Friday, February 11, 2011

OMG,OMG,OMG ( or Tribute to "our" friend Valerie)

...well that was my response with the tears tripping down my face and finding it hard to breath. Not in grief per se but warmth and eventually true joy. Long story.

It started with my DH warming up the car for my trip out to meet a friend for dinner last night...he decided he would also take a walk along the street and check for mail (we have mail boxes at the corner of the street) whist he was out there. Our mail has been arriving after 4 p.m. these days so we either check in the morning or sometimes Esme checks in the evening as she is waiting for a pet shop Jaguar that she sent away some stickers for in early January. In any event he came into the house and handed me a brown envelope with a Royal Mail (UK) stamp for postage paid on it and I could tell it was from the Starry Eyed Stitcher as there was a label with her name and address on the upper left corner. How exciting, what could it be? A stitchy thing for me maybe...Ihad no idea what was to come. I cut the top off the envelope and took out the contents. There was a letter, a beautiful needle case that I was so taken with, turning it over and examining it...not really taking in "what" the stitching on it portrayed but acknowledging as you do how lovely it was and how well stitched by an experienced stitcher. Thinking at the time that is how it is supposed to look. Not really looking for anything else after this beautiful work...pulling out a gold bangle...thinking furrow on my forehead...opened the letter...started to gasp as I read what it all meant...OMG,OMG,OMG, it took my breath away.

Contents of the package
The connecting thread, as Starry Eyed Stitcher so poetically put it is "our" friend Valerie.
The needle case has three initials on it...what a treasure...MOB (mine) VB (Valerie’s) and IH (The Starry Eyed Stitcher). Isn't she a very clever and thoughtful stitcher. All will be revealed.

Our mutual friend…the connecting thread.

My first recollection of Valerie was when she had just arrived in Canada from England and visited out place with her husband (who worked with my husband - that was the connection then). Our son born in June, '74 was only weeks old and she was expecting her first child in November of the same year so we had some things in common and the friendship grew. Valerie was the friend you could get legless with one night and go to the most exquisite art collections/ galleries etc., the next day and the fit was still perfect. She was a great cook (her younger son is a chef) and after her move to Charlotte N.C. she had studied under a woman (baker) that had studied under Julia Child. She had an autographed photo of Julia on the wall in her kitchen right next to the stove (no pressure) way before Julia's fame in the movie. It said "To Valerie". Every time I looked at it I understood her passion for good, no great, breads, trying new recipes and adjusting them to her own taste whicih was fabulous, it warmed my heart. Valerie would not have pointed out this treasure unless someone noticed it and never sought any type of recognition of her accomplishments which were many.

Our lives went in different directions as the kids grew up. I worked on my career and she stayed home to raise her two boys, but we were always in touch. At one point we were gong to open a resturant together and went to look at some local premises...gave it up after some more thought. She was intelligent, thoughtful, and beautiful. Her handwriting was exquisite and she used to hand write the pricing labels for the items in the local Jewelers store window. Pre Canada and mummy, she worked in drafting and was very artistic and creative (as is her elder son) and was part of the team that worked on the drawings for the Forth Road Bridge (her name is there somewhere).

Later the family moved to North Carolina, and a few years after that move my work took me to South Carolina. Without hesitation a visit was arranged. I can still remember my excitement. I drove up from Columbia to Charlotte on the weekend and when my car drove into the drive way out she came to welcome me...of course...that was Valerie...and for many, many years to come whether it was Charlotte or here in Cambridge we welcomed each other with open arms. We cried together, laughed together, sang together (we did try Andre Boccelli music but needed short of a full bottle of wine each to pull that off). We went to Italy together and she recommended pre reading of Under the Tuscan Sun & Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes...the reading was usually accomplished on a plane as my life was work consumed at that time but she was so right. It set us up for what was to come. It was a wonderful time and it was when I worked on my first real cross stitch…the one that turned me on to cross stitch. She had the Lanarte Cherries in a Bowl chart enlarged on a printing machine and sent to me including the colour chart and extra threads she had from her project etc. It was one of those exciting times where I ran out and bought the supplies and started it almost immediately. I worked on it on the plane to London to meet her at Heathrow for the trip to Bologna, I worked on it on the patio after breakfast, before dinner etc., and she cheered me on. It was finished when I got back to Canada.

The Original
I have completed and shared five of these as it has great memories and is one of my favourite finishes.

I had always admired Valerie’s amazing samplers that hung on the walls of her home, beautifully framed. She was an amazing cross stitcher and also so encouraging.  She would send me books on cross stitch and patterns of poppies (which we both loved). Now I had (on her direction) went out and bought a little cheap kit and completed "The Flower Shop" pre cherries. I had used a single thread when a double thread was called for. As you know if you read this blog I’m not one for reading instructions. I tend to jump in first and get started. On a visit here she was very nice about it and said it looked just as good in the single thread…also got her husband to give his approval (I am sure she kicked him under the table) of this first piece of work.

Our family holiday destination is Hilton Head Island which is about 3-4 hours from Charlotte. First trip down there to scope it out we flew into Charlotte airport where Valerie met us with a packed lunch of delicious food and drinks, and some M&M’s to give us sugar energy for the trip. We picked up a rental car and they drove ahead of us. That was trip to remember with many talks over glasses of wine.  Great dinners cooked at the condo and high end resturant food.  Magical times.

She threw a surprise birthday party for her DH’s 60th and Jim and I travelled down on the Friday night and surprised him at a local restaurant under the guise that was the ultimate surprise. The men went golfing the next day and she was all prepared with lists and routes and schedules for a surprise party of their friends and his work colleagues in the evening. We picked up dishes (dinner and hot serving) at the rental party place and some last minute herbs etc., although she was very well organized with the rest and then back to her well equipped kitchen to make a feast fit for a king. She gave me instruction on some small cooking tasks and had the utmost faith in me that I could pull it off. She made it all look easy. I tried my best but she did an amazing job. Just before the golfers returned we got into our party clothes and awaited their arrival and the arrival of about 35- 50 guests right behind them. She handled it like we had gone out and bought fish and chips for all rather than her making many complicated dishes from scratch never mind organizing a special birthday cake, drinks and coffee.

It was a shock when the news of Valerie’s illness hit and although she was mostly positive about her life she succumbed to it in a short time frame.  At that time I was going through some serious back problems pre surgery and could not get out of bed let alone travel. I did talk to her by phone but that is not the same. Tears flowed, anger kicked in, sadness remains. It is like she is hiding somewhere and it is up to me to find her. So when this parcel arrived it opened up the flood gates you may say. During this time when Valerie was very ill an email was sent to her friend in England (connecting the threads) and had my email address attached in error (or something like that). Her friend in England (the Starry Eyed Stitcher) eventually emailed me as we were both confused about what was happening and what to do at that dreadful time all unbeknownst to Valerie. It was really great to have someone to talk to that understood the situation and was able to talk through it. Irene was Valerie’s friend before she even thought of coming to Canada and she was the one that introduced Valerie to cross stitch. In turn Valerie introduced me to cross stitch. The Lanarte Cherries in a Bowl came from Irene to Valerie and then passed along to me, my most favourite cross stitch of all time. Irene has also been instrumental in introducing me to blogging…I would not have done this blogging thing but I followed hers in the early days and thought it was a great blog and still is. http://starry-eyed-stitcher.blogspot/. My idea of blogging was to organize myself and focus better after surgery and serious painkillers interrupted my life and brain flow…and then it grew into something bigger. My cross stitch revival was championed on by Irene and my first linen piece was with her utmost encouragement…I just couldn’t disappoint her. The bangle that Irene passed along belonged to and was worn by Valerie. She liked jewelry and she liked old jewelry. She had some lovely pieces. In the past few years I have taken to wearing a bracelet/ bangle almost every day. I have fancy stuff and everyday wearable bracelets. When the parcel came in I was on my way to have dinner with a friend in “Preston” a place I rarely go but was Valerie’s old stomping ground. No coincidences.

I dried my tears smiled a little to myself looking at the bangle remembering my friend that is always close to my heart and how I miss her so much. I popped the bangle on, hopped in the car and off I went with my “friend” on my arm. She is no longer hiding…I have found her and she will accompany me to many things. She lives on in my heart and now visible on my wrist.
Life is beautiful when you experience true friendship and connecting these threads it is truly magical. Thank you Valerie for including Irene in my life however that was accomplished.  Thank you Irene for sending me this special gift. How could you have known what this would mean to me? The cross stitch is priceless and will be treasured by me…from you …and the bangle, well I don’t have the words to express what that means to me. Life goes on as we know but wonderful memories of those we love live on in a special place in our hearts. Thank you special friend.

1 comment:

Starry-eyed stitcher said...

Oh Maggie, we have some much more in common than I even knew. I did many of the same things with Val as you, Hilton Head, easy cooking tasks! She was such a great hostess and I remember whatever was needed in any situation, Val had a remedy hidden in her a bag, a pin, an elastic band,a pen, some thread, a tissue. I am glad I was able to give you this extra connection with our friend.
Special love and thoughts Irene xxx