My parents recently visited to celebrate my son’s fourth birthday, and upon arrival, my mother unloaded bags and bags of sundries. There were the requisite colorfully wrapped additions to Mt. Birthday — a geological phenomenon accruing mass in our living room — along with such items as travel packs of tissue, travel shaving kits, travel hairbrushes, large sheets of nori, and phone chargers. You would think that we do an inordinate amount of traveling. We do not. But you never know when that half teaspoon of shaving cream might be just the thing.
Amid the miscellanea was a plastic bag crammed with fabric. Heavy florals, not the sort of thing I typically use or wear. Nothing fine or extraordinary. But it was from my grandmother’s things, my paternal grandmother who passed in June, and since it was hers, it seems exquisite to me. The bag has been nudging at my periphery for a month, sitting atop my piles of other neglected fabric, and today I finally laid it out on my table to begin the conversation about what comes next.
In my novel, one of my protagonists finds a way through grief while piecing together a quilt, and when I look at this fabric, I think, hey, maybe. I think, maybe I could make quilts for myself and the other grandchildren, a thing that could live in our houses and cover our children, a talisman that could transport us all to a time when our grandparents were the nucleus of us, when our family was drawn tightly inward, a time that is sadly but starkly the past.
But I can’t seem to make the first cut. And it’s not just because I’ve only ever made one quilt, before my son was born, and even though it was small, it took a long time and I felt impatient and I couldn’t bring myself to do it again even for my second perfect little newborn.
When I think about doing this, I think I should be feeling something, and I don’t know what that is. I think of my grandmother and I think of the time I shaved my head and my father couldn’t look at me and my mother felt a resigned sort of horror, but my grandmother, she didn’t miss a beat, she took one look and laughed, spent the rest of the night bragging about how cute her new grandson was. I think of the time I rushed home to see her in the hospital after she had a stroke and she told me she was afraid. She was afraid, she was afraid, and those words in that voice still roll around my brain all the time. I think of the last time I saw her alive, at my cousin’s wedding, just a few short weeks before the phone call telling me she was gone, think of the way she cried so hard with happiness. I think of the way she cried at my wedding and begged me not to forget about her.
I think of these things and I think I want this thing I do with her fabric to be perfect, and I know it won’t be. People see the stuff I make that turns out right, the you-should-totally-etsy-that stuff, and if they looked at any of that stuff closely, they would find the wobbly seams, the spot where the binding puckers. But I know about the wasteland of stuff I shrug at and toss, or put on my daughter anyway because hey she’ll grow out of it in a couple months. And I’m afraid to do anything at all.
And so I’m still sitting with it, in conversation, fingering the raw edges, cilia soft like the skin of a peach.