Chelle Summer

thank you


Michelle Rusk

Before my friend Bonnie died– just three weeks after my dad in January 2006– each time I would go to her house, she usually had something to share with me. She was in her late sixties when I moved across the street (although I got to know her better in the years after I had moved a few miles away) and I would often spend evenings with her sewing or working on some other crafty project. One time she had my first husband bring back nautical rope from a trip to Portland, Maine (he worked for a company based there) and she gessoed the yellow rope white and we made shell wreaths. That's the sort of things Bonnie liked to do.

Often she would have pages in marked in Martha Stewart's magazine for me look at or family items pulled out to share stories about her family or her husband Greg's family. 

The tablecloth above was given to me after she died by her daughter Sadie who wasn't into giving dinner parties and had no use for it. I'm not sure the last time it was used– or the matching napkins. Bonnie bought it in Middle East (most likely Saudi Arabia) during the time they lived there because Greg worked for an oil company. 

When Bonnie was dying of cancer, I spent as much time as I could with her and at some point she started to ask me which of her things I might like to have. Or she offered certain things she knew Sadie wouldn't want (sadly, Sadie– who has since died, too along with Greg and Bonnie's son Gordon)– had a prescription problem and just about everything Bonnie gave her was sold to pay for drugs, including many quilts that Bonnie had made. 

One afternoon as we sifted through fabric she asked me if I would like her dining room table. There was one reason for this, one thing I really wanted was a table that would fit twelve people around it. I have no idea who those twelve people would be, but I just liked the idea of having that many people around one table. 

It was never mentioned again because she died not long after that and I didn't bring it up because it wasn't my place to. I'm sure she never mentioned it to Sadie, simply because she was on a morphine drip and didn't always remember what we had discussed. The table got sold, but the tablecloth and napkins were given to me.

In the nearly eleven years I've had them, I've never used them. My current table doesn't fit that many people and with the many losses in my family, I haven't had reason to put that many people around the table. Any family events I had before my mom's death when I was living in Illinois were at her dining room table (now in the loving hands of my sister Karen) with a tablecloth of mine or Mom's. Bonnie's tablecloth always was pushed to the bottom of the drawer.

However, on Thanksgiving this week, I will gather the entire David and Delcia Rusk family at my dining room table (we'll be bumping my desk– which is my parents' kitchen table and a leaf for it) up to the dining room table. I'll cover it with Bonnie's tablecloth and we'll use the napkins that match it.

We'll top the tablecloth with Greg's and mine wedding china combined with Delcia's mother's china from Argentina. 

It feels more significant than ever to recognize Bonnie in my life. My mom was the one who instilled my creativity in me, always encouraging me to write/draw/create/sew, but it was Bonnie who took it to the next level teaching me so much more. As I continue to forge my lifestyle brand– Chelle Summer– forward, all that Bonnie taught me is going to yet another level.

Using her tablecloth is a way of saying thank you.


Michelle Rusk

Saturday evening we were walking out of a restaurant with a takeout order for our dinner when a woman stopped me and said how much she liked my bag. Of course I was carrying a Chelle Summer bag, but this was the first time in the nearly year since I made the first one that anyone had commented on it when I was carrying one (except my gynecologist when I was leaving my appointment with him, yes, him– obviously he works with a lot of women so I'm sure has learned a thing or two about style over the years).

We had just come from church where one of my prayers on this particular Saturday night was asking to make sure I am doing what I'm supposed to be doing. 

Sewing, like writing, is something that often is done alone. And alone can be good– to a point. I work from home and balance that with walking and running the dogs early in the morning (where I have my "park" community to interact with) and doing errands. I also make sure to break up my day with a swim– weather permitting. And I have my job interviewing people for a military grief research study that keeps me engaged with the participants and the people I work with.

But I'm lost in my thoughts much of the time either writing, at the sewing machine, or cutting at my dining room table where I have plenty of space to spread out the rolls of fabric. While I don't ever feel like there is enough time to create everything I want to, one of my daily prayers is to "stay the course" so that I don't get off track. And because I'm alone, not knowing if what I'm doing is going to be a dud or something great, it's a challenge to keep positive when there is only me to talk to.

In particular over the past week, I've had multiple conversations with people who have told me how much they enjoy seeing all that I'm creating, mostly shared on social media. It's my goal to keep creating and share it, not worrying about the rest (like what happens next!). Hearing those comments helps me to keep going and they keep me reminded that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing: sharing through living the life that I want to have.

To all of you who are inspired by my work, who enjoy seeing it, who tell me how much you enjoy it: Thank you. Thank you for being part of this journey.