As I prepare to go back to work after my sabbatical, I am tidying, cleaning and organizing. While all four of my children are away at camp, I have cleaned their rooms. I have steam cleaned carpets. I have sorted kitchen cupboards. I have also set my husband to hanging things up on the walls–three shelves, two sets of hooks, and a quilt rack. The quilt rack isn’t new, mind you. It just hasn’t been hung up since we painted the hall a year ago. I missed it.
When I was five years old, my grandmother asked me what my favourite colour was. I told her I loved purple and never thought any more about it.
What I didn’t know was that she began making me a quilt. It was purple fabric and matching scraps one side, and all white fabric on on the the other. She used the ‘dresden plate’ pattern that was so common for her generation of Ontario quilters, and the entire quilt–big enough for a double bed–was stitched by hand. The ladies at the church helped her to finish it and she carefully packed it away. I never saw it.
My grandmother died during my first year of university, just as I turned twenty, and I was devastated. My ‘Grandma Nicholls’ had knitted me a million pairs of mittens. She taught me to bake cookies and always let me lick the bowl. She defended me when my mother scolded me, played dolls whenever I asked, and was always ready with a cuddle. She was one of my favourite people in the world.
Years later, on the day after my husband and I were married, we had brunch with a few close friends and family. We were opening wedding gifts when my mother appeared bearing a large cardboard box. I peeked inside. “It’s a present from your grandmother,” she said. There it was–the beautiful white and purple quilt that had been created for me almost twenty years before, while I was still a child. I stretched it out in front of me and marvelled–not without tears–at such an extraordinary gift.
That quilt has always held a place on honour in my house. In our first apartment it hung in the living room. Years later, we created an entire guest bedroom around its colours. In our present home, we hang it in the upstairs hallway where we see it everyday but keep it safe from the wear and tear of every day use.
This afternoon, as we hung it again, I reflected on how such a simple thing as a blanket could be so precious. It is not made of expensive silks. It is not a one-of-a-kind design. It has no special function except as a bed covering.
And yet that quilt is a part of my heritage. It speaks of love passed down from one generation to another. It represents time, thoughtfulness, effort, skill. It tells me in no uncertain terms, long after she cannot tell me herself, that my grandma adored me.
As my sabbatical ends and fall approaches, I am ready for a fresh start. I am glad to have the house clean and organized and am bracing myself for the busy time ahead. I am glad that quilt is hanging in the hallway again, too, where it can remind me often about love, and family, and giving. I just might need that.
I will take a lovingly handmade quilt over a pile of gold any day. Quilts can give love long after its maker is gone, whether its sharing memories with its display or sharing love when its recipient curls up with it at night for warmth like a hug. That is a beautiful quilt!