Renewing Grandma's Legacy of Love
I spent part of the afternoon mending a dark blue velveteen jumper. The hem had fallen out in places, and some threads of the hand-embroidered red flowers on the pockets had broken. Grandma Pearl made this jumper for me when I was two years old.Skip to next paragraph
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A few summers ago when I was visiting my parents, my mother opened the steamer trunk in the basement. Her wedding dress - satin with scalloped edges around the neck and sleeves - was there in a box, as were the elbow-length, ivory, fingerless gloves. Her shoulder-length veil was folded in tissue paper. When I saw my mother's wedding clothes, I imagined her as a bride at cherry-blossom time in Washington, D.C.
My mother rarely opened the trunk, and I'd forgotten what else was in it. I watched as my mother carefully pulled out flannel receiving blankets, a white-satin quilt embroidered with nursery rhymes, and the yellow corduroy coat I wore on a pier in California while telling my grandpa I was going to keep walking until I came to Japan.
She found my brother's sterling-silver rattle, my sister's cotton socks with birds on blue cuffs, and the dresses Grandma Pearl made for me when I was very small.
"I have other clothes, too, in bags in the storage room," my mother said. "I saved everything Grandma Pearl made for you children."
We looked through clothes, pouring them out of the translucent plastic bags they'd been zipped in for years: tiny coats with Peter Pan collars; white pinafores with ruffled shoulders; and plaid dresses with buttons as small as a baby's fingernail. My apricot-colored dress with English smocking and puffed sleeves, my dresses with yoke tucks and thin lace, my pleated skirts, rick-racked blouses, and tiered slips all tumbled onto the extra bed in the basement.
There were clothes that any child could wear, clothes only for girls, and clothes for boys. My mother and I sorted out the ones with stains, and categorized the rest. I didn't yet know what my baby would be. But when he or she was born in a few months, the right clothes would be ready for my mother to put in a box and send to me.
I picked up clothes I remembered wearing only because of black-and-white photos in our family albums. My mother had written dates and phrases in white ink on the black construction-paper pages: "Rachel at 22 months," "Daddy holding Rachel in Daleyville," "Rachel and cousin Beth wearing matching outfits."
"Here's the dress I wore in the pictures where I have a broken arm," I said.
"You were sleeping in a borrowed crib that fell apart, and you stuck cereal down your cast," my mother said as if I'd never heard the stories before.
"Here's the dress I wore in those Easter pictures when I was trying to decide if I liked having a baby brother," I murmured.
"You didn't really like him at first," my mother replied.
I refolded the Easter dress and put it in the "girl" pile.
"I always loved these dresses," my mother said. "Grandma Pearl had such fun finding the fabrics. Dad would send her pictures of you wearing your new clothes." She stroked a green organdy dress and a taffeta Christmas dress with a velvet collar.