Memory, Making, and the Gift of Inheritance
A reader's vignette.
If to remember is to reembody, then we will remember well only to the extent that our bodies—hands, eyes, lips, ears—take part in the formation and sustenance of our homes. Physical practices of making, rather than passive habits of consumption, marshal the resources of the entire body in service to memory. The humility of handwork, moreover, issues a prophetic challenge to our neighbours, communities, and nations.
To see how physical practices of making can empower memory, consider my quilt. For years, I slept beneath a quilt my great-grandmother had made. My mother, looking at the blanket, can still name the pieces of cloth in the patchwork, recalling whose shirt or dress had contributed the scrap. Even as I moved far from my childhood home, the quilt taught me to remember the legacy of my mother's family: their value of Scripture, of laughter, and of a kind of prophetic contrarianism. When the heirloom was finally too fragile for everyday use, I decided to make my own rather than buy a new coverlet. To do so, I used remnants from the fabrics my mother had used to make my own childhood clothes. Th us the witness of a handmade, inherited good not only galvanized my sense of memory and identity but also shaped my future practices of homemaking. I was led away from an economy of exchange and exploitation, and back to my own household, to practices of gift and inheritance.
In other words, the things we make—from a house to a loaf of bread—can and should serve as powerful emblems of our covenant and calling. Preparations for the creation of a garden or a kitchen require the makers to think through questions of value: Should the table be large enough for our nuclear family, or will we make it large enough to welcome guests and fosterlings? Will the cost of ingredients be our bottom line, or will we spend extra to support a local farmer? In other words, putting our hands to work for the sake of our homes and institutions requires us to remember our values and translate them into the practices of daily life and business.
When we pray for the establishment of our homes or institutions, we should pray for the grace and joy to establish a dwelling place with our own hands. I might go so far as to say we should try to build the very structures we inhabit, or at least to cultivate friendship with those who build them for us. In the slow work of making, we train our bodies, as well as our minds and hearts, to remember our inheritance and our hope. While some may dismiss my argument as nostalgia, making things by hand—creating heirloom objects and shared experiences—produces far more than sentiment: it carries the weight, warmth, and story of the good quilt on my bed.