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Memories of Christmas 1991

Three Christmas gifts remained unopened. Gifts Mom began for her grandchildren, my daughter, son, and niece, but didn’t finish. A sudden heart attack had ended her life in April.

Six months later, Dad sold their home and moved into a one-bedroom apartment. This Christmas was even sadder as our family sat cramped in a small living room – so different from Mom and Dad’s home.

Dad looked at his grandchildren and said, “Those gifts are for you from your grannie.” My brother and I and our spouses sat nearby. Alicia and Sarah, age 17, and Eric, age 15, frowned. “She was making something special for you this Christmas,” said Dad. Tears rolled down his cheeks.

I said, “It’s three almost identical gifts.”

“It’s something you can use now, and Grannie hoped you’d keep and maybe even pass it on to your kids,” said Dad.

“How do we know which gift is ours?” asked Eric.

“By numbers. The way Grannie always did. Susan has folded papers numbered 1, 2, 3, and the packages have numbers on them,” Dad explained.

Alicia, Sarah, and Eric held their gifts. Silence filled the room. After quickly ripping into other packages, now they were silent and still on the floor beside Dad’s chair. “Go ahead, open them,” Dad said.

They paced themselves to see their gifts at the same time. “A quilt!” Sarah and Alicia said in unison. Eric stood and wrapped his quilt around his shoulders. The girls did the same, hugging their quilts close to their bodies.

“I love it!” Sarah said, “But Grannie always said that she’d never make a quilt.” She pulled her white and navy blue patchwork quilt tighter.

“But she made clothes and stuffed animals,” Alicia said. “Our quilts are exactly the same,” she said to Sarah. Alicia looked at Eric’s quilt. “Yours is the same, except dark red where ours is blue.” Each quilt had white rectangles and calico fabric.

“Grannie made lots of stuff, but this is the best,” Eric said. Alicia, Eric, and Sarah sat wrapped in their quilts. No one spoke. We wiped tears and breathed deeply.

Dad rubbed his eyes, then said, “Grannie wanted you to have something you’d keep. You’ll be going off to college soon. You can take your quilts. She began cutting and sewing about two years ago. She was determined to finish them for this Christmas, but…” Dad’s voice faltered.

I continued. “She’d finished one, was quilting the second, and had pieced the third. Dad and I found a woman, Mrs. Horst, to finish them.”

“Aunt Susan, do you know which one Grannie really made?” asked Sarah.

“I’ll answer that,” said Dad. “She made them all. That wonderful lady stitched for your grannie. We were led up the dirt road to her house. She’s a godly woman. She told me she said prayers of blessings as she quilted and hoped to make such beautiful quilts for her children.”

Mom’s quilts covered beds in college dormitory rooms and then apartments when each of her grandchildren married. And now they are on great-grandsons’ beds.

Mom’s quilts were gifts to keep.

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From Quilt to Hearts

Photo 48I sat with scissors and a heart-shaped paper pattern in hand.  One of my granny’s quilts lay spread flat on the floor.  Tears flooded my eyes.  Did I dare cut up Granny’s quilt?  Yes, I’d made that decision the night before.  I wiped my eyes with my hands.  Was Granny’s quilt large enough to make sixteen small twelve-inch pillows?  Yes, I’d measured.  I re-measured.  Would those girls appreciate a heart pillow made from Granny’s quilt?  I hoped so.

Those girls were my daughter and her high school friends.  Girls – sometimes just two and sometimes a houseful – who often spent the night at our house.  After a Friday night ball game, they’d come laughing and giggling through the front door and immediately open the door of the quilt closet.  “I want the one with blue and white.”  “It’s my turn to get the green and red one.”  “Where’s the one with all the orange?”  They rummaged through the many quilts; most that Granny had made, and each girl chose one that was hers for the night.

With quilts tucked under their arms, they ran downstairs to a room that had very little furniture, a big TV, and a pool table.  Each spread her quilt on the floor, claiming a space.  And then it was popcorn and movie time.  Usually, I was asleep before the talking and laughing and potty flushing stopped.  But sometimes I’d awake during the night, tiptoed downstairs, and watch.  Just watch those almost grown-up girls sleep.  Each wrapped snugly in a quilt, her hair splayed over a pillow.

Much too quickly it was spring, 1992, and the girls planned to go their separate ways, after high school graduation.  Colleges, universities, and work called them to different places.  One night, I smiled as they chose their slumber party quilts.  Each seemed intent to choose her very favorite.  And one was the favorite of at least a half dozen girls – a variation of the Four Patch quilt pattern.  Made from flour sacks and shirt scraps, probably in the 1950s.  Using her hands, Granny had cut and pieced and quilted and sewn the binding.

So that was the quilt I wanted those sixteen girls to take with them.  Something to remind them that they were bound by high school secrets and slumber parties, at our house and other parents’ homes.

I carefully cut out the first heart, wiped tears, and cut a second.  Granny’s quilt had kept one girl warm, one night at a time.  I hoped it would warm all those girls’ hearts.  I cut and stitched and stuffed sixteen heart shaped pillows.  I wrapped each one in white tissue paper and put it in a gift bag.  Then I gave Granny’s quilt to my daughter and her friends.  And they cried.  Big crocodile tears.  And they hugged.  Big bear hugs.

I’ve been told that those small pillows travelled to dorm rooms in Texas and Georgia and Kentucky and Knoxville and Cookeville.  And I’ve been told that some of those pillows are now on young girls’ beds.  Young girls – the daughters of girls who used to wrap up in Granny’s quilts.

            Visit the 25th Upper Cumberland Quilt Festival in Algood, September 19-21 to see over 500 quilts and one quilted heart pillow.