I am driving along Longwoods Road going west from London, Ont., toward Thamesville. I love my drives in the country, away from the rat race, breathing in the fresh air and reminiscing about my childhood.
As I motor along, I begin to notice large painted quilt blocks displayed on barns along the route, some of the more than 100 images that make up the Trail of Tears Barn Quilt Trail. Memories float up as I think about the days when the women had “quilting bees” at my childhood church. I stop at the Battle of the Thames historic site and see another huge wooden quilt patch, this one a rendition of Tecumseh. Another motorist pulls over to chat with me about the barn quilts. She says that each quilt block tells a historic story and contributes to the greater patchwork of life.
Another memory surfaces: my grandmother, an avid quilter, also used to say that every quilt patch has a story.
What is it about quilts? Last November, I went to the Secret Stitches Quilt Show in London, an event in support of the local Shine the Light on Women Abuse campaign. Secret Stitches featured the work of Jean, a woman who endured abuse throughout her 58-year marriage, eventually losing contact with her children. Her way of escaping the pain and heartache was to create 14 unique quilts, one for each of her children and grandchildren, sending them a poignant message of love that was only discovered after her death. Jean’s family chose to turn a negative into a positive by sharing her story and quilts with the community.
Later, while browsing the bookshelf at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, I absentmindedly laid my hands on The Joy of Quilting. What is going on here? I have absolutely no talent when it comes to sewing. Why am I so drawn to handmade quilts all of a sudden?
On a sunny Tuesday morning not long ago, I stop in at my church, Trinity United in London, to talk to Pastor Paul Browning. Voices are coming from the parlour; I peek in and smile to see a group of women quilting and chatting. A large frame is set up for a big quilt and a small frame for a baby quilt. It reminds me again of my childhood when I would sit with my grandma as she cut the fabric into pieces, sewing the shapes into quilt blocks. Later, I would watch the church ladies stitch Grandma’s “handiwork” onto batting and a backing, then bind the edges to finish the quilt.
I hear my name being called. One of the women invites me to join them for tea. Meeting weekly to quilt and have lunch has been a Trinity United tradition for years. I watch as they work, reminiscing about days gone by, love going into every stitch. I wonder: does each quilt patch really tell a story?
I suddenly realize that my life has been like a patchwork quilt, with each patch telling a story. There have been light and dark patches, easy years and tough years, times of faith and agonizing times of non-belief. In that moment, it dawns on me that in my lifetime, the light patches have outnumbered the dark — and that with faith, the hard times have been easier to overcome.
Nancy Loucks-McSloy is a writer in London, Ont.