94. Gifts to Keep

94. Gifts to Keep

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Gifts to Keep

Grandma’s heart is a Patchwork of Love.

~Author Unknown

Only three Christmas gifts were under the artificial fir tree. All the other presents had been opened. These three big packages were wrapped identically, green ribbon tied around red-and-white striped foil. Inside were gifts that my mom had planned to give her three grandchildren — my son, daughter, and niece. Gifts she had begun making, but didn’t finish. A heart attack had ended her life in April.

Six months later, Dad sold the family home and moved into a one-bedroom apartment. The first Christmas without Mom was made even sadder as our family sat cramped in a small living room — so different from Mom and Dad’s home where we’d always celebrated past Christmases.

Dad looked at his three teenage grandchildren. “Those presents are for you from your grannie,” he said as my brother and I and our spouses sat nearby. Alicia and Sarah, age seventeen, and Eric, age fifteen, all frowned. “She was making something special for you to have this Christmas,” Dad said. He looked at me as tears flooded his eyes and then he lowered his head.

Taking a deep breath, I said, “It’s three almost identical gifts.”

“Is it something we asked for?” Alicia asked.

“No,” Dad said. “It’s something you can use now. Your grannie hoped you’d each keep it and maybe even pass it on to your kids.” The teenagers sat up straight, pulled their shoulders back, raised their eyebrows, and looked at each other.

“Is it something that we’ve seen her working on?” Sarah asked.

“No, she kept it a secret from all of you. But your parents and I knew,” Dad said.

“So, how do we know which box is ours?” asked Eric.

“By numbers. The same way Grannie always let you choose. Take one of those folded papers in the basket. They’re numbered 1, 2, 3, and the presents have numbers on the bottom of them,” Dad explained.

As Alicia, Sarah, and Eric held the unopened gifts, silence filled the small living room. They had quickly ripped into the other packages, but now they sat cross-legged on the floor beside Dad’s chair. Silent and still. “Go ahead, open them,” Dad said.

The teenagers paced themselves so that they saw their gifts at the same time. “A quilt!” Sarah and Alicia said, almost in unison. Eric stood and wrapped his quilt around his shoulders. It fell to the floor. The girls did the same, holding their quilts close around their bodies.

“I love it!” Sarah said, “But Grannie always said that she’d never make a quilt.” She pulled her white and navy blue patchwork quilt tighter around herself.

“This is beautiful! My quilt is just like yours. Same colors. Same everything,” Alicia said to Sarah. Then she turned to her brother. “Yours is the same, except it’s dark red. Almost maroon.” They held their quilts up and compared. The quilt pattern, with triangles and rectangles, was exactly the same. All three quilts had solid white pieces and some calico printed fabric; only the solid blue and maroon pieces were different.

“Grannie made so many things but this is the best.” Eric lifted his quilt over his head and sat down on the floor. None of us adults said anything. We wiped tears, coughed, and took deep breaths.

“Yeah, this is the best. But don’t forget all the matching outfits she made when we were little,” said Alicia.

“Remember the stuffed Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls?” Eric said. “Wonder why she decided to make us quilts now?” Alicia and Sarah held their quilts in their laps as they, too, sat on the floor.

Dad blew his nose, wiped his eyes with his wet handkerchief and said, “Your grannie wanted you to have something that you’d keep. You girls will be going off to college next year; maybe you can take your quilts with you. She began cutting and putting the pieces together about two years ago. She was determined to finish them for this Christmas, but…” Dad’s voice faltered and he looked at me.

I continue the story. “She’d finished one, was quilting the second, and had pieced the third, but hadn’t started quilting it.

“So who finished the quilts that Grannie didn’t?” Sarah asked.

“Dad and I found a lady named Mrs. Horst who finished the last two. We really wanted you to all have your quilts for Christmas. Mrs. Horst is an excellent quilter and normally makes tiny stitches. When Grannie quilted, her stitches were much longer. Mrs. Horst wanted her quilting stitches to be exactly like Grannie’s so the quilts would be the same,” I said.

“She even wanted to do the binding exactly like the one your grannie did,” Dad added. “She said quilters did bindings and corners differently and she did them the same way as the one that was finished.” Alicia, Eric, and Sarah held the corners of their quilts close together.

“They look the same to me, “ Eric said. All of us were silent — each in our own thoughts, as the lights on the tree twinkled in Dad’s tiny apartment.

“Aunt Susan, do you know which one Grannie really made?” asked my niece Sarah. I shook my head and smiled.

“I’ll answer that,” said Dad. He blew his nose one more time. “She made them all. That wonderful lady stitched for your grannie. When we picked up the finished quilts, she told me that she’d said prayers of blessings as she quilted and she hoped that someday she could make such beautiful quilts for each of her five children.”

The three quilts have been used and loved. They covered twin beds in college dormitory rooms and were moved to apartments when each of Mom’s grandchildren married. And now, more than twenty years later, those quilts cover Mom’s great-grandsons’ beds. Mom’s quilts were gifts to keep.

~Susan R. Ray

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