The summer I turned 14, I spent a week or so with my Grandma and Grandpa at their house in Decatur, Illinois. This was a tradition of sorts after my family moved to Indianapolis — a week with Grandma and Grandpa every summer. Looking back now, I’m not sure if the week was designed to give my mother a break (after all, we each took a week at Grandma’s) or to strengthen our relationship with our grandparents. Either way, at 14, I knew that a week at Grandma’s was a week without my three younger brothers. It meant a week where I could watch whatever I wanted on television. I would read, we would go places, I would probably see my cousins.
That summer, however, I brought a project along with me — a quilt that I had started. I learned the basics of quilting from my other Grandma, my father’s mother. Grandma C taught me to sew two blocks of fabric together when I was 6, and had me making doll-size patchwork quilts while she worked on a bed-size version. Grandma C died of breast cancer when I was 9. I kept sewing though, and by 14, I was ready to tackle a bedsize quilt. We didn’t sew the whole time, but when I look back at my memories of that week, I remember my Grandma patiently working with me to make sure my blocks were square.
My Grandpa got in to the project as well, sitting at the dining room table and carefully cutting out blocks of fabric in even, straight four inch squares. My Grandma worked with me on using the sewing machine to quilt — my other Grandma always quilted by hand, and so using the machine was a new idea for me. Neither my Grandma or my Grandpa were often vocal about their feelings with me. I knew they loved me, but they didn’t often say it.
Looking back though, that week — the patience, the time, said more than words could ever say about the fact that I, one of their 8 grandchildren, was special to them. When you live your life as one of four children, you don’t often feel singled out for attention the way I was that week. The finished product went with me to my college dormitory, and my student apartments, to my law school townhouse and my homes since then. When I divorced my first husband and moved home to Indianapolis, the quilt and one other blanket were all I had on my bed air mattress for months, until I selected new bedding.
That quilt has been with me through thick and thin, warm nights and cold days. The quilt is now as much a part of my life as my appendages.
Last night, Little J spent the night with Grandma J. Big J headed off to the office before the crack of dawn. So it was only the babyand I this morning. K Man sucking down his bottle, me slurping my coffee.
K Man drifted off to sleep after his morning bottle and I settled him on the floor. In the quilt. And it occurred to me that when we put the quilt together, more than twenty years ago, I did so with no thought that one day, many years in the future, the quilt would shelter my tiny baby. I was just making a quilt, with my Grandma and Grandpa.
I think that’s the beauty of quilts though. You have the memory of making them. And then you also have all the memories of the life you lived while snuggling under the quilt. A quilt isn’t just a blanket, it’s little bit of personal history, made with love. Someday I will tell my boys about making this quilt, with my grandparents that passed away many moons before my boys were even a twinkle in my eye. I hope in that story, some small part of my grandparents lives on.
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