Stories from the Muddy

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Lying With Memories Under Grandma's Quilt

By Naomi Lewis
            I stroked the home-made quilt with my finger tips – patterns sewn for me by Grams Gentry so long ago.  What did she think about through all those dreamy hours in the lamplight, winter, spring, summer, fall, as she embroidered a pattern given me for high school graduation, but one I had never gotten around to working on myself.

Grams Gentry as rodeo Queen, 1940

            I wonder how many hundreds of hours it actually took.  How she must have loved me.  Did she know it would take almost 40 years for me to slow down enough to really admire and appreciate her work – the white, cross-stitched roses on a field of blue, alternating with blue, cross-stitched roses against white.  Millions of tiny stitches I read like Braille.  No machine-made-factory-line design here, but repeating patterns, she sewed by hand, stitch by stitch, until there were enough to cover a queen-sized bed, and hang to the floor.  As I lay there in bed, too sick to move, I thought of as many magical memories of my grandparents as there were stitches in Grandma's quilt, but one particularly enchanting morning stood out.

            I was four when I learned what happiness was – the early corn was a green higher than my window when I woke on a sky-bright morning, the air still cool through the screened window of Gram’s front porch.  There was nothing to do but wander the live-long day curious about my world.

            The doves in the barn roof cried, “Boo hoo, boo hoo,” over what I never found out, but it was all of mourning I would know that day.
            Breakfast was fresh cream, whipped with powdered sugar, spread thick on golden waffles running butter, beat with Grams own hands before I woke, from milk coaxed into a shiny, silver bucket Papa polished with a soft cloth, after milking Sally, the Guernsey, let out to pasture by the time I raised my head.

            I kicked off covers and bounced, feet falling on a floor covered with rags woven into circles of colors so intricate a pattern, I lay hours, eyes moving, sweeping the mysterious universe that was the rug.  But that morning, I laughed as my bare toes, tickled with tiny threads, padded across the cloth landscape.  I ran into Gram’s arms, a feeling unsurpassed at four.  Grams had a knack for knowing what I loved.
            She played “Little Piggy Went to Market,” before she pulled my socks over my toes.  I could tug socks over my heels with a helping-start.  Papa did the honors with the shoe laces – perfect bows that laid flat against the Dalmatian leather of my brand new oxfords, bought the day before.  “They have to last all summer,” Papa reminded.

            I swallowed hard as I hesitated on the ditch bank, where water-crumbling saturated soil, like graham crackers dunked in milk, disappeared in a wash so fluid, below the trickle and curl, I longed to go with it.

            On the other side of the fence, farm boys picked cucumbers and threw them into a tractor-pulled metal wagon and sometimes missed and hit each other.  “Can you make it, little Miss”? Papa asked.  I looked at my new black and whites.  “I have to make them last all summer, Papa.”  Then he scooped me up onto shoulders broad, high and dry, and in one large leap, I passed the muddy morass, the menace of new oxfords.

            I rode high in the wind and laughed at Lady, her tail sweeping cockle burrs to be combed out later when Papa took off his boots, and stretched his legs on the ottoman.  “Ruff ruff,” she barked at the magpies as they swooped, and teased, and were not afraid of a living scarecrow riding on Papa’s shoulders.  I waved my arms at the clouds, not knowing one day I would fly above them and see the ant farm below on a purple evening. 

            I opened my eyes slowly and tugged the quilt up to my chin, feeling the warmth build against the flannel backing.  Again, my fingertips read Gram's love like Braille in the rose x’s, an endless game of tic-tac-toe, against my throat. 

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