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.



Grandma’s Quilt

On my way to check the mail yesterday evening I found two little girls lying in the still-warm grass. The elder of the two, towheaded with a face nearly swallowed by her round, red-framed glasses. The younger, a chubby Latina with a wide, gap-toothed grin.

They were gazing up into the tall palms, giggling, surrounded in a wide arc of white rose petals.

“Your turn!” the eldest shouted and spread her small arms wide. The younger sprang up, scooping fistfuls of freshly plucked blossoms into the folds of her shirt until she had a great mound.

“Ready?” the younger smiled.

“Do it!”

And she did, tossing the huge mound into the air, watching as it dissolved into hundreds of fluttering white flakes that drifted slowly to the earth while her friend lay wide-eyed and giggling, reaching for the last of the still-floating petals before they could settle and become almost indistinguishable from the tangled mass of her light hair.

It was hard not to stare. I remember being those girls. I remember the afternoons that seemed to stretch into forever, when all that existed was that very moment of delight with your best friend.

My grandmother recently turned 90, and so I took the 4 hour plane ride from my home in Southern California to Oklahoma City to wish her well. I found her as I always have: gray-haired, active, fussing over her flowers and scaring off wildlife out back.

So many things were just as I remembered from when I was a girl: the air, so hot and thick you seemed to swim through it, the fireflies that winked to life as the sun settled below the horizon, the piles of puzzle books and quilt squares by my grandmother’s favorite chair, the way she wrung her hands with worry, the same way I do now.

But some things are different. She lives with my mother, who is now also completely gray. She no longer bakes, not that she could do much without her fruit trees. My grandfather and his Stetson collection have long since settled into history.

While walking with my grandmother through her new garden, I found myself wanting to be young and in the moment again. Gathering fireflies in a mason jar with my cousins. Eating warm peach cobbler with cold vanilla ice cream on the porch while swatting the mosquitoes from our bare legs. Watching as the vast bowl of the Great Plains night sky came to life.

But it’s gone. Too much history between now and then. The weight of the years and everything that has gone wrong. I found myself spending more time swatting away unwanted thoughts/feelings than mosquitoes, avoiding the looming presence of my mother.

But before I left, my grandmother opened her hall closet and, like she always has, pulled out a new quilt for me to take back to California. The pattern a bright array of sunbursts, in every color of the rainbow. And then she returned to her chair by the window, a pencil and a pad of puzzles in her lap, where she could watch for the wild turkeys out back and scare them off before they got to the almost-blooming hibiscus.

And I returned the nearly 1500 miles back to California, retrieved my mail from the community box, smiled at the girls in the grass, and returned to my bedroom to bury myself in my new quilt. To watch the last of the evening light bleed through the sunbursts and be sad for all the hard ways my life has changed and happy for all the good things that have stayed the same.


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This quilt was hand-stitched by my grandmother, Lois. I like to think that my skill in handcrafts comes directly from her.