Each fall as I see hillsides of deep color and texture, I am reminded of an embroidery panel of my mother’s that I saw as a child.
I have no memories of my mother sitting and embroidering. I suppose, now, that she did such things after we kids were tucked in or perhaps while I was away at school, especially for the two or three years when we lived in town, prior to the farm, after which I’m sure she never sat down to embroider again.
Despite that, every fall, I am taken back to our house in town, upstairs, to a small nook off the main part of my parents’ bedroom, to my mom’s sewing area where I discovered the embroidery.
The panel was large, perhaps two and a half feet across and a foot high, the left third or so embroidered, the rest just muslin with faint veins of blue guidelines.
I ran my hand over the finished part, astounded at how an entire hillside of evergreens, leafy trees, bushes, and reeds grew from the different stitches and small knots made with various hues of thread. Where and when had she learned to make a piece of fabric come to life? Looking at it was probably my first experience with art appreciation.
I don’t recall asking my mom about the embroidery, but perhaps I did, or maybe she noticed me admiring it, for I have a vivid memory of the day, not long after that, when she introduced me to the craft.
I was home sick from school, in my parents’ king size bed, heavy with bed covers, their warmth, their scents. Their room was just down the hall from the kitchen where I could hear my mom and call to her when need be. She tended to me with soup, 7-Up, and things to keep me occupied between naps.
At one point of waking, she was there with a small piece of muslin and several shiny, silky threads. I have no memory of her teaching me, but she must have, for I can see myself, a pajamaed girl in that vast sea of bedding, hunched over my work until it sapped from me every bit of the little energy I had that day.
When I could concentrate no more, I lifted the work from my lap to take a final look at what I had accomplished, and when I did, up came the sheet along with the embroidery. Every stitch I had made had gone through not only the muslin, but the sheet beneath it, the sheet in my lap that warmed my skinny, seven-year-old legs.
“Mom!” I screamed, feverish, fatigued, and devastated that my embroidery would forever be a part of her bed.
She was there right away, not angry, tender as always, telling me not to worry, that she could fix it. When I awoke, the embroidery was detached from the bed and there were more stitches in the muslin than I had put there and they were even and lovely and not those of a beginner’s hand.
I have no other recollection of my mother’s embroidery panel, no knowledge of whether it was ever completed. She may have put a lot of time into it initially, and then, as her days and priorities changed, put it aside, then, finally, away.
Yet still, the embroidery that I see every fall upon textured hillsides is that season in my life, that day, in particular, when my mother’s presence, her attention, her patience, were the stitches that constituted her love.