In 2014, the day before her 47th birthday, my cousin Cally died of a heart attack. No one expected her death. She was young, full of life, part of the world.
Her mother is a cherished aunt of mine.
In remembrance of Cally, I made a quilt from scraps to give my aunt on the first anniversary of her daughter’s death. I purposefully chose to use scraps leftover from other quilts that I’d made for family and friends.
That so many pieces of other people’s quilts should be part of Cally’s quilt seemed appropriate. She touched so many lives. It didn’t matter whether or not she knew all of the people I made quilts for because she wouldn’t have known all of the people her love, laughter, friendship, and charity inspired and touched. Acts of kindness ripple from those we know to those we don’t know. It’s the premise of paying it forward.
When I finish a quilt, I sew a label on the back of it. Cally’s label was special because it was large, eight by ten inches. Using a special technique, I transferred three photos of Cally onto the label. In the first picture, the winds of Wyoming blow her dark blond hair off the sides of her face. Behind her a dirt road heads to the foothills of a mountain range near her hometown. Scarves of white clouds flutter though a blue sky. Cally is both smiling into and squinting against the wind. She’s about fourteen. All things are possible.
In the second picture, Cally is standing with friends in a market in Morocco. Cally loved to combine travel and adventure. She rode camels on this trip.
The third picture is a candid portrait of Cally, probably in her 30s. Her head is turned almost to a profile. She’s watching something or someone we can’t see. She’s beautiful. Her brow, nose, cheekbone, and jawline proportioned like a statue of a Greek goddess. Her given name Calandra is of Greek origin, meaning singing bird or lark. In her left ear, she wears an earring. I can’t see the details of the earring because it’s out of focus, but I like what I can see. It’s dainty, but not too small. It hangs down from her ear, but not too far.
I was twelve when Cally was born. Most of my memories of her are when she was a baby and a toddler. After her parents moved from Wisconsin to Wyoming, I didn’t see Cally or her older brother for years. In the early 2000’s, sometime after Cally had children of her own, her uncle who lived in my town died. Her mother, brother, and she came for the funeral. Cally and her mom stayed with me. We became reacquainted; the twelve-year age difference no longer mattered. We visited, ate meals together, and laughed a lot. I never saw Cally again, and after she died in 2014, I treasured that time we spent together.
Today’s earrings belonged to Cally. One is a moose and the other a polar bear, both large, magnificent animals that are in peril as the earth warms. My aunt gave them to me when my husband and I drove to Wyoming in 2016 to visit. They don’t match. My aunt didn’t know why there was only one of each. These earrings weren’t sold as a set—each earring has a different rubber back. But I’ve seen earrings that are meant to be a mismatched set. Perhaps Cally and a friend each swapped an earring with one another as an act of friendship. It’s something Cally would’ve done.
Perhaps Cally lost the mate to each of these earrings. Like me, she wasn’t going to throw an earring away because then both would be lost. And because a lost earring is sometimes found.
I wonder if she ever wore them as a mismatched pair like I do. It’s something Cally would’ve done.