On Quilting…and Gratitude

It’s my birthday. I recently starting quilting and so this year, my grandmother’s standard birthday card came with a gift. You can fit a lot into a 12 X 12 X 6 Priority Mail Large Flat Rate Box.

A completed lap quilt. Two finished quilt tops ready for me to sandwich and finish. Two pattern books from the early 80’s, the yellowed margins riddled with notes, pages marked with hand-drawn stencils. A packet of red ¼ inch bias tape. A fall-themed table runner. A crocheted trivet in the shape of a strawberry. A small plastic tub filled with pastel size 20 ball point pins. A crocheted hat the size of my palm that my grandmother has used as a pin cushion for as long as I can remember.

What can I say, she likes to share. I get this from her. I love that our enthusiasm is so often expressed in gracious giving.

I also know that, at 91, her memory is failing her. She is at the stage that she can tell me how much it bothers her, the small things that are slipping away.

I am so grateful for this gift she has taken the time and care to send to me. I am so excited and honored that she trusts me to continue on with her work. I am so worried that much of this abundant graciousness comes from a desire to tell me goodbye while she still can.

A Neil Gaiman quote that has stuck with me says, “You get what anybody gets – you get a lifetime.” In March my husband lost his grandfather (his mother’s father). Last week he lost his grandmother (his father’s mother). He is now grandparent-less. My own grandmother is the only one of our grandparents that remains. I find myself painfully aware that it does not last forever.

I was desperate to get my book done and published before my grandmother’s eyes failed her. I worked like a madwoman to finish my first quilt and waited impatiently at the Walgreens counter while the photo clerk finished up the full color prints I was ready to stuff into a pre-stamped envelope to send her way.

I know why I do this. I am under no delusions. I live to bask in her pride. I feel golden, radiant under her gaze.

All my life she has ended every phone call and letter with, “I love you.” She said it every time I walked out her door. She signed it into every birthday card. She is the only member of my family who ever said this to me with any regularity, who made me feel it, despite every time I acted like a little shit kid growing up, despite my struggles with my mental health as an adult, despite all the things I have ever felt shame for, that I am loved, even more, that I am loveable, worthy human being.

I think I worry if she no longer remembers me, if she is gone, then so is the love. I use every excuse I can find to write her a letter, send her a picture, so can I horde every last card and letter she sends in response. I read over and over in her perfect, loopy script,

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

“I love you. -Grandma Lois”

My therapist will remind me that this is not how love works. It does not disappear when a person forgets or passes on. Love is not a monetary transaction, granted in response to my art or success. My grandmother loves me not because of what we share or because of what small accomplishments I have been able to make, but because I exist, because I am here. AND she’s excited for me to carry her love of craft on down the years.

My birthday always falls right around Thanksgiving, and so on this day I am always wrapped up in thoughts of gratitude.

This year I am grateful for love. I am grateful for the skills I have been taught. The pride I have been lucky to bask in these past 33 years. I am grateful for this lifetime, for my grandmother’s lifetime, for however long we get.