“My main project, my ultimate work-in-progress, is Molly, of course. And today, she’s going away to college, clean across the country. Correction – I’m taking her away, delivering her like an insured parcel to a new life…..What better memento to give my daughter than a hand-made quilt to keep in her dorm room, a comforter stitched with all the memories of her childhood? It’ll be a tangible reminder of who she is, where she comes from….and maybe, if I’m lucky, it will offer a glimpse of her dreams.”
Many wouldn’t think of children as their works-in-progress, but of course they are, living and human, more so than any art project could be. Linda meets other mothers at a shop called Pins And Needles, where she’s often worked part-time and where women gather together. She says, “You can always tell what’s going on in a woman’s life based on the quilt she’s working on,” including memory quilts, often created by a group. Linda has kept mementos from Molly’s life – e.g. special buttons and bouquets and Girl Scout badges – to include in this quilt, a kind of visual book of what’s occurred. She wants to finish it before it’s time to leave Molly at her college, “the expiration date on her childhood.” And Molly herself is worried about leaving her boyfriend Travis, with whom she’s in love.
Linda also isn’t ready to let Molly go, although, unlike Travis, she doesn’t urge her to stay, knowing that she must begin a life of her own. She herself has never left her husband whom she met “at the local fireman’s ball twenty-some years ago.” While Molly drives the 400 miles from Wyoming to the East Coast, Linda sits beside her and continues to work on the quilt. Husband Dan isn’t good at verbalizing during their actual parting, but the night before Linda wakes to find him crying, and she assures Molly that “He’s going to miss you like crazy.” And as for Linda, “When I shut my eyes, I can picture so many moments, frozen in time.”
Thinking of Molly and landmarks in their lives (like taking her to her first day of school), Linda also remembers her own mother, who took in ironing to help ends meet, and wishes she were still alive so that she could ask her questions. She recalls, “I put off going to college,” her plan kept “being pushed back by the sheer unending forward march of bills, and the sheer bliss of spending my time loving Dan, making a home, creating our life together.” Instead of the charming bed-and-breakfast Linda imagined where she and Molly would spend a night-over, the first night they find themselves at a questionable hotel that boasts Magic Fingers. Surprisingly, Linda even picks up a hitchhiker, not being able to leave behind a mother and infant son, whose car has died on the road.
At a club listening to Beulah Davis and the Strivers with Molly, Linda realizes that “Like life itself, happiness is made up of moments” and wants to know if Molly is happy. Then Molly is surprised when two guys send over drink for her and her mom! while Linda remembers that “the last time I met a man in a bar, I married him.” And then “Molly came along and nothing was ever the same. She had the power to turn us into different people. We are no better and no worse, but different.”
The Goodbye Quilt is unique in that, although millions of mothers watch their daughters leave the nest, very few write an entire book on this topic, a very valid form of love story. In the novel Linda panics momentarily and thinks that she needs a “replacement” child, maybe one that she could adopt from Haiti, but her husband Dan assures her, via telephone, that “what you need is a life of your own.” Interwoven into her daughter’s life for years and years, much like the quilt she’s making for her, Linda has to decide that she’s done the best she could to make Molly’s childhood better than her own.
A journey of unexpected adventures make Linda and Molly bond more than ever in their trip across the country, remembering poignant parts of their history together as they go along. A very moving book for anyone to read, and particularly for mothers and daughters, I recommend this book very highly, especially because it isn’t about serial killers or exotic countries or amazing Olympian feats or thrilling topics, but “merely” about familial love.
The Goodbye Quilt by Susan Wiggs, published by Mira Books on March 29, 2011, 250 pages.
Reviewed by Christina Zawadiwsky
Christina Zawadiwsky is Ukrainian-American, born in New York City, has a degree in Fine Arts, and is a poet, artist, journalist and TV producer. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Award, two Wisconsin Arts Boards Awards, a Co-Ordinating Council of Literary Magazines Writers Award, and an Art Futures Award, among other honors. She was the originator and producer of Where The Waters Meet, a local TV series created to facilitate the voices of artists of all genres in the media, for which she won two national and
twenty local awards, including a Commitment to Community Television Award. She is also a contributing editor to the annual Pushcart Prize Anthology, the recipient of an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association, and has published four books of poetry. She currently reviews movies for , music for , and books for .