Grandmother's Quilt

by Wade H. Nelson

Copyright 1999 All Rights Reserved


I threw away Grandmother's quilt today. It had been sitting neatly folded on the bottom of the bed. Even there it was a vacuuming nightmare, somehow scattering tiny pieces of cloth throughout the house, like something out of a horror movie. It was beyond tattered.

I remember grandmother Avery as a simple woman, although she must have been fairly smart. Like my mother she had been a nurse, back when hospitals were all named "Sisters of Mercy" or "Charity" or something equally healing-sounding. In her later life grandmother Avery roved the country in old Chrysler automobiles, staying with this relative for a while, that one for awhile, until it was once again, "Time to go." A starter motor that sounded like a washing machine was our indication she had either arrived, or was preparing to depart. My father would often perform needed repairs on her Plymoth Fury, Polara, or Dodge Coronet in-between.

Grandmother lived out of those old Chryslers with clothes and shoes and bags and such stacked to the tops of the back seat. The deep South's many factory outlet stores were her haunts. Whenever she arrived she would present my brother and I with foot high stacks of clothing. Factory seconds. Once she got it right with a neon orange Hang-10 tank top I thought was exceedingly cool, my first-ever piece of "designer" clothing. Most of the time we just groaned. But she always brought something.

Grandmother Avery was a Southerner through and through. She didn't wash the dishes, she warshed them. I don't remember her as super sweet, a great cook, or particularly helpful around my parents’ house. In fact, I remember very little of her visits other than losing my room whenever she arrived. After 25 years, all I really remember are her little kindnesses. Giving us kids five dollars each, and taking the family out to Burger Chef where we preferred to go instead of to some pretentious restaurant that would require getting cleaned and dressed up. I didn't mind giving up my room for her visits.

Grandparents everywhere get sick, lose their faculties, and eventually die. Grandma Avery, like so many others, resisted being placed in a nursing home. She eventually died in my uncle’s run-down cabin with a leaky roof despite the families' combined efforts to place her in a clean, well-lit, state-of-the art nursing home. You wanted to help, you wanted to do something, but you can't do a damned thing.

I had taken my grandmother's quilt to Vanderbilt University as a freshman. It was my coat of many colors, in contrast to the Bloomingdale comforters and Land's End blankets of my well-heeled Eastern prep-school roommates. When I came home to the dorm one evening and discovered an ugly cigarette burn through-and-through I was disheartened. There was nothing I could do, no one to tell. Who could be so cruel. Couldn’t they see the love that went into every panel, every stitch?

Grandmother gave our family two or three of the quilts she had made by hand with her old-bitty friends. They were all completely hand-sewn. One quilt may still reside at my parents’ house, I don't know. Mine was used and loved - loved like the Velveteen rabbit, until all it's patches fell off. On train trips I occasionally took across the country I’d always take it along. Grandmother's quilt was considerably more comforting than some too-small, scratchy wool thing offered by the Amtrak porters. The last few years I'd dared not wash it as I'd have returned to the dryer and found nothing but lint.

I folded it up and gently placed it in the dumpster, thinking of her. And then sat down and cried a while.