My mother loved to wear muumuus; some folks call them “shifts”. She made her own throughout the years and had some that were “work in the yard” muumuus, and some that were a little fancier for special occasions I suppose. She never wore a muumuu to church but I remember her sitting on the lawn in Edmore, weeding the flower beds in her muumuu. My dear sister Penny (who is quite a seamstress herself) made Mom a muumuu that I always admired. I thought Mom looked great in it. It was had a dark blue background with small lavender flowers. Mom collected teddy bears and Penny had attached a small bear bauble as a little adornment to the muumuu. Mom wore that thing until the front of the cotton fabric print was a faded as the back.
When Mom was downsizing for a move into assisted living, Penny helped her clear out her closets. It was my job to take the bags of clothes to Goodwill hoping someone else could make use of them. When I picked up one particular bag, my heart skipped a beat. There was the muumuu with the bear attached. I knew Penny had participated in the sorting, but I still couldn’t manage to part with that muumuu. I pulled it out of the bag and tossed it unceremoniously into my closet.
Mom died in January of 2018. The last three nights of her life my sisters and I were camped out in her assisted living apartment. Bill had brought my anti-gravity chair and I slept in it every night. I could get up and down easily and quietly to check on Mom. After she passed, the chair went back into the garage with all the other lawn chairs.
Late last fall I made a memory bear for my sister Penny using that muumuu that I had salvaged from the Goodwill bag. I carefully cut along the seams to save the best amount of fabric to use. I am not a seamstress so it took me several prototypes before I felt like I had one that was acceptable to give. I made a second bear for my dear sister Sally, from a soft and cuddly pair of Mom’s pajamas. My dining room table was covered with bits of fabric and ribbon and Mom’s sewing machine featured prominently for several weeks. This was definitely not my calling. In addition to the sewing machine I used Mom’s scissors, thread (some on wooden spools), and pins for the project. It seemed like the right thing to do. I felt Mom’s love for each of these women running through my hands and fingers as I worked. The bears were on the homely side, but they were crafted with love.
It was hot in Michigan yesterday. I worked for a while on my tomato supports and then decided to run the chainsaw in the black walnut grove. Our grove is to the back of our property and I think of it as my sanctuary. It gives me satisfaction to maintain it, be present in it, and share it with others. It’s like an amazing fort. I cut several dead trees down and stacked the wood in the wagon. I smiled when I remembered cutting some limbs from a tree at Mom’s house in Thompsonville. Mom was well into her 80’s by then and remarked that Dad had never allowed her to run the chainsaw. I knew that she was letting me know that she’d like “a go” with mine. I did not offer. I would not be responsible for the chainsaw massacre of my mother!
I had consumed the water I’d carried with me and headed to the final tree for the day. I struggled with that one. In spite of my best efforts, the wind was blowing strong enough to move the tree in the opposite direction of my felling notch. Eventually, Bill joined me and we both endeavored to convince that tree to fall to the west; however it tangled instead in it’s neighbors to the east. As I finished up, Bill drove the tractor and trailer back up to the garage to tighten the chainsaw blade. I moved some limbs and dragged one felled tree out of the pasture before I began the walk back up to the house. Again, Mom was on my mind.
My mother pushed her physical body to the limit on many occasions. There was the time in Edmore she climbed to the top of the tree in the front yard to start sawing off limbs at the top. I don’t recall exactly but I do hope she was NOT wearing a muumuu for that job! And of course the time she cut her thumb off at the knuckle using the table-saw. That had crossed my mind several times as I attempted to fell the obstinate tree. I had more caution than usual recognizing that I was getting tired and hot and feeling Mom’s experience acutely. In addition, Mom had once suffered serious heat exhaustion while working on her property in Virginia.
I was definitely feeling the flush in my face and goosebumps on my arms as I neared the back porch. Again, I thought of Mom but knew that at least if I collapsed in the middle of the yard, Bill might notice. Granted, it might not be until after the blade was tightened on the chainsaw but good chance he would notice my still body on the lawn … eventually!
I made my way to the porch where Bill had set the anti-gravity chair out the night before. I’d used it frequently the summer after Mom died and it is still my go-to chair when I want to seriously chill. This was definitely one of those times. I nearly fell into the chair and requested Bill get me some fresh water.
I looked into the beverage holder on the table of the chair to make sure it was empty when my water glass arrived. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. People are known to hallucinate when suffering from heat exhaustion. I took the small scrap of fabric between my fingers.
Recently, my sister Sally wrote quite beautifully about signs or messages from those who have died in her blog “One Wild and Precious Life”. I had several ironic experiences after my dad died, but I would not have staked my life that they qualified as “signs from beyond”. My skepticism was challenged when I recognized the piece of fabric I had taken from the beverage holder. It was a small scrap from Mom’s lavender flowered muumuu. I felt a profound reassurance and connection to my mother, along with a bit of a freak-out.
I have racked my mind since yesterday, attempting to ascertain how that scrap came to be in the chair on this very day when the memory of Mom had been so prevalent. The chair had not been in our house – ever. It had been used multiple times during this very summer and I’d noticed nothing in the beverage holder. I am truly at a loss, though still a skeptic at heart. This little piece of fabric seems quite significant to me now. Part of me thinks I should treasure it while the other part of me cautions against it. I’m afraid I’d tuck it safely away only to forget all about it until I “found” it again someday. I have spent way too much time pondering this situation and don’t want to put my feeble brain in the same position again years (or months) from now.
I missed my Mom’s counsel yesterday. I missed being able to talk to her. I’d like to think I received at least a bit of her attention.