The Old St. Hilary’s Catholic Church in downtown Tiburon, California is the most recognized historical structure in town. It is no longer only a Catholic building, but stands for history of the old days. Tiburon Landmarks Society commemorated the building with a project. They recruited local volunteers to needlepointing local wildflowers designs on kneelers for each of the sixteen pews. Since the Tiburon Mariposa lily on Ring Mountain became protected as an endangered flower the same year my brother died, and was represented as one of the flowers on the kneelers, I volunteered to make a kneeler, but the coordinator gave me a blue iris design instead. I didn’t really care, I just wanted my work to be in the old church.
It took me two years to finish that kneeler, with over thirty-five thousand stitches, twenty-four inches wide by over thirty-six inches long . The purple, yellow, white, three shades of green iris flowers were centered in the middle of the piece, and a coffee colored background filled out the rest. I developed calluses on my thumbs and fingers and my wrists felt weak from the in and out repetitious motion of the tapestry needle. I worked during faculty meetings, at airports, in front of the fireplace late into the night, during my vacations, watching my husband throw the kids around in hotel swimming pools, while I sat on lawn chairs working on the kneeler.
I spent dozens of hours sitting in my gray leather chair, lamp shining, threading and rethreading the various colors of yarn for the iris, tight stitches repeated with the same pressure as ones before, listening to talking books. Sometimes I needlepointed for up to eight hours a day, until my vision became fuzzy. My glasses were the only things that helped me focus on those little squares. I created little milestone units for myself within the stitches, like working in a one inch square, so finishing that part gave me a sense of accomplishment amid the vast coffee colored background, and my world became contained. My eyes focused on stitches, but my brain went other places.
I thought of my brother, long gone from Earth, and remembered how much he loved the bagpipes. He used to play his pipes up on Ring Mountain’s ridge at sunset. His tall silhouette remains in other people’s minds too, neighbors told me how much they loved seeing him walk and play in the hills, and Brian’s memory became everlasting.
It was worth it to spend two years of my life working on that kneeler. It became a part of me, guarding against forgetting. I wanted my work to be a tribute to my family and how much we loved Tiburon and for other families who lived in the town who no longer live there. I respect the glorious wildflowers we still have in small patches around our hills. Making the kneeler made me feel old fashioned, like part of Tiburon community in the old days. What’s ironic is that nobody knows its creator. None of the sixteen needlepointers left their names on their work. We are angels who rest in the pews. The heavenly wildflower kneelers add prayers to the old church, and many people may not even notice they are there.
One day, I pulled the last stitch and it was over. I remember sitting with the needle in my hands, looking for a spot I might have missed, but the squares were full of thread, and the design was complete. My husband and the kids couldn’t believe that did it. Everyone thought I would be on that project for the rest of my life. I drove it over to the project coordinator’s, and we placed it out on her table to admire it. The woman had also finished her own, and understood what it took to pull with persistence. My hand passed over the finished kneeler for the last time, a tribute to our family.
i agree that it’simportant to remember. we have many ways of remembering available to us, and a physical task very often helps. i built a large bird feeder “monument” for my mom soon after she died. she loved feeding the birds. it was part of her daily life. so that helps me remember some of what she loved, and the bell i bought the day we buried her ashes calls to me regularly at times that are very interesting.
thank you, pru.
Pru, you paint such beautiful pictures with words. While reading Guarding Against Forgetting I was completely immersed. May I visit the church in Tiburon? Sometimes physical things like a historic building and a kneeler with custom needlepoint helps us not forget, sometimes it is nature or a spiritual experience. My father took his last slow breath, laying out in the sunshine on his backyard deck that he loved, Within a minute, a Monarch butterfly flew gently near his face and slowly hovered over his body. Whenever I see a monarch, I always say hello to my Dad’s spirit.
When my best friend in grammar school died her sister gave me her favorite wind chime. When I hear it chime I remember Susie as she was then and as she was when we reconnected years later. Susie’s parting gift to me was her sister’s friendship.
Thank you for such a beautiful comment about your friendship, much appreciated.