I remember helping my mom pack up my childhood home. I was twenty-four and pregnant with my first daughter. That feels important to mention, because the bending over to wrap things in paper and place them in the box was killing my back. I found the quilt folded inside a heavy plastic bag in the rear shelves of our hallway cupboard. I’d been in those cupboards a million times during my childhood years, but I’d never seen it.
The quilt was stitched with vibrant colors, but the black velvet and burgundy satin squares caught my eye most as I held the plastic bag in my hands. “Mom, what the heck is this? I’ve never seen this!” She explained that she’d almost forgotten about it too, but it had belonged to my grandparents. She’d wanted to keep it protected—she was afraid the fragile fabrics would tear if it wasn’t stored in the bag.
This Christmas, the edges of my family feel like the fabric of an heirloom quilt that was never safely stored. We are tattered, torn, and a bit tired. I’ve wondered how it will feel to have my three adult children come home for Christmas— home to a city they’ve never lived in, to a house they’ve never been to, and to a church they’ve never attended. It has resurfaced a tenderness that felt so raw a year ago, when we drove a FOR SALE sign into our yard in Kalamazoo.
When we moved to Michigan over seven years ago, it felt like asking our three older kids to sew new pieces into our own family quilt. That first Christmas in Kalamazoo felt awkward and there were many words about the missing faces and the loss of queso from Alamo Café in San Antonio. Now we are in this space again, and I’m not sure what it will look like for my three young adults to feel that this new city is home.
It’s been five years since Katy flew home for Christmas. Most of our years in Michigan, she was nearby, after choosing to uproot her life and move close to us. “I want to have lived where y’all are going to be, so when I come home with my family someday, I’ll have my own memories of the city.” Today I am tearful, remembering how important it is for her to feel connected to the place we live. Her patchwork moving square is made of velvet. The edges have holes where the stitching has come out. The fabric is noticeably smaller as we try to add the new pattern of Austin to it.
Allison arrives tomorrow morning. She will wear her oversized black Christmas top hat while she drinks coffee and sits around in her pajama pants. Allison came to see us a month ago, not wanting Christmas to be her first time in the house. She wanted to taste what our life is like here because she knew the days of Christmas would quickly fill and she wouldn’t be able to really get a sense of Austin. Her square is vibrant, fuchsia, moiré taffeta. It’s sturdy, but it also frays in long thin strings that come off the edge just when you think it’s going to patch up nicely.
Steven will be the last one home, arriving on Saturday, to join us for three short days. There’s a sense of wanting to make sure every second counts. He will feel the loss most deeply of home no longer being in Kalamazoo. The traditional parties with his friends piling out of their cars, descending the basement stairs to play video games for hours, and making midnight runs to Steak and Shake will not happen. Steve’s square is soft, well-worn, and taken from a childhood blanket. It has some give to it, but it’s also thinning and must be given great care as the next square is added to it.
Today the work of carefully sewing new squares begins for our family. I find myself trying to lay the squares out and pin them together in my mind, as if I can create the pattern I want if I am just attentive enough.
The reality is, I must simply show up, pay attention, and lovingly engage each new stitch.
As Anne Lamott writes, I am threading my needle, making a knot, and finding one place on the other piece of torn cloth where I can make one stitch that will hold. And I will do it again. And again. And again.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12). She is the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for 30 years, she is mother to five kids. After a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is. She writes about her life and her work here.