Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bleeding Hearts

 Dicentra spectabilis, "Bleeding Hearts"

When I was a little girl, I was blessed with two wonderful grandmothers.  One was a tiny, dignified Scottish lady-- the strongest, hardest-working woman I will ever know, and ferociously loving matriarch of my mother's people.  The other was a grand old English Grannie, complete with the top-knot of silvery hair, and a gift for manufacturing crystal bowls full of jammy trifle.

Both of these women spent painstaking hours teaching me to knit.  And, for that,  as you are well aware, I shall be eternally grateful.

But, the fact was that they both lived terribly far away.  They visited us as often as they could, and we them...  We wrote long letters to one another (remember those folded blue aer-o-grams you could purchase for a flat rate??  We kept the post office afloat for years...).  We talked on the phone, in spite of the alarmingly high long distance rates.  Dad stood by with a stop-watch in a vain attempt to reign in our relentless chatter, while we happily ignored him.  I even have a series of cassette tapes that my mother and grandmother recorded and sent to one another over the years, each telling the other about their daily lives and events.  My mother's end is, of course, interrupted at regular intervals with the sounds of violent crashing, the wailing of small children, and a hefty dose of tattle-tale-itis.  My grandmother gave me the tapes before she died, and I'm so grateful to have the gift of the sound of her voice all these years later.

Women miss their mothers after they've left home, but I think the time we miss them the most is after we've had children of our own.  Not only do we need the loving guidance of someone more experienced with babies (they raised US, after all), we actually need mothering, ourselves.  We need the person whom we trust most, and who knows us better than anyone else in the world.  We need them to bolster us up, and tell us that they BELIEVE in us:  that we are, truly, fit to be somebody else's mother, and that in time, everything will be all right.

My mum had three tiny children under the age of five for several years, and I'm sure that to her, it must have felt like a whole heck of a lot longer than that.  Those were the days before disposable diapers...  Come to think of it, I believe those enormous wads of paper and plastic had just appeared on the market in time for the birth of my youngest sibling.  And not a moment too soon, no doubt.

By the time my little sister arrived on the scene, my mother was completely exhausted from roaring after the two-and-a-half year old terror that was me, and my younger brother, who was at that horrifying toddler stage where every move he made seemed like a potential suicide attempt.  My mum not only had to keep us from killing ourselves, but also from killing one another.  Nothing like two squabbling kids to make nursing the brand-new baby a little more pleasant.

With her own mother thousands of miles away, and her husband a round-the-clock country physician, it's a wonder my mum didn't lose her mind entirely.

Thankfully, it was at this precise moment that God decided to put his hand down to us, and give us a miracle.

That miracle appeared at our front door in the form of a Red Cross Nurse, whom my father had called for, in an attempt to give my mother a break for three weeks.

She wore the traditional blue uniform with the red-and-white crest embroidered on one shoulder, sturdy support hose, and stout white shoes that made no noise whatsoever when she crossed the kitchen floor.  She was round and soft, with a fluff of curly brown hair, and a huge smile that would spread right across her face and dimple her ample cheeks.  Her belly laugh was positively contagious-- and she laughed often, usually accompanying her mirth by giving one of us kids a bone-crunching squeeze and a kiss on the cheek.

When she looked at us and loudly announced that we were "going to have a PARTY!!", we knew that she was magic.

She thought we were hilarious.

It was my tiny brother who gave her the name that stuck with her in our family forever.  Just learning to speak, he looked at her fondly one day and called her "Tekker".

Tekker came for three weeks, and stayed for three years.  Stayed in our house, that is.  She stayed in our lives and our hearts for far longer than that.  After she stopped working and playing with us on a daily basis, she was a steadfast family friend; our adopted grandmother.  She had us over to her house, and visited ours regularly.  Every Christmas, she'd arrive with an enormous load of her famous baking:  shortbread with tiny coloured sprinkles, which were absolutely melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and a box of the strangest, stiffest, white German cookies that had been intricately patterned in a series of antique presses.  They were made with anise, and were, to our little minds, completely inedible.  They would, we thought, have made beautiful bathroom tiles, however.  (I now know these cookies to be "springerle", and appreciate them for the masterpieces that they were.)

She was the proud wife of the local Lutheran pastor, and raised two fine sons, who became my little brother's heroes.  To avoid the risk of us three becoming complete heathens, she often gifted us religiously-themed books (the comic books depicting The Adventures of Jesus Christ were a particular favourite), and dragged us all off to her parish's Vacation Bible School for several weeks each summer.

She watched over us as we grew, a strong and loving presence in our lives.  She was with us for holidays, birthdays and celebrations.  She came to concerts and plays, graduations and weddings.  She was there to cuddle all of our brand new babies, and bolster up the second generation of mothers.

She always had a wise word, and a bone-creaking squeeze.  We were never in any doubt of how much she loved us.  And we loved her right back.

She was a genuinely devout woman:  she Walked the Walk.  She did a lot of good, not just for us, but for many, many others.  I remember her showing me a very special typewriter that she kept at her house.  I was not allowed to touch it, but was allowed to touch the thick paper she used in it, after she had finished with a page.  Each one was dotted with clusters of tiny bumps I could feel with my fingers--  that was the only Braille typewriter I have ever seen.  Tekker would spend many hours transcribing documents and entire books for the blind, and she began to teach me to read with my hands.

Another one of the skills she was famous for was her quilting.  The enormous wooden quilting frames were first set up for the ladies at her church to use.  Together, they spent many happy years collecting, sorting and cutting scraps into a wide variety of shapes, then carefully piecing them together.  I would dearly love to know how many hundreds of quilts the ladies created and donated to charity over the years.  Another happy result was that I was the recipient of dozens of bags of Tekker's quilting scraps, having just learned to sew, myself.  Tekker would laugh heartily, and say that she never imagined how anyone could make use of the scraps of other people's scraps...  but, I managed quite nicely, as I was intent on furnishing a doll's house.  My quilts boasted squares no bigger than a baby fingernail, and that fact pleased her to no end.

Once her husband retired from his parish, the frames were brought home from the church, and her industry was set up in the basement of her house.  It was there that she taught my mother the special running stitch that binds the multiple layers of a quilt and creates a delicate pattern, as they worked on a gift for my as-yet-unborn baby:  the very first grandchild in our family.

A "drunkard's path" quilt
After the death of her husband, Tekker kept ticking along, quilting, cooking, and tending to her garden and her friends.  Eventually, though, her own health gradually declined, and she was welcomed into a retirement facility where she received the care that she needed.  There, she had a room to herself, and the staff encouraged her to make use of one of the many common rooms to once again set up her quilting frames.  She continued to work away, and we continued to visit her.  Each time I took my girlies to see her, we would pour over her unique photograph albums:  they were filled with pictures of the quilts she had made over the years, in all their fine detail.  The one design that I'll never forget-- and one that I had the good fortune to admire in person, as well-- was called "Drunkard's Path", and the combination of colours and pattern produced an optical illusion that boggled the mind.  Photographs of her children and grandchildren were naturally thrown into the mix, as many of her later quilts were designed especially for them.

The last time I saw Tekker, she had asked that her quilting frames be taken down:  she had completed her final project.  The common room seemed so empty with only a jigsaw puzzle on a table, but the girlies and I dutifully put in a few pieces.  Tekker's conversation had always been punctuated with phrases like, "God willing!", spoken in her gentle Southern accent.  But this time, she seemed to take even more care in how she spoke, letting us know that she'd be able to do things "if The Lord saw fit" that she should still be with us.

She was happy to see us, sorry to see us go...  but I do think that in her heart, Tekker was tired, and she was getting ready to leave us.

Yesterday, as I began decorating my house for Christmas, Tekker's formidable spirit finally slipped away.  The gaping hole her absence leaves in our family can hardly be described...  and yet, I find it hard to actually feel sad.  She was such a Christian, in the most heart-warming sense of the word.  I know that she firmly believed that there IS a Heaven: a well-earned reward for all of the loving and giving she did while she was here with us.  I can picture her now, in my mind's eye, enjoying what she had been looking forward to for so very, very long.

The gathering of family and friends to celebrate her life is tomorrow, and I am certain that we will all mourn our loss.

But, more importantly:  we will all give thanks that we had the great good fortune to be mothered by the miracle that was our Tekker.

Missing you.


merinz said...

You have written a beautiful tribute to a treasured and loved friend.

How I wish we could all have had a tekker in our lives.

Candygirlflies said...

Thank you, Merinz...

I have a feeling that YOU are the "Tekker" in several people's lives, too.

xoxo CGF

Nan Sheppard said...

Oh, honey, I am just in tears reading this... Bless you, and bless that amazing woman. I would love to see more photos of her quilts!

Aimee @ Smiling Mama said...

Oh my goodness. What a beautiful post. What a wonderful gift Tekker was to you and so many.

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