You Can't See the Pattern While the Shuttle Flies

“You can’t see the pattern while the shuttle flies.”

I have heard my mother, Dolores Parrish Gurley, say this many times in recent years-usually when she is in a philosophical mood, a quiet time of reflection, or when she is reassuring a younger friend or family member.  At 90, we are all younger than she.Dee Gurley

The quote originated with my grandmother Lena Cashion Gurley. I have no memory of her, though I am told I spent a good bit of time in her care as an infant and toddler. Grandma Gurley lived most of her life in a company house belonging to Erlanger Mills in Lexington, NC. The shuttle she referred to flew back and forth on the enormous looms in the mill across the street as they wove thousands of yards of cloth.  Each line of thread added to the pattern and it was true that often you couldn’t really see what the whole pattern was until it stopped.

I used to own a small loom and do some weaving myself. I loved fingering the textures and twisting together different yarns and colors as I tried to imagine what the woven scarf or placemat might look like. Even after carefully setting up my loom and counting threads to establish the pattern, I was almost always surprised at how it turned out.  It would take many passes of the shuttle before I could get a glimpse of where I was going with my creation…or where the creation was going with me.

Last week, my mother turned 90.  I was one of many toasting her before 45 gathered guests.  All of her grandchildren were present and 4 of her 7 great-grandchildren.  Friends had travelled from Charlotte, Atlanta, and around North Carolina, and family from Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, and New York. Many others, unable to come, sent letters, photos and cards to share.  As part of our celebration, we had gathered some of her many memorable quotes, both reverent and not, and paired them with photos of her for a slide presentation that drew a lot of “Aaws” and plenty of laughs. We have since made it into a small book. The collection of quotes themselves are a tapestry of poetry verse, quotes from other relatives, many now gone, and song lyrics. It was funny how some were universally known to family and friends and others were especially remembered by only a few. Among those gathered, it was clear that many are being passed along to future generations.

I introduced the slide show with the quote above. I invited those gathered and my mother to look around the room, full of smiling faces, brightly colored shirts and dresses, rambunctious children, white haired friends, flowers and a bountiful buffet. I wanted just for a moment for her to see just what her presence meant to so many people. Her life had not always taken the turns that she had expected or planned for. But the ingredients, warp and woof, were rich and fine and strong enough to survive circumstances that might have torn a lesser fabric: friendship, intellectual curiosity, attention to detail, self-reliance, faith, a bit of mischief and a raucous sense of humor that tempered her strong need for order and routine. Most evident, and reflected back in those faces, was a lot of love.

None of us could have expected this moment. No one, especially my mother, ever expected to live to be 90. Certainly we knew of only one other family predecessor who did. It occurs to me that this is what celebration is for- a time to pause, to stop the shuttle for a moment look.  On that  sweet sunny September afternoon, it wasn’t hard to see and appreciate my mother's artistry as we basked in the beautiful life that she has woven.


Slide Show Excerpt:

Dee on St.Patrick's Day

"First of the day- God knows we need it"




Dee and Santa

"I don't need a man to know I'm good."



Aunt Pittypat


"I'll think about that tomorrow, Scarlett."



DPG Baby pic

"Children's face looking up, holding wonder like a cup."






"Glad you got to see me."


  1.  diane's avatar
    | Permalink
    Thanks again Kay, that day will be a memory,much discussed & much re-lived !!!!!! Please give Aunt Dee an extra bunch of hugs from Virginia !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Take really good care, much love, Diane
  2. Jacquelyn Hall 's avatar
    Jacquelyn Hall
    | Permalink
    What a lovely story. And that quote says it all.
  3.  Barbara's avatar
    | Permalink
    Just a lovely meditation on life. Thanks for the inspiration to you and to Dee. Love, Barbara

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