Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Women's and Gender Studies
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Women's Studies
Patchwork Memories is a relational memoir that illustrates the experiences of a mother and daughter. It was written over the course of six months, from September, 2007 to March, 2008.
I began writing the memoir exactly two weeks after my mother passed away from a four-and-a-half year battle with lung cancer. Originally, the story was to become a “straight” memoir, but after a couple weeks, I found myself creeping into the stories just as often as my mother appeared. I decided it would be inappropriate to write a memoir about a woman who could not offer her own insights about her life, or re-tell her experiences. The people closest to her were still in the mourning process, and I thought it would be inappropriate to interview them extensively.
Because of this, I decided the work would not be a “straight” memoir, and it would instead be a relational memoir, which would delve into the relationship between the two of us. This particular genre examined my own stories, and my mother’s own stories in relation to the systems that surrounded us, the systems that brought us together, and the systems that pushed us apart.
What began as a personal therapy project, soon turned into a much larger undertaking. It was decided that the short stories that I began constructing could turn into a larger piece.
However, the stories did not flow in a linear way. The beginning could very well have been the end, or even the middle. Grief, I learned, was not a linear thing; there is no end, and it often circles back around, starting from the beginning when one least expects it. Because of the difficulty involved in figuring out the order and places where the stories should fit, and the impossibility of constructing the memoir as one solid piece, the choice was made to continue creating small vignettes. These short stories became known as “quilt pieces,” which were strung together at the very end to form the patchwork.
The quilt metaphor grew into an overall theme while creating the project. The very place of quilts in families and society as a whole was incorporated into the thought process while constructing the literary quilt. Quilts were thought of as safety blankets, family heirlooms, and traditions passed down from mother to daughter. There are many kinds of quilts and quilting patterns. Some quilts are made with the hands of a knowledgeable seamstress; others are created from old blankets, clothes, and other pieces of memorable fabric by someone with less skill. The latter often have harsh contrasts between pieces, but come together in the end when all the pieces are aligned and the quilt can be seen as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts.
This quilt was made with many memorable pieces, and while they did not always fit perfectly together, when the stories were finished and finally stitched to each other, it made sense. There was order in the way they were placed.
Gordon, Maggie, "Patchwork Memories: A Mother-Daughter Memoir" (2008). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 524.
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