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Memories Framed in Lime Green

Date: 
09/01/2018 - 20:30

By Mary Marcia Brown

0805181342.jpg The material that holds the memories together is green – lime green like the color Phil and I painted the kitchen in our first home.

The roof, windows and siding representative had given us an estimate for the outdoor repairs needed on the house. With the stark realization that those items were simply not in the budget at the time, I promptly made a trip to the local home improvement store to buy brushes and bright green paint. Windows, roof and siding may have beckoned our attention, but brushes and bright green paint won over our wallets. So, while the outdoor repairs waited, the kitchen walls were dressed in lime.

The lime on the quilt is a bit different however. It is embellished with thousands of tiny little dots. To me the dots represent the millions of strides Phil made to earn the shirts no longer worn, but mended into memories.

Some of the dots are a dark brown like the dirt trails trampled atop while Phil ran the natural terrain of 30, 60, 80 and 100-mile ultras. Some of the dots are darker, almost black, like the asphalt of Philadelphia’s Broad Street where, with Phil at my side, I ran the most miles I had ever run before. Other dots are red like the blood that was visible on Phil’s shirt from my and his brother’s vantage at the finish line of his first Ironman event in the Poconos. Still other dots are light blue and yellow like the cooling drops of rain that Phil enjoyed feeling on his skin while putting in long training miles under the Florida sun.

Every dot depicts a memory, and every shirt elicits an emotion that I wish I could share with Phil. I want to tell him how very proud I am of him for bravely rolling that modest, budget-friendly, entry level bike right beside competitors’ specialized, expensive elite models before racking it in preparation to tackle his first triathlon. I want to tell him how grateful I am that he was with me while I ran my first trail race, my first race on a sandy beach, and my first ultra marathon. I want to tell him I still laugh when I think about him winning that tiny bone-shaped award at the SPCA 5k in Delaware, just as I still smile when I think about how proud he was of the signed baseball his 1st-place age group place won him at the 5k Tiger Trot (I placed 2nd AG, and did not earn a baseball in my baseball mitt trophy – something of which Phil enjoyed reminding me).

The once race shirts, now quilt, surface memories of countless other occurrences as well, like: trips to different destinations, shopping expeditions for running attire that fit the temps, lessons about lack of sleep and poor nutrition decisions, and race dates that mark (and make more memorable) anniversaries, reunions, weddings, birthdays, employers, moves, achievements and so very much more.

On Phil’s quilt, November 18,, 2007 is the race date that started it all – the Philadelphia Marathon. Polyester remnants of that first race of Phil’s are stitched halfway down the front of the quilt, outlining the race route and landmarks contained in the city near his childhood home. He took me to them all; past the Schuykill River to the Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia Museum of Art, South Street, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Franklin Institute, the National Constitution Center, and every theatre along the way.

I smile thinking back to his ambitious first-race goal. Yes, he had run as part of the cross-country team for his alma mater, but in the almost 10 years that had passed since then, he had not run at all! That fact left him undeterred. For several weeks he began running to, around, and back home from a local park a few days a week. On race day, he bundled up in heavy running clothes, drove into the city, barely found a parking spot, ran from his car to the starting line (where he found that everyone had already taken off with the starting gun minutes beforehand), ran the full 26.2 miles plus the additional mile back to his car, jumped in the car, started the ignition and returned home.

He did it.

“Why start with a 5k, when you can start with a marathon?!?” Phil would jokingly laugh recounting his first marathon for the next few years.

It was ten short years that followed before Phil’s death, and his running ambitions never waned, but grew. He successfully completed dozens of ultra marathons on and through all types of terrain. He aspired to complete the Tahoe 200 next. I can only imagine which other race shirts would have joined Phil’s quilt if the universe had gifted him with more earthly time. In my mind’s eye, they would have been hugely impressive pieces of fabric upon which a multitude of additional memories would have been built. They would have also been part of the largest quilt conceivable!

Phil was 6’ 4” tall. The breathtaking quilt that my sister in-law, Angie, made for me, is a 6’ by 4’ masterpiece of pure two-sided beauty, that happens to be the first quilt she has ever made. In addition to the dotted lime fabric, and more than 50 race shirt patches, Angie also included specially ordered material with images of triathletes swimming, biking and running around Phil’s shirts. The time, attention, thought, precision and love that went into each stitch, is so apparent in this quilted treasure.

I must admit, time was needed for me to really look at the quilt. Initially, I was unable to really see it because of the tears that clouded my vision. With a little more time, I saw a few of the shirts contained in the quilt and could vividly remember the shape of Phil’s chest (once filled with life’s air) behind them. Tears would come again and disable me from really seeing the stunning stitching. Eventually, I folded the quilt, and left it lying on my bed until I could finally see past the salty haze and could remember the training, laughter, planning, spontaneity, and rewards represented in the fabric.

Now, three months after receiving the magnificently crafted heartwarming gift, the smiles outnumber the tears and the memories seem as endless as the dots that dress the grass-like fabric lines of lime green. Phil may no longer make physical strides, but he left his mark on the sport and community of running, and he left his everlasting mark on my heart.

(Mary Marcia is a runner and fitness professional navigating her way through the unpredictable terrain of life. She is President of the non-profit organization, the PHEEL GOOD Foundation, and she can be reached at marymarcia@pheelgoodfoundation.com. This column is featured in the September issue of Running Journal.)

PHOTO:Phil’s quilt, made by Angie Brown.

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