I don’t know a lot about quilts, but I’m pretty sure we have only one true quilt in our house. Rachel – my oldest daughter – is really fond of it. If you ever manage to peek in her room – you will probably find it casually draped across her bed.
I’m not a discerning consumer of bedding and linen, and I don’t usually have much of a recollection of where things of this nature came from. Ask me, for example, where my pillowcase came from, and you will probably get a blank stare. But in the case of this particular quilt, I can take you to the very place where it was bought, and I can even tell you about when it was purchased.
In the late 1980s, shortly after I was married, my grandmother – “Momma Ritchie” we called her – gave this quilt as a Christmas present to my (then) new bride. It was beautiful. And it struck us as an unusually extravagant thing to give, especially for the wife of a retired farmer/preacher from East Texas. To this day, we still occasionally lapse into warm recollection of the sense of elation that she experienced in presenting it to us.
Momma Ritchie was a living expression of one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith: that of joy amidst every circumstance, even great hardship. She raised four children through the Great Depression, a period in our history that makes the current “downturn” look like a walk in the park. One of her girls, a young adult at the time, died in a tragic accident. Yet in spite of the weighty events and struggles that she experienced during the prime of her life, and in spite of the fact that she and my grandfather no doubt continued to strain to make ends meet throughout their lives, Momma Ritchie remained a beacon of exuberance and happiness.
More often than not, she would greet me with a scream of delight, dropping everything that she was doing at the moment, then seizing the opportunity to kiss me on the lips and pinch my cheeks (even in adulthood) while going on and on about how glad she was to see me.
During my childhood and teen years, my family – along with the families of my dad’s other siblings – would often travel to visit her shortly after Christmas. During those visits, she would work tirelessly to make sure that her children and grandkids had all of the food they wanted (and more!), and comfortable places to sleep. Often, she was the last one to bed and the first one up in the morning. And through it all, she would whistle and hum softly to herself. It was only years later that I came to appreciate how much WORK she was actually doing. When I watched her, it all seemed so effortless and natural. Service and hospitality were simply two more sources that fed the seemingly inexhaustible well of joy from which she drew.
During the last few years, Momma Ritchie has suffered from what I gather was some form of dementia. Though she could still recognize my dad, she knew very little else about when or where she was, or who was around her. Still, in spite of the loss of much of her memory and awareness, her pleasant, even enthusiastic demeanor remained.
Today, I learned that, after living for over 98 years, Momma Ritchie has passed away. Later this week, she will be laid to rest just a short drive away from the home where she lived for most of her life.
I will not be there. But thats okay. As many who are close to me already know, one of my eccentricities is that I often grieve best in solitude and reflection, a place where I find myself during these early morning hours.
As I sit here, awash in memories – many of which are decades old – I see that, like an elegant patch on the quilt that lies across my daughter’s bed, Momma Ritchie’s character and demeanor has become an integral part of my own identity. I am grateful to have known and loved her, and equally to have been loved by her. She will be dearly missed.
May she rest in peace, and rise in glory.