An Inspiring Story of Strength, As Told By An Imperfect Quilt

The subtle imperfections of hand-me-down quilts connect one generation to the next.

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My husband knows that when we visit my family, we often end up taking home more stuff than we brought with us. Although we may drop off a bag of clothing for my sister to peruse, we pack the trunk a few days later with pie plates, an old coat no one wears anymore that just might come in handy, and a little something my mom found somewhere for us to use someday. I love this exchange of treasured goods.

After packing up at the end of our most recent visit, and after the last hugs and sounding of the car horn, I peeked into the back seat of our car to take inventory of the extras that had made their way into our lives. At the top of the pile, folded neatly, were a 50-year-old baby blanket my grandmother used in my mother’s crib, several doilies passed down from generations of women in my family, and two small quilts.

One quilt is made of soft yellow and cream fabrics while the other is a kaleidoscope of colorful diamonds on white. They smell old, and they look old, too, with a few tatters here, a loose thread or two there. Though subtle, their imperfections and age show.

When folded, one corner pokes out farther than the other three. Some patches are bigger than the others. The quilts look lovingly worn, used daily by people whose blood runs through my veins, who lived and now lie in the earth.

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When I look at these quilts, I remember my great-grandmothers, who I had the honor of knowing as a child. I think of the scattered pieces of fabric on the floors of their living rooms. I think of the shing-shing-shing of their sewing machines. I think about their wrinkled hands and knobby knuckles—and the polyester dresses that fell unevenly around their knees, allowing me to catch a glimpse of the silk slips underneath. I think of their robust laughter, their smiles and the wisdom found in the splintered corners of their eyes.

I wish I could go back in time and watch them create these quilts. What was happening in their lives then? Who did they love? What did they fear? What were their dreams?

While I will probably never know the answers to these questions, I cherish the quilts my great-grandmothers left behind. I love knowing that the women who ushered me into the world, who paved the way for my own path through life, have left behind tangible expressions of themselves. When I touch the worn fabric of each creation, I will always remember the women whose hands brought them into existence.

I will be ever thankful for the strong women in my family (grandmothers, great-grandmothers, my beautiful mother and amazing sister) who have lived before me and with me, who have left behind incredible examples to follow and lovely quilts to pass on.

For more inspiring stories, read on.

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