Stitches and words—that’s how we came together and what we had in common besides Karla and Richard and Kortney and Derek. But they came later. In the beginning, it was just stitches and words.
- The first time I came face-to-face with Sherry was the doorway of her home. We had just purchased a house next to Central Park, and I had my heart set on custom-made balloon shades for my kitchen and breakfast area. No one was shy to tell me that Sherry Tulk was the only soul in Artesia, New Mexico who could tackle anything nearly as sophisticated as working balloon shades. That day in her living room, I was only two sentences into my request, when she offered that brilliant smile of hers, “No problem. We can fix you up.” I never did understand the “we” part. She measured the windows, made the pattern, sewed the shades and hung them all by herself. She was a one-woman show. Unless she was counting the fact that God helped her… because Sherry had a heart for God that shone through every word and everything she did.
Before I left her that very first day, I noticed an open book turned pages-down on the table. All it took was that glance for Sherry to tell me all about the novel she was reading. This isn’t an exact quote—it was too long ago—but paraphrased, she said something like, “I love the words. I just love the way they go together to make the story, the whole lovely picture.”
“Like threads in a tapestry,” I said, sharing the same love.
“Like little stitches!” and she laughed. “Just like my stitches when I baste and tack and sew the seams. Every word in a good story pulls the plot and its people together like needle and thread.”
The balloon curtains Sherry made were top quality—delicate blue and white clouds puffed over my windows, high quality like the artisan who made them. I had no idea in ’87 how often my path would intersect Sherry’s over the next twenty-five years, and throughout these years, Sherry constantly invested her creativity in loving others. Just one example was one of her last projects, actually quite recent, when she took Walmart bags and wove them into mats for the homeless. She filled her life with open-handed, time-generous charity.
As a teacher, a writer, and a student of people, I am convinced that one of the best ways to see any individual’s real heart is to know the family that she nurtures.
I saw Sherry’s heart in her wonderful grandchildren who I was lucky enough to teach in multiple ages and stages.
I witnessed her gift of empathy and generosity when I became one of her daughter’s walking partners, and that led to the close friendships I still treasure—even long-distance. So I came to know Sherry’s loyalty and devotion through those qualities she’d passed on to Karla.
Then my own mother moved to town and became good friends with Sherry, as well. They bible studied together and, of course, they discussed sewing. It was a kick to hear them talk about their latest projects, and thinking about those conversations led me to realize the aspects of character their handiwork represented. Never mind the task commitment, raw talent, sense of color, of design and the pure skill that Sherry, my mom and all other accomplished seamstresses share, but when I skimmed some of the words of their trade, I bumped into new appreciation as well. Here are just three:
Bias—Sherry’s bias was no more than looking to and leaning on God.
Facing—a hard-working rancher’s wife and a mother, she faced life and problems with fierce determination.
Stabilizer—in sewing terms that’s an under layer that supports the strength of the shape. I just loved that because Sherry never grabbed for the lime light—she was that steady constant at the edge of the stage keeping everyone else on track, just behind the curtains—curtains that she probably made.
Not long before I left Artesia, Sherry agreed to be a beta reader for one of my newly completed book manuscripts. I can’t think of anyone I would have rather recruited. Who better than an artist who valued my craft as much as her own, who understood that every sentence must pull its weight and connect the rest? I mean, this was the lady who told me up front that stitches are like words… but honestly…
Sherry translated stitches into passages of love exactly the way I try to. The word stitch came from an old English root that meant to stab, to pierce which is why some unknown person in history watched a needle stab fabric time and again then called it a stitch. To me that describes not only how stories are put together but also our lives—joy and mercy and hope each gathered and tucked, fastened with consistent stabs of doubt and disease, small and large jabs of pain. Sherry had her share of jabs, like the rest of us, yet she filled so many people’s days with the products of her happy craft and the loving heritage she and JC paid forward in two children who created incredible families of their own.
I don’t know every member of JC and Sherry ’s family, but I can promise you that her most adept stitches show in the smiles of Kortney and Derek, in their courage and confidence, in the heart of faith and grace that Karla and Richard practice every day—these legacies are the best, skilled creations of the expert seamstress. I will remember her with love and more than a little awe for how, over and over, she used a needle to show the face of God.