, in the colors, fabric and pattern she selected. She asked that it be tied instead of quilted, so I tied it with little knots instead of the more traditional quilting. I enjoyed making the quilt, working alone mostly late at night after everyone else was long asleep, and gave it to her as a family gift for Christmas.
I was the “second wife” in a very conservative, religious family who wasn’t happy about either their son’s divorce or a second wife, and I hoped that the quilt would help thaw the ice a bit.
My mother-in-law put the quilt on the bed immediately, but the next time I saw it, it had a very large prominent stain. I asked her what happened, and when she told me, I was able to help remove the offending substance. The quilt was whole again, none the worse for wear. I was a bit bothered that she hadn’t seemed to care enough about the quilt to ask me about the problem before I noticed and asked her. But I shrugged it off as nothing.
I didn’t see the quilt again, and I wondered about it, but all things considered, was hesitant to ask. I didn’t want to rock the boat and she wasn’t exactly warm and friendly.
I wasn’t the only black sheep in the family, and well, us less-than-pristinely-colored-sheep had to hang together.
A few years later, after many slights, such as being “forgotten” at Christmas, even while sitting in the same room as everyone else exchanged and received gifts, I had given up entirely on the idea that I might even be treated as marginally human by my mother-in-law. I attempted to “make nice” as my mother would have said, for the sake of my husband and children.
My in-laws sold their condo and were in the process of moving to a senior facility. My sister-in-law, married to another son, herself a family outcast as well, was helping my in-laws pack and move.
In the garage, she found the quilt tossed in a corner on the floor. She knew I had made that quilt for “Grandma” as we called her, and she picked it up and asked Grandma what the quilt was doing there.
Grandma replied she was either going to throw it away or give it to Goodwill.
My sister in law picked the quilt up, looked at it and stated, “there’s nothing wrong with this quilt,” but my mother-in-law said that it was “old.” It was less than 5 years old, maybe 3 or 4. Hardly old by any measure I can imagine, let alone in quilt-years. Quilts when cared for even marginally last for decades.
My sister-in-law, bless her heart, told my mother-in-law that if someone makes you something and gives you a gift from the heart, the VERY LEAST you could do if you don’t want it anymore is give it back to them. My sister-in-law picked up the quilt, told my mother-in-law that she was giving the quilt back to me and put it in her car.
I can’t even begin to tell you how hurt my feelings were. Not only was the quilt I had made for my mother-in-law, with the fabrics she selected, so I know she liked them, tossed away like an old rag – by proxy, I had been discarded as well, again.
It was just one more hurtful chapter in a book, but having your gift of love rejected in such a demeaning way was especially degrading.
I folded the quilt up and put it away. It hurt.
Over the years, every now and again, I’d run into the quilt again when cleaning out a closet. I always felt bad, and then I’d find a different place to put it away out of sight. Out of sight never worked for very long, because I’d always find it again a couple years later. DANG!
In 1993, my life changed catastrophically when my husband, her son, had a massive stoke. She died shortly thereafter. I was dealing with a horrific situation, still raising children, and needless to say, I had absolutely no time for anything except trying to make ends meet for several years.
Nearly another decade later, as I moved prior to remarrying, I found that quilt again. AGAIN! Once again, I felt terrible, for a whole bevy of reasons, and put it away – but it wasn’t going to stay put away forever.
This past summer, I began my own “downsizing” initiative, going through things, giving things away, finishing projects and otherwise taking stock of where I am and where I’m going.
And you’ve guessed it, I found that doggone quilt again.
But things have changed. I can now look back more with pity and sorrow instead of pain. With the cumulative wisdom and distance of another two or three decades, I now realize my mother-in-law’s rejection of me was far less about me than it was about her. I wish I had understood that then.
The quilt was her weapon in a cold war of sorts in which I was an unwitting witness as well as an unwilling participant. Her own personal ongoing battle in which both me and the quilt were collateral damage.
It was never about me, or the quilt, really. In retrospect, the situation was profoundly sad – but someplace in the past 15 years or so, she lost the ability to hurt me anymore. She had died, leaving an unfortunate legacy, one I certainly wouldn’t want, and I had moved on.
Instead of quickly putting it away, I laid the quilt out on the table this time, took a look and realized it needed some mending. I wondered what I would do with the quilt. I wasn’t going to use it myself, but I wasn’t putting it away again either.
Then, hurricane Harvey descended on Texas, and in particular, Houston.
I have family and very close friends in Houston, and I prepared a box of “care quilts” to send. I’m sure that they have been put to good use.
That done, a few days later, I returned to my sorting and saw the quilt laying on the table. I realized that the quilt needed a new home, one that would hopefully love it the way it had never been loved, and that correspondingly, hurricane Harvey victims needed assistance. Many had lost everything.
About this time, my friend told me about her cousin and others who had been flooded out of their homes when the reservoir floodgates were opened to relieve pressure on dams. The devastation and tragedy in Houston seemed never-ending.
I told my friend about the quilt and that I would gladly ship it to her if she would find it a good home, someplace where it would be used, loved and appreciated.
I opened the quilt and realized that other than a few places where some of the seams had begun to separate, that there was only really one damaged area. One tiny L shaped tear in the fabric, about an inch long.
I cut a “patch” in the shape of a heart and mended the quilt. Somehow, I thought that was appropriate. A broken heart made whole.
I hand repaired a few other locations, reinforced the binding since that too was now 30+ years old, and thought about how much comfort this quilt had been waiting for so long to give someone. Then, I gave the quilt a bath and held my breath that it would survive the washing machine. It did, just fine!
It’s not perfect and it’s not new, but its soft fabric is ready to comfort and warm someone. Maybe it will remind someone of their loving grandmother, or another quilt that comforted them. I hope so.
When I make quilts as gifts, or as “care quilts,” I take their picture when finished, say a prayer for the recipient, and sent them off on a life of their own. These quilts too have a purpose and destiny, just as people do, albeit one that I’ll never know. I give them wings and send them on their journey.
I am blessed and finally healed by being able to send this quilt off on its own healing mission. I was only the technician, although it certainly took long enough for this quilt to find its purpose. I pray that whoever receives the quilt can feel the love that this “pre-loved” quilt has to give, and receives the blessing of the positive thoughts that are sent along with it.
They need it, the quilt needs it, and so did I.
Just like people, and animals, sometimes “pre-loved” is the best.
It’s now known as “The Second Act Quilt.”
Sometimes the second act is far better than the first and just what the doctor ordered!
Bon voyage my friend…
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