The only blankets I knew as a little girl were handmade by my grandmother. She lived far away in Hawaii, but she made blankets for us. Not only for us, but for all her children, and her children’s children, and even in later years for my boys-her great grandsons.
The blankets were a beast to make. My mother recalls helping her mom in the evenings when she was young. Together, they would cut tiny strips of used clothing that the family had outgrown. Her mother would then sew these tiny fragments together to create a blanket like no other.
The blankets were larger than what you find in a department store, and when you cocooned yourself inside the warmth was amazing.
I remember studying her blankets many times when I was sick with a flu or stomach bug that kept me in bed. Wrapped up in a bundle of colors and unable to move much, I memorized the printed fabric.
I imagined the shirts or skirts that might donate such crazy prints with huge flowers, bright orange hues, and miniature cars. My grandmother lived in Hawaii where Aloha shirts are famous. I wondered. What the hell kind of shirts did my grandfather wear? The thought would cheer me up even with a high fever.
I tried to recreate one of her blankets when I was in my early twenties. It was painstakingly hard. I admit I abandoned it halfway done.
Trying to find the energy to cut and sew tiny pieces of fabric together after working, cleaning house, and taking care of my boys seemed like a cruel way to end the day. Buying a blanket was cheaper, faster, and saved my sanity. Why, oh why, did my grandmother do this?
At first, the blankets started out of utility. They were poor. I mean they were really poor. My grandparents lived on a Sugar Cane Plantation, my grandmother would pull roots to make soup, and the family had to use an outhouse. There would have been no extra money for blankets.
But later, when my grandfather became a mechanic she could have afforded to buy blankets. Why did she go on to make dozens more?
It wasn’t until I started writing my first novel that I stumbled upon a possible answer.
I think it was her one extravagance. In a world filled with dirty dishes, laundry that continually piles up, and meals that are cooked, eaten, and need to be cooked again-the blankets remained finished. Not only finished, but beautiful and one-of-a-kind. Something only she could make.
As she ran her hand along the bits of sewn cloth, perhaps she could see the lifetime of her family woven together by her own hand.
When I write I gather pieces of myself and tuck them into the narrative. The fiction is peppered with a memory of my mother here, my sons there, and friends I’ve met along the way. Each fragment twisted to be unrecognizable to others, but obvious to my own eye whenever I re-read my work.
My grandmother gave me more than her blankets. She handed down a need to create and remember.
In that way, even though I can’t sew worth a damn, I am a Blanket Maker’s Granddaughter. Thank you, Grandma.
This blog post is dedicated to my mother and grandmother. Both women are beyond amazing. My grandmother has already passed, but I know in my heart she keeps track of all of us.
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This is such a lovely post!
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