This little book has been such a labor of love. It has taken so long to complete because of the watercolor images that fill each page. More than that, I think this book was a little bit of a therapy project. My husband’s grandmother passed away suddenly some years ago and it rocked the family. You see, some people are glue, they hold people and things together. Tutu, as everyone lovingly referred to her, was the family glue. And when she passed things just weren’t the same, holidays, birthdays…days.
I wasn’t in the family long enough to really get to know her deeply, but her presence was strong and very real. When Tutu walked into a room, there was a calm, reassuring presence that followed. She was constant, you could always count on a warm smile, a sympathetic ear, a cigarette to be in between her fingers and a story… or two, or three.
I felt like she was the only person in my husband’s entire family that I had something in common with, that truly, wanted to find out who I was and cultivate a relationship. There were so many things I would’ve loved to learn from her, she was such an interesting soul. But by the time that started to happen, she was gone. Both, my husband and I were crushed. Not only had we lost someone, but it also felt like we were on an island, alone. It seemed like everyone in the family had someone to lean on, but us. That made her death feel even heavier. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, I don’t think anyone knew that Tutu called us on the phone to have a quick chat or that we went over for dinner just to say hi. In other words, I don’t think many people in the family knew there was even much of a relationship there for us to mourn. So, they might have felt there wasn’t a real need to talk about it with us.
But as the years have passed and our family connections have gotten more and more distant, that strain has become more real. I don’t think my husband or myself handled Tutu’s passing well. We healed, to a point, but when you loose someone so valuable it’s hard to form a scar. I think we were stuck in the scabbing over phase for a long time. Even now, sometimes it feels like the wound is just below the surface.
And even though we will never be over her passing, with each brushstroke, I felt a little closer to her. And in every Hawaiian word I researched, Tutu was there. Every time I wanted to give up and I was sick of painting the same scene over and over and my hand was cramping, I thought of the quilt. How many times did her hand cramp while she was making those perfect hand-stitches? How many times did she regret starting a hand quilting project for each of her grandchildren? Knowing Tutu, she probably never regretted it a day in her life. She loved making things and blessing people with them.
When the final proof of Tutu’s Quilt of Adventure came in the mail, I dug the quilt out of storage for the first time in a long time. I opened the stiff crinkled plastic and watched the contents fill with air and pop back to life. We said we kept the quilt in storage because we didn’t want anything to happen to it, but I think that was a lie. We just didn’t want to look at it. It represented everything we didn’t have but, desperately wanted to cling to. And as I laid it out and put the book on top, it was like two pieces of a puzzle coming together. They really did look great together. When I was done photographing, I casually left the quilt out of its’ crinkled plastic prison. And it stayed out. Days turned into weeks and I just couldn’t bring myself to put it back in storage. For the first time since Tutu’s passing, I wanted to see it when I walked into a room, to snuggle up with my daughter in it and read her the inscription on the tag inside.
For the first time in a long while, I wanted to share something that was painful, raw, real and beautiful.