The incomplete quilt, carefully wrapped in tissue paper, had been shunted from pillar to post for almost eighty years during the many household moves my parents made. Rarely did it see the light of day, stuffed away as it was in linen closets and basement trunks, so none of the colours faded. My mother could quilt but she never finished it. Perhaps she felt the memories would be too painful. Mum finally gifted it to me during one of her downsizing periods. I couldn’t quilt but I did collect antique linens. Once again it was stored away in a box.
With the quilt came the story of its beginning. I remember few of the details and my mother is no longer here for me to ask. It was evidently begun by Madge, my mother’s oldest sister. My mother and my Aunt Vi helped her. There were two Violets in the family, a sister and a sister-in- law, but whether one or both helped is unclear.
I never knew my Aunt Madge. She died in 1941 before I was born. I. heard the tragic story again and again growing up. She was only thirty-nine and left behind two small boys, boys I finally met when we were adults.
Madge, born in 1902, was the first of George and Isabella Willett’s seven children to leave the farm overlooking the Chaleur Bay on the Gaspe Coast. She earned a teaching certificate at MacDonald College in Montreal and took her first job in Abbottsford in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. There she met Albert Whitney, an apple farmer. They married in 1934 and she happily settled into a familiar life as a farmer’s wife. The family quickly grew with the births of my cousins, David and Paige.
Then illness struck. Madge was diagnosed with cancer. My mother, now a surgical nurse working at the Veteran’s Hospital in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, traveled to Abbottsford on her days off to help with her sister’s care and with the two lively boys. Both Violets were also living in Montreal and they too were able to help. During this time, the last months of Madge’s life, they worked on the quilt together, faithful doulas accompanying her on her final journey.
Today the quilt has been completed. Two women from the Victoria Quilts branch in the Laurentian Mountains village of Arundel did the work. The Victoria Quilts organization makes beautiful lap quilts and gives them to cancer patients to keep them warm during their chemotherapy. Elizabeth Wood selected and purchased the backing and border fabric along with the batting. Pat Thomas did the hours of hand quilting. She claimed that the original stitches on the quilt were the tiniest she had ever seen and said she did her very best to match them.
The quilt fits the queen size bed in our guest room. The simple motif, repeated twenty times, is a flower pot made of brown triangles pieced together and appliqued to a beige background. Each pot holds a single brightly coloured flower with green leaves, all pieced and then appliqued. It has a modern, stylized look yet with a feeling of fresh growth.