Special needs situations, like those we find in a home healthcare setting, demand special responses. You are probably under a tremendous amount of stress and strain – both physically and emotionally – and you probably feel very alone right now. Our goal is to let you know that you are part of a bigger community with neighbors who are facing similar challenges.
When I was sixteen years old, I took on the challenge of making a hand-stitched quilt. This is a skill one might assume was “in my blood.” After all, I came from a long line of craftsmen, and craftswomen, for that matter.
Both sides of my family would have passed down this trait to me. In particular, I owe any natural born talent in this area of quilting to my Aunt Ada, my mother’s sister who seemed to know how to do anything and everything she put her mind to doing. On my father’s side, my Great Aunt Pauline was the talent behind the needle. She was my grandfather’s sister.
I think you can actually tell a lot about people by the look and feel of their quilting. Take my Aunt Pauline, for example. She passed down the most beautiful twin bed cover to me. The fabric background was white and it was adorned with delicate pink flowers all perfectly stitched. The quilt itself was thin, suited for a girl’s bedroom, preferably in spring or summertime. It was much too thin to really keep you warm, but it was awfully pretty and it definitely belonged in a young girl’s room. If a quilt could feel happy and content, but not passionate or fulfilled, that would be this quilt.
The only quilt I ever saw of Aunt Ada’s was the brown one with the golden accents. I think it’s still on the top shelf of my Dad’s linen closet. It’s not finished, but then again most of the artistic pieces I have of Aunt Ada’s are unfinished. My mom gave all the good stuff to my sisters when Ada died. They each got a quilt. Terry got the postage stamp quilt which I never recall seeing. I heard about it though. Every square of fabric was unique and no square was larger than the size of a postage stamp.
Ada also had a reputation for her fine stitching ability. Truly, the woman was iconic to my mother who idolized her big sister. According to my mother, as evidenced on the brown quilt, my Aunt Ada could put 10-12 stitches per inch—every stitch exactly the same size as the stitch that came before—consistently throughout her work. She was more accurate than a sewing machine.
My inheritance did not fall short. Although I was only three years old when she died, Ada left all of her musical instruments in my name and she handed down six acres of property on the Morongo Indian Reservation outside of Palm Springs to my mother. That property later yielded enough rent money to put me through private elementary school, a gift I wouldn’t come to appreciate until much later in my life.
But, back to the brown quilt with the golden threads. It always found its way to the top shelf of the linen closet no matter where we lived. The edges are still unfinished and the batting can be seen between the outer layers of off-white fabric. At this moment, I can’t recall if the quilting is complete or not. In my mind’s eye, it is, and the only thing left to finish on that quilt is the outside edge. Here I am 42 years old, and not much younger than my mom was when she inherited that quilt from her sister. Forty years, and that quilt still hasn’t seen its full purpose in life.
I feel like that quilt.
A younger quilt recently did find fulfillment. It’s the one I started when I was 16 years old.
Quilting isn’t your typical teenage hobby, but for me, it was a perfect summer project for me and my mom.
The fabric store was just around the corner from our house. My mom could be left alone just long enough for me to walk over there, search for just the right fabrics, and hightail it home in case she needed a drink of water or to pee or something.
Summertime in the San Fernando Valley was and still is sweltering. I remember wearing as few clothes as possible to stay cool. We had a Jacuzzi in the backyard and it make all the difference to jump in up to my neck, cool down, and then head back inside where the air from the circulating fans would hit my body and cool me down—at least for a little while.
Keeping my mother cool and comfortable was another challenge. She was in no condition to shower or bathe, let alone jump in a Jacuzzi, so we resorted to sponge baths on a frequent basis. I just remember her lying in so much sweat that her hair would stick to the side of her face and her neck. Those cool washcloths must have been heaven when I wiped her body down. Most of all, she would express so much relief from having the salty sweat washed off her body. Fresh bed sheets and a little talcum powder completed the entire experience. My mom could reach—with some difficulty—a glass filled half-full of water with one ice-cube and a bendy-straw.
I can still feel the heat radiating through my sneakers as I crossed the pavement to get to the fabric store. What was the name of that store? I can’t remember, but it was a few doors down from JC Penney’s and See’s Candies. I think See’s is the only store that’s still there 20 years later.
You know how fabric stores have a certain smell? It’s almost like there’s too much fabric in one place. This one had the original smell compounded by that old flat industrial carpet that had worn thin in certain places. Sometimes you had to watch your step because the carpet would have a rip and a long loose thread that was perfect for catching your foot and tripping.
The selection of fabrics was abundant. I didn’t know the first thing about which colors and patterns to use. I was making a Dresden plate pattern, that, by the way, I sketched out myself on tracing paper using a picture from a book as my reference. After all, that’s how my Aunt Ada would have done it—sans the picture in the book. No store-bought patterns for her. Post Script: Recently, while negotiating the quilt with the Quilting Ladies at the Rocky Peak Church, I would come to learn how important it is to use more standard patterns and sizes in one’s design. Should I ever embark on a project of this scope again, I’m more prepared.
Sitting on my father’s side of the bed, I used my mother’s best pair of scissors (the one’s she kept in the original thin brown box with the fake velvet interior) to cut each wedge for each Dresden plate. No two fabrics were alike on a plate, and the vibrant primary colors of one wedge bounced off the vibrant primary patterns of another.
I rushed to finish so that I could advance to the next stage of the project: threading the needle. I can vividly recall my mother interjecting her advice at this point: a double layer of thread, not too long as to invite knots, and she would run the thread across her tongue to glue the two strands in place before piercing the fabric for the first stitch. My mother further advised that Aunt Ada, along with other superior quilters, would try to fit 10-12 evenly spaced stitches for every inch. Easier said than done, I assure you.
I finished the quilt top that summer. My mom and I talked for hours while I worked on that quilt. We watched old movies, Shirley Temple, Jimmy Stewart. We drank a lot of iced tea. Sometimes my sister, Terry, would visit and tell us about all the fun things she was doing…tennis lessons, trips to the Lake House to go water skiing. At the end of the summer, I folded the quilt top up and tucked it in my cedar chest, the chest where I tucked a lot of hopes. Hope that I would someday be normal with a normal mom, and normal summer activities like water skiing and tennis lessons. Hope that my mom would be free of pain, hope that she would someday make it back to using a toilet instead of a bedpan. Hope that my mom would be at my wedding. I didn’t even care if she was in a wheelchair, just so she was there to go through my hope chest with me and remember the Dresden plate quilt we made together.
I finished that quilt this last summer, and I got married on the sixteenth anniversary of my mom’s death, Sunday, August 17, 2008. My dear friend, Joyce, added my name to the list of the Quilt Ladies of the Church at Rocky Peak in Chatsworth. She did that several years ago. Her quilts tell a story of their own and if you ever want to learn how to stitch a memory and a hug into your work, just ask Joyce.
So much time had passed since Joyce signed me up for a spot on the Quilting Ladies queue. When I got the call telling me that they were ready to start the quilting the following Monday, I was totally unprepared. Heck, I wasn’t even sure if I knew where I had stored the quilt top.
For all the sadness I was feeling at the time, here was this brightly colored design…okay, the colors were so bright, it was loud to the eye. The fabrics I’d taken such care to pick out 25 years earlier had not been passed down in the generation of fabrics now available at JoAnne’s. I stalled for a week in order to resolve what I should do with the backing, the batting and the border. A lady named Ginger at the Church helped me to size my original pattern which barely fit their largest quilting stretcher.
She later told me that Dresden plates were not a favorite of the group. I guess the pattern isn’t as much fun to work on as a Log Cabin or Wedding Ring design. Mine, however, was one of the most fun they’d ever had…due in large part to the screaming colors and unconventional size.
Just like me. I am that quilt.
When I finish this story, I promise you I will pick up where my Aunt Ada left off and I will finish the brown quilt with the golden threads. That quilt holds so much promise. Unlike Aunt Pauline’s pink quilt which was finished and hardly used, Aunt Ada’s brown quilt has been envied for its potential. Her original design delicately adorned with touches of golden thread that didn’t always stand up in every situation. In fact, some of the stitches are broken here and there, almost as though the quilt had been used a little too freely by someone who didn’t appreciate the handiwork that went into making it what it is. Now, I’ll go back and make a few minor repairs that will restore the true potential of that quilt. I’ll finish the edges with a lovely fabric that graces the borders of Aunt Ada’s vision. And, when I’m done, I’ll curl up in that quilt and enjoy a mystical hug from the women who paved the way for me, just as my Aunt Ada did with every creative endeavor she ever embraced.
CAREGIVERS: Volunteers Assisting the Elderly
Board of Directors, National Volunteer Caregiving Network
Named 2014 “Who’s Who in Healthcare” by the Pacific Coast Business Times
As an informal caregiver, author and professional fundraiser, Tammy I. Glenn has counseled numerous family members and friends in short and long-term care issues. She is the founder of the national website, HomeBoundResources.com, author of “The Carefree Caregiver: A Short Course to Peace of Mind,” and serves as the Executive Director for Ventura County’s CAREGIVERS: Volunteers Assisting the Elderly, one of the original 25 national pilot programs founded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
In 2014, she was named by Pacific Coast Business Times as one of the region’s leaders in “Who’s Who in Healthcare?” which occurred at the same time she was appointed to the Social Service Transportation Advisory Council for the Ventura County Transportation Commission.
In 2013, Tammy was invited to join the Board of Directors for the National Volunteer Caregivers Network. She has been an invited speaker to the California Hospital Association and the Abilities Expo, a monthly columnist for Disabled Dealer Magazine and continues to serve in an advisory capacity to the KCET on elder care and aging as well as to the National Senior Citizens Bureau.
“While seniors represent one of the largest growing populations of people in need of care in our country, it’s important to understand that other populations have an equally important need,” Glenn said. “Developing models for both volunteer care and respite care for all caregivers is critical to our cultural and societal health.”
Glenn was first exposed to informal caregiving at the age of 8 when her mother suffered an accident that left her bedbound for the next 17 years. As one of her mother’s primary caregivers, Glenn understands the challenges of home healthcare first-hand.
In her leadership roles, Glenn brings close to 20 years of experience in public relations, management, strategy, major gift fund raising, planned giving, and business operations. She earned a Masters in Business Administration from Pepperdine University’s George L. Graziadio School of Business at the same time she was honored for “People Who Make a Difference” by Disabled Dealer Magazine. As a major gift officer at California State University, Northridge, she helped to grow the endowment for the College of Engineering and Computer Science, one of California’s top-ranked public, Hispanic-serving engineering schools, to more than $6.5 million while securing other significant sources of public and private funding for the university.
For more information, visit www.vcCaregivers.org.
For more information or to invite Tammy to speak at your next event, email (preferred)
Phone: (877) 805-0575