Once the trial was over and I jumped back into life, I began to look forward. Thinking about the future, I felt I needed to do things that would honor who Christopher was. I also knew if there were objects we could see and touch, they would keep Christopher present in our lives. Our family put a picnic table, with a dedication, on the east peak of Mt. Tamalpais. It reads “Always With Us CRH 1974-96 (Christopher Robin Hotchkiss – his father’s name is Robin).
Christopher Robin Hotchkiss
May 16, 1974 – March 21, 1996
Murdered with a handgun
I dried every rose petal that came into our lives, from family events and presents, and took them up to Mt. Tamalpais, where we had spread Christopher’s ashes. This was a way for me to share happy family times with my son (you can only leave natural things on the mountain). While the rose petals were a sign of happy times, when they spilled to the ground on visits to Mt. Tamalpais, I found myself filled with sadness. Parents are not supposed to outlive their children, and when I visit Christopher, this really hits home for me. It is so out of the natural order of things.
One day, in my spring organizing, I was going through papers and found the poem Christopher’s girlfriend, Dawn, had written when he was murdered. I had not been able to read the poem when she first gave it to me; I was so raw and every emotion I experienced was so very hard. But finally I was ready to read what Dawn had written. It is such a beautiful poem. I read it often to this day and it ALWAYS makes me cry.
I wanted to love you forever
But forever came and went
Cause you were taken by an angel
That God had sent
I’ll never forget your smile
Or the way your green eyes would shine
Whenever you told me you loved me
I wish you wouldn’t have left me behind
Your love was so special
Like nothing I ever knew
I miss hearing your voice
Saying I love you
You filled my life with joy
hope and dreams
But I never dreamed I would lose you
I guess nothing’s ever quite as it seems
I only knew you fro a short while
Yet it seems I knew you my whole life
I loved you with all my heart
And I hoped someday I could be your wife
But now that dream is gone
And so are you
I feel like part of me is missing
And I don’t know what to do
You’ll be in my heart forever
There’s nothing anyone can say or do
To make me forget my memories
My memories of me and you
“It is better to have loved and lost
than never to have loved at all”
I know this phase is true
And I thank God everyday
That I was loved by you
I have always loved the tradition of quilts, stories in fabric, handed down to the generations. My mother had taken me to museums and art shows where quilts had always made an impression on me. My favorite, the “wedding quilt,” with its ring pattern, seemed very lucky to me. I decided I wanted to make a quilt about Christopher’s life. Originally, I thought I would make the quilt myself; but in the end I commissioned a local artist, Liz Piatt. I wanted Christopher’s quilt to be a signficiant piece of art, and Liz had been recommended by dear friends.
The first time I met with Liz to discuss the quilt I felt completely comfortable. She showed me examples of her work, which were all beautiful. I immediately relaxed, knowing the artistic process was in capable hands (and not mine!).
This is Liz Piatt’s story (reprinted with permission from Liz Piatt – article in American Quilter Fall 2001):
In early 1999 I was commissioned to make a quilt for a woman whose son had been murdered three years before. It was an especially challenging request since I had never known the young man or his family. I needed to ask many questions, but what do you say to a woman who has experienced a parent’s worst nightmare? I awaited our first visit with some trepidation and with precious few questions in mind.
My fears disappeared shortly after his mother walked through my front door. Her loss was tragic but she could talk about it and answer my halting questions. She wanted a quilt, she explained, because she wanted something she could touch.
Her only request was that 21 hearts be included somewhere on the quilt – a heart for each year of her son’s life. She left me with a box of photographs: a toddler sitting in a wagon, a young boy proudly holding up a fish he had just caught, a teen-ager smiling after his high school graduation.
I began Christopher’s quilt by thinking. I knew I wanted the quilt to be a summary of his life. It was especially important to me that it be a happy quilt, with a few touches of humor if I could work them in. Day and night I thought about the quilt. Usually I work on four or five projects simultaneously, but this work was so emotionally charged that I put everything else aside and worked only on it until it was finished.
I decided that since Christopher’s mother had requested 21 hearts, I would make the hearts the main substance of the quilt. Accordingly, I divided the quilt into 25 ten-inch squares (five squares across by five squares down) and placed a large heart on 21 of the squares. The squares would become like pages in a book, each heart filled with things that had been important in Christopher’s life during that particular year.
Now the questions flowed. I needed to know all about Christopher. What were his favorite toys? What did he like to do? What were his favorite holidays? Via phone calls and letters, I asked many questions. I spoke not only with Christopher’s mother, but also his only sibling, Christina, who gave me a different viewpoint and left me with a loving quote, “He gave the best hugs ever!” I knew that quote would occupy an important place on the quilt.
Since I had learned Christopher’s favorite colors, my first step was to lay out all the green and blue fabric I owned. I decided to hand appliqué and hand embroider each heart before appliquéing it onto the background square. As soon as I finished the first square with Christopher’s birth date, the quilt took off. The work itself was slow, as objects like the cat were totally covered with hand embroidery.
While I worked, I thought about Christopher and his family. Somewhere in the middle of the quilt I began to feel as though I had really known him. He seemed to be continually in my thoughts. The extra squares at the bottom I filled with creatures Christopher loved, plus a poem written by the brother of Christopher’s mother.
When the 25 squares were finished, I machine-pieced the top and pinned the three layers together. As I hand quilted the top, I had much time for reflection. It all seemed such a loss – this smiling young man who had so many friends and had made so many people happy.
Was it sad to make this quilt? Yes, it was sad, but it was positive too. I was glad to be the one chosen to create the quilt. I was glad that I had been able to learn about and relate to this wonderful young man. And I hoped in some small way this quilt would help Christopher’s family.
The pickup date arrived and once again I waited for the family with trepidation. Would Christopher’s mother feel the quilt represented her son? Would she even like the finished product? She arrived with a few family members and friends and from the reception the quilt received; I knew it was a success.
Oddly enough, when the quilt left for its new home, I felt a deep sense of loss – as though I had lost a friend. Only then did I realize how emotionally involved I had become. With time, the feeling of loss has faded, and I have been left with the happy memory of a young man I never knew, but will never forget.
Liz called me to come get the quilt on the day before what would have been Christopher’s 25th birthday. Family and friends gathered quickly and we went for the viewing. I asked Liz to show some of her other quilts first so people could see what an incredible artist she is. When Liz brought out Chrhisopher’s quilt, everyone gasped, and then happy tears started to flow. To us it was more beautiful than any of the others, because it was the story of our lives with Christopher. The twenty-one squares with hearts represent his age when Christopher was murdered.
Square by Square – adding to Liz’s story
Square 1 – A special star is born. Christopher’s date of birth is embroidered in the star – May 15, 1974. I was shopping at Safeway when my water broke. I went home, made dinner (I remember it was Sheppard’s Pie) for my husband and then asked him to take me to the hospital. My labor with Christopher’s sister Christina was 48 hours long so, I thought I had plenty of time. Not so. Seven hours later, Christopher arrived, an 8 lb. 10 oz. bundle, with a mop of brown hair and green eyes.
Square 2 –Born into a warm and loving home. When I was nine, I asked my mother if I could have a baby. I wanted something to take care of. I love being a mother, feeding, holding, and nurturing my children. To this day if I hear “mom” in the grocery store or anywhere, I look about me.
Square 3 – Early fascination with life. This quilt square is quilted from a picture of Christopher sitting in a red radio flyer wagon. From the very beginning, Christopher was alert and very aware of his surroundings. He was a very sweet, cute baby and used his charms constantly to get whatever he wanted.
Square 4 – The green blanket (lime green and his absolute favorite!) and childhood toys. At ten, Christopher immediately adored this bright green, adult-sized blanket. It was with him wherever he was in the house, snuggled on the couch or in his bedroom. If Christina had it first, he’d figure out how to wrestle the blanket from her. The stuffed animals were mine and the kids would trade off sleeping with them.
Square 5 – Birthdays are big celebrations. We always made a big fuss over people’s special birth day. Liz wanted people to know Christopher had a sister, Christina, and that his favorite ice cream was Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough.
Square 6 – Favorite foods. Orange jell-o, lasagna, Honey Nut Cheerio’s, macaroni & cheese and Brach’s Candy were Christopher’s favorite foods. My cooking was a big part of our family life. I love to cook and on their birthdays, Christopher and Christina could choose their menu. Christopher always wanted lasagna. Macaroini and cheese was a staple in our houe. I would make it from scratch for family dinners, but we always had boxes of Golden Grain for hungry kids to make themselves.
Square 7 – Love of insects. Christopher had a fascination with insects; he loved things that crawled, caught every bug, and would create habitats for them, feed them for a while, then let them go. The Aquarium and the Museum of Natural History were favorite places to visit.
Square 8 – Happy family times on the Merry-go-round. I love merry-go-rounds and we would go visit the carousel in Tilden Park, as well as fairs that would come into town. My mother took me and I took my children.
Square 9 – Valentine’s Day. This was a special day in our home. We invited all the single people we knew and had a big party. It was fun and made being single on Valentine’s Day not so bitter. We usually had a big crab feed at home, but occasionally we would go to a restaurant.
Square 10 – Lizards and snakes. Christopher loved reptiles. I love them now; because of him, especially Geckos. He had snakes, a monitor lizard, geckos, and a newt, which all became pets for him. His love of these creatures lasted his entire short life.
Square 11 – Favorite sports. Christopher loved the San Francisco 49er’s, the San Francisco Giants, skateboarding and basketball. He was die-hard fan, watching all the games and attending in person with his Uncle Paul. He was also our orthopedists “favorite” patient because of skateboard injuries. We had a basketball hoop in front of the house for 20 years, which Christiopher made sure was well used. When we replaced the roof after many years, it was hard for me to take down the hoop.
Square 12 – Pets, Alphie our dog and Cinnamon our cat (who are both in heaven with Christopher now). Alphie came to live with us when Chris was about 11. The neighbors upstairs got him from the SPCA for their mother, whose dog had passed. But every time she saw Alphie, she burst into tears, so Alphie came to live with us. He had lived on the streets as a pup and it took years before you could take food from him. He slept with the kids and outlived Christopher by seven years. Cinnamon we bought for a senior friend, but she ran away and ended up living with us. She was a very kind cat – a real lady.
Square 13 – Animals that live on Mt. Tamalpais. Chris dearly loved this mountain, along with the deer, raccoons, coyotes, foxes and bobcats living there. Christopher’s ashes are scasttered on Mt. Tamalpais, and I know he’s watched over by the animals that live there with him.
Square 14 – Hiking on Mt. Tamalpais. The silhouette is from a picture of Christopher, who would go up to Mt. Tamalpais with his friends and “check out the set” (watch the sunset). They’d be gone until dark, then come home and raid the refrigerator. Some of his friends still go and watch the sunset to honor Christopher.
Square 15 – Thanksgiving. This is our favorite family holiday and one of my favorite squares to touch. The turkey feathers are all hand embroidered. Christopher was happy whenever he was surrounded by good food, family and fun people. Our family invites everybody for Thanksgiving who doesn’t have a place to go, usually about 20-30. We stuff ourselves, and play games after dinner.
Square 16 – Friends and relatives. Liz embroidered the names of loved ones in the heart of this square. Family was very important to Chris, who is a very loving person, full of warmth and hugs.
Square 17 – Favorite games. Old Maid, Go Fish. Monopoly, Pictionary and Playboy Bunny playing cards were among Chrhistopher’s favorites. When I was small and lived at home with my brother Paul, if we got bored or in my mother’s way, she would send us to the game cupboard. Christopher and Christina grew up with the same opportunity.
Square 18 – Watching the sunset with his girlfriend. Christopher was a romantic and deep-feeling person. I would imagine these were very special moments.
Square 19 – Christopher’s graduation from High School, 1993. This was a huge celebration for our family because Christopher had learning disabilities. His graduation was a well deserved effort.
Square 20 – Gone fishing. One of my favorite “Christopher” fishing stories was from a trip to Portland to visit friends. Chris and his friend Michael had been fishing all day and had caught nothing. On the way home they stopped at Safeway and bought a huge fish. I have a picture of him holding it – the proud fisherman!
Square 21 – Heaven letter. Written by our neighbors’ children, Sami & Zoe, to Christopher in heaven, it is fitting for this to be the twenty-first heart. When I brought home Christopher’s things from his apartment (after his death) there were some homework composition books. One only had one page of work in it and Sami and Zoe asked if they could have it to write Christopher “letters to heaven.”
“He gave the best hugs ever.” is a quote from Christina.
Three more squares fill out the quilt, with things he loved including his monitor lizard, Sam. On the fourth Liz embroidered a poem my brother had written for the bench dedicated to Christopher, at Mount Tamalpais. Since we were only allowed 28 letters or numbers, including spaces, we used the poem on the quilt.
To us you were a special one.
Your life cut short, not yet done.
Who knows what you might have been?
We know one day we’ll meet again.
Also, on the back of the quilt is a light blue heart, inscribed by Liz Piatt:
While I did not know you.
I liken you to the
who, though short lived,
brings so much happiness
to so many.
A small cream colored heart attached to the light blue heart says:
Such a sad quilt to make – I hope it helps a tiny bit.
A light brown heart on the back says:
Made for Radha Stern
in memory of her son,
Christopher Robin Hotchkiss
– Born May 15, 1974 –
who was murdered
March 21, 1996
The quilt now hangs in my bedroom, where I wake up to it every morning. I like the fact that I can touch it at anytime. I run my hands over the squares and feel near to Christopher. It does help. Very much!
Liz making the quilt offered many gifts. First, I had a beautiful idea of how to honor my son’s life, and now it was a reality. Second, the quilt is a thing of beauty and just looking at it, without knowing the stories behind it, is uplifting. Third, by asking Liz to create the quilt, I was able to share Christopher’s life with someone who had not known him. In the process, he made a new friend. There are gifts with death.