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The stolen quilts

Su Lum

Last May, after my daughters, granddaughter and I had been out to visit my mother, her hospice nurse called to say that mother was failing fast and probably had only a month or two to live. This came as no surprise, since we all felt that it may well have been our final trip to New Jersey, and each of us had spent the last night there in private grief.The surprise was that she rallied, I spent three weeks with her in October, she voted (absentee) against Bush – her dying wish – celebrated her 98th birthday on Nov. 7, and we’re working on plans for a visit in the spring.The sad part is that there is not going to be a happy ending to this story. My mother, who reports, “I’m mostly pretty good – I hardly ever hurt,” is not going to leap out of her bed like the grandfather in “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and float, laughing, on carbonated bubbles.The saddest part is that my mother is, slowly but surely, losing her brilliant mind. When I was out there this fall, she was obsessed with the conviction that she had been on a long trip to her childhood home in Florence, Ala. She refers to this as “The time I went crazy,” but she still can’t believe it wasn’t real.My old friend Doris Barlow used to have hallucinations that were realer than real – she’d call me and say, “There’s a little man in my bed – he’s about 3 feet tall and wearing a tuxedo.””Can you talk to him?” I would ask? “Can you touch him?” and she’d shy away from my questions.Now my mother is obsessing about her quilts, thinking that someone has stolen them. My mother was an expert potter until her late 70s, and when she could no longer throw the clay, took up quilting. Hand damage and arthritis put an end to quilting in her early 90s, but during her productive years she was world-class, making quilts and smaller pieces for her children (3), grandchildren (3) and great-grandchildren (5), all hand-stitched and labor-intensive.She also made two full-size quilts for her own bed and two wall-hangings, one for the living room and one for her bedroom. Now she’s asking, “Where are the rest of them?” “What happened to the rest of the quilts?”My heart sinks, remembering Doris telling me that the cat in her room was an impostor, striking at Suki (cowering under the couch) with a broom handle and thinking, “Oh, Doris!”I hear my mother getting that Alabama hallucination tone in her voice, explaining that she KNOWS there were many other quilts, but when I ask her to describe them she can only describe the ones that are there. And I think, oh, mother – don’t let go. Don’t go crazy on us and have to be sent away to a dreaded home.Part of me thinking there but for the grace go I in a couple of decades that will flash by like a couple of weeks, and part of me thinking, “Don’t forget me. Please don’t look at me and not know who I am and think that I have stolen your quilts.”Su Lum is a longtime local who knows that most of you have been through something like this. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.


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