What I said in the newspaper this week:
HOME PLACE – Hanging onto life by father’s threads
It was a year ago this coming Father’s Day when I handed my six children the fabric of their father, so to speak.
This tale began months earlier, after David died in January of 2009. I had reached the second Christmas and there were his clothes, still hanging in the closet. There were his sneakers, clean from being washed the day before. His comfortably-heavy sweatshirt that felt like a cozy hug with every zip-up to the chin.
At first I wore my husband’s apparel at every chance, willing his skin cells to meld with mine.
When I donned his favorite denim shirt, I could feel his arms around me as we watched the waterfalls at Multnomah, our kids clamoring with excitement behind us.
I could see David swinging our daughters’ arms with a flash of deep blue – “One, two, three, JUMP!” – as we stomped through rain puddles.
Eventually I understood. By wearing my dead husband’s clothes – or leaving them in the closet – I was missing an opportunity to do anything meaningful with L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer or Levis.
My friend Margot found a maker of “Memory Bears” through Etsy, the company that puts crafters in touch with online shoppers. I had a number of conversations with a nice lady who said she could turn David’s clothing into something my kids could still put their arms around.
But, well, see … having once witnessed a package lost in the U.S. mail, never to resurface, I ultimately could not do it.
I shelved the whole idea. I was stuck.
Then I was past the two-year anniversary of David’s death and feeling defeated. Memory Bears, apparently, were not going to be easily birthed.
At that point I remembered a business card taped up in my newsroom space. It was handed to me by a colleague after I had written about the joys of hemming with duct tape and/or safety pins.
“Kim Porter,” the card read, illustrated with a spool of thread and a pair of sewing scissors. It looked like this person knew her way around a needle. I took a breath and dialed.
She had never done this sort of project, but Kim was willing to embrace the concept, she said. I gathered up the fleece, the cotton and jersey knits. These pieces were going to become keepsakes for my husband’s children, something to perhaps hand off to their own babies. “See this? This is the jacket my dad always wore at the beach.”
And Kim, well, she did her magic. When all was said and done, I had six distinctly different creations to pass out to my children last June. Pillows in the shape of that original wedding shirt or teddy bears made perfect for the recipient. Here was the one made from the royal blue shirt David wore while working at the middle school, the same years as my Martha Stewart Junior attended there. She saw her daddy in that pretty color Monday through Friday in the halls.
There was the bear made from that well-loved denim shirt, with a buttonhole perfect for slipping the Subaru Brat key through for my mechanic girl.
And on each pillow and bear, Kim had sewn on a patch made from the Valentine boxer shorts – “she loves me, she loves me not.” She embroidered the year, “2009,” when all of this clothing took on a whole new meaning.
I held it together on pick-up day, in Kim’s sewing room, until she brought out the surprise for me. As she revealed the pillow she had created with the pieces of leftover fabric, my chin trembled. Then she turned it around, and showed me that David’s sweatshirt front covered that side. Kim had left the pockets on, so that I could hug him, er, the pillow.
I cried. Huge sobs. As if 24 months-plus of grief could be absorbed by this magical thing in my arms. I took it home and icried some more, gently stroking the sweatshirt zipper, slipping my hands into the pockets, searching for any forgotten notes.
It’s April again and I find myself in Kim’s sewing room once more.
I had searched the Internet universe, trying to find a wedding dress that didn’t scream, “wedding dress.” There just didn’t seem to be the right garment to express “hippie wilderness love fest with this amazing man I’ve been given by God when I totally didn’t think this would ever happen to me again.”
Then, one day, there was an ad floating on the computer. A dress from the 2012 collection at Neiman Marcus for the tiny sum of $5,000. But it sang of romance and love and hope and promise. With more lace than a middle-aged woman should rightfully wear.
I zipped the image over to Kim and we started our work, figuring out what parts of this dress I really wanted and how she could get me there.
I had an initial fitting recently, back in the room I once left in tears.
I had wiggled out of a muslin shell and was looking at myself in Kim’s mirror, laughingly lamenting the 50-plus female body and the need for sleeves.
We grinned at the idea of lady bat wings and – in a mutual glance – it hit us both at the same time.
“You realize how weird it is that I’m here, right,” I asked as I adjusted my shirt.
“It is weird,” Kim agreed.
I smiled. “I still love that pillow, you know.”
“I know,” she nodded.
We didn’t have to say more. When someone sews up your old life and, less than a year later, begins helping you stitch together a new one, words are unnecessary.
Except, “Thank you.”Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or firstname.lastname@example.org