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Words about words, brands, names and naming, and the creative process.

#sparkchamber 021819 — Lorraine Quinn

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Family February continues this week in the #sparkchamber as we celebrate the 90th birthday of [my mom] Lorraine Quinn. Born [née Sardi] in Springfield, MA in 1929 to Italian immigrant parents, the youngest of three girls, the first in her family to go to college, Lorraine followed the path of the American Dream. She graduated from Salem State University [then called Salem Teachers College] in 1950, and married well-known and well-respected Optometrist and Rotarian John Quinn in 1953. The happy couple bought a house in Beverly, MA where they raised their two daughters to be independent-minded straight-shooters. Though John passed away in 2014, Lorraine still lives in the very same house to this day.

The house, on a corner lot, is surrounded by meandering, whimsical, vibrant gardens, primarily filled with perennial flowers, and dotted with sculpture and wind chimes and colorful artifacts from local artists and found art. John always planted a variety of tomatoes each year in the sunniest patch in the backyard, and though it’s not even close to the same, the tradition continues — now including a wild selection of herbs, and a vegetable or two as well.

Working in the yard was how weekends were spent in the spring and summer months. John mowing the lawn, Lorraine planting and transplanting, tending to the flock, the girls [me with great reluctance — I hated it] doing as told, weeding, digging, watering …

Lorraine was raised in the idle-hands-are-the-devil’s-workshop tradition — or maybe it’s just her formative years during the Great Depression — so any “free” time was filled with other tasks. She worked full time as an office manager in a couple different medical offices over the years, but she was always home in time to cook supper and get it on the table for family dinner. After work, she would knit sweaters and skirts and hats and scarves for family and friends. [For a couple of years, she taught knitting classes once a week at a yarn shop in Salem, MA.] When we were younger, she would also sew — curtains, placemats, clothes. I have a memory of grade school, the night before the first day of school one year; Mom was in the cellar sewing up first-day-of-school dresses for my sister and me. Our bedroom was over that part of the cellar and I could hear the sewing machine whirring. [She could also hear us talking and laughing and she would shout, “Go to sleep!” which made the two of us laugh even harder.]

After we left for college, Lorraine took up needlepoint. Little projects at first, growing into startlingly gorgeous samplers and tableaux. Some are framed and hung on the wall, others are sewn into throw pillows, table runners, and other decorative functional items. Everywhere you look, inside the house and out, there’s something touched by her hand, created with her boundless energy and care. In three days, she will celebrate her 90th birthday. The yard is covered in snow, the trees and bushes gray and bare. But in a month or so, as the days start to get a little warmer, a little longer, she will be itching to get out there and get busy. Another spring sprung, a lot of work to be done.

1] Where do ideas come from?

In the garden you see an empty spot, a bare spot that you know is in the sun or in the shade. You know it would make a good location for something, and you start to think about what would fit nicely there. You consider the things around it already — if you want it to blend in or to stand out. Maybe I would go to the nursery and see what they have. Or maybe I would transplant something from somewhere else.

It’s always ongoing. There’s no way to separate any one thing from everything. The whole landscape, how it changes across the seasons. Maybe that bare spot is there because something didn’t make it through the winter. Or a skunk dug it up in the spring. Or maybe it’s always been there but just now it catches my eye for the first time.

2] What is the itch you are scratching?

The magic of it. You plant a seed and it makes a flower. Then it makes a few more. it’s really your own little art.

3] Early bird or night owl? Tortoise or hare?

I’d rather get up and get into it. By the time the afternoon comes and the evening — I’ve had it. I’ve always been that way.

4] How do you know when you are done?

If the project smiles at you, you know it’s ready.

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