Jan 15, 2012

Quilting in Remembrance

When January 15th comes around, I pause to think how I best want to spend my day.....the day that my father would have turned 95, his birth day. A day that is now spent in remembrance, rather than in the joyful celebration it should still be. A celebration of his life, and all that he meant to our family, and those who loved, and cared for him.

It is always a bitter sweet day for me, because I miss my dad so very much, and because I have spent so many of his last birthdays in Alaska......celebrating with him and with my mom. I always made giant construction paper numerals of their new birthday age and taped them up on the kitchen walls along with a big "Happy Birthday" cut out of construction paper letters and candles. "Out with the old and in with the new"...the turning of a new number and a new age....one of us would say, and we would both laugh.

It is always Martin Luther King's birthday as well, and a day when we both celebrate, and honor his life and his work, by giving and doing for others....a national "Day of Service."

So, today, I chose to do what I often do....I will work to finish a quilt for donation to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative in honor and memory, of all of my family members (both sides of my family) who faced and died from Alzheimer's Disease and in memory of my own surviving mother, who faces its advanced challenges, still.

My little quilt, peeking above was made of some of the bits and pieces from my sewing room. It is filled with browns and blued grays and gold. Blue and gold for my home state of Alaska's state ...the land of my father's birth on our little Douglas Island home, where I also grew up...and grays and browns for the color of our last name, which even as a derivative name still meant "earth and clay"...the basic substances of symbolic creation.....whether one is a pioneer, an outdoorsman, or an artist.

It was my father's birth name, of course, and mine. And we took in and carried the dreams of many different kinds of gold as we went through the wondrous spiritual alchemy of turning that iron ore of the mountains, the clay of the earth, and our pioneer hearts and hands, into dreams of alchemical gold. Threads of gold ran in his veins, nuggets of gold in his heart, and shimmers of gold covered almost everything that any of us ever dreamed of.

Born at home to pioneer Finnish parents, growing up on this little island as one of many young children and learning to treasure the importance of family as they all worked together to live off of the land as much as possible while my grandfather literally mined for gold. A land that my Dad passionately loved and treasured, a land where he learned to hunt, and fish, build, draw, paint and photograph.

Working as a paperboy, he met and was mentored by a well known Alaskan photographer when he was only 11, given his very first camera by this man who recognized the passion and drive and talent that my father carried so deeply. He built his own darkroom, and printed his own black and white photographs, and went on to take many correspondence classes in photography and art and music, electronics and construction and history and science. Class after class beyond what he could glean from our small public schools. And lessons learned from experience, as well as bought up North on big barges. as he poured over freight 'wish lists' of things that could be ordered from afar.

He fought in WWII...one of five brothers who went off to war, and one of the four who lived to return. He was lucky, after having fished the oceans for so long, he was well versed in the ways of the sea, the ocean currents, and hidden dangers in its' depths, and was given the job of skippering a supply ship in the Aleutian Islands. Oh, how he loved finally being the captain of his own ship and perhaps even the master of his own destiny....yet still serving family, and country, combined.

He acquired a beautiful French penpal in Louisiana..my mother.....fell in love and married her after the war, and took classes at Tulane University in New Orleans in art and medicine and anything he could fit in,a life long pioneer spirit filled with the love of learning, and love of land, country, and family.

Love of Alaska and family called him back and all five of us children were either born or grew up there...on our little island with all of the hardships but also all of the fun and freedom, as well. Oh, what a challenging, but wonderful life we all had...and so much of it because of him...this hard working, outdoorsman with the soul of a poet, and an artist, but one who was carrying the innate strength of iron ore, the catalyzed and burnished spirit of metal, but still with such a heart of gold beneath it all.

A little quilt filled with remembrance of all of those early dreams, and all of that searching for gold and the creation of my grandfather's perpetual motion machines. Men of their times and yet so far beyond them, as well.

And then a bigger quilt filled with the brightest vibrancy of life...in honor and in service for this other holiday, and other day of remembrance.

One little quilt to make a difference for one great dad, and one big quilt to make a difference with service for Martin Luther King's birthday. Here, vibrantly colorful orphan blocks are being combined into a much larger (perhaps a throw or even a twin sized) comfort quilt for some needy child in my community. A quilt to wrap up those dreams in, and perhaps dream of even bigger, and better ones than they might otherwise have had..... without all of the love put into it and all the energies of creation and manifestation as I seek to bless it, and some future owner, as well.

And so, I sew! Back and forth...little, than big and big, then little. No room for sadness, or loss, just vibrant remembrance when the heart is full and the hands stay busy.

How can it not be a good day, today and again, tomorrow? And if I get them both done by the end of the week...a very good week to look forward to, as well! I come from a long line of dreamers, so I can dream too, can't I?

The little art quilt shown in this post has been donated to Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI)

and will be available for sale or at auction.

Michele Bilyeu Quilts With Heart and Hands for the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI) Join in my Liberated Quilting Challenge...and buy or donate a quilt, today!! We are changing the world...one little quilt at a time.


Josie McRazie said...

ha, I laugh because my Mother always said that it is not MLK day... it was my Grandmother's birthday and that is why we celebrate! She was one of six kids and passed in 81, last week the next of her siblings (at 99) passed, not bad there are still 4 of them going strong. Happy Birthday and celebrate the memories of them today!

Angie said...

What poignant memories enscribed in your very breath and soul---I feel as if your Dad has been a part of my life from birth on...even more so now does his soul, and yours, call out to mine. I long for and love the 'alchemy' of long-buried 'memories' from beyond the stars---before our birth, drawn and created from bits and pieces of the seas, and lands, and precious gems and metals...You are such a beautiful soul, and with every tribute you write to your earth family, I understand more about how you 'came to be so'. Sending love and hugs and joyous memories
Blessed Be

Debra Dixon said...

Quilting can never just be about sewing pieces of fabric together. It's always about the interaction and the story. You tell that story so well!

Have a blessed day full of precious thoughts and memories.

Unknown said...

Ah Michele, you've done it again..got me choked with emotion..what a beautiful description of your father, vivid and vibrant and so lovingly remembered with treasured recollections. I bet you can feel him near on a day like today when your heart is so full of love, understanding and admiration. Thank you for sharing, its a joy to read. x

jenclair said...

I love the ability you have to bring your father, your family, your history to life. Honoring those you love in your heart and in your hands...

Wendy said...

Hugs!!! It's so beautiful that you remember your dad by making this little quilt this way.

Lynne said...

What a beautiful post, Michele; a great honour to your father.

Today is the second anniversary of my dad's death (from cancer discovered too late) - like you, I miss mine terribly! From him I inherited creativity and today I should use some instead of being tied to my computer all day!

Merrie Jo said...

Thank you for sharing your story and for sharing your talent with the world.

Deborah M. said...

A wonderful tribute to your father, as are your quilts.

quiltmom anna said...

I love this post that celebrates living a life rich with experiences- it is so joyful. You celebrate your parents each and every day you live, by the way that you contribute to the world at large. What wonderful memories of parents who were great role models of how to enjoy and really live life. Thanks for sharing your father's fantastic story and for honoring him and your mother, by creating your beautiful quilts. They are treasures- just like you..
Warmest regards,

Unknown said...

Beautiful! Poetry, honor, love, gratitude, family and bits and bobs of quilting all in one wonderful post. Thank you! Blessings!

Scrappy quilter said...

Wonderful words...thanks for sharing them with us. Your words always touch the soul. Hugs