A grandmother's love lives on – through a quilt

A hand-stitched heirloom made the perfect spread for her daughter's new bed.

My baby is now a big girl. This is hard for me to actually say out loud. Hard to admit that she is 3 years old, flying solo. She puts on her own clothes, brushes her teeth, and (finally) is potty trained. Her cozy nest, the wooden crib passed down from her older sister, has become too cramped, too babyish. It is time for a "big girl" bed.

With great fanfare, we shop for the requisite bedding – a frilly pink dust ruffle and sheets covered in princesses. ("I like Hello Kitty, but princesses are the best!")

A twin bed, the one my husband slept in as a child, is hauled up from our basement storage closet. We assemble the worn maple frame and cover the mattress with fairy tale princesses. Finally, we are all set. My big girl jumps on the bed, testing the stability of the box springs.

"Looks sturdy to me," my husband says with a laugh. "Our work here is done."

I look at my daughter, sitting like royalty on her new sheets, happily flipping through the pages of a Care Bears book. Tonight, my princess will sleep soundly.

So why is it that something seems to be missing? All that shopping for sheets and ruffles, yet her bed seems incomplete.

Opening the linen closet, I search through piles of blankets and mismatched pillowcases until I find it. A quilt made by my grandmother some 30 years ago sits on a shelf, patiently waiting to be used by the next generation.

Carefully, I unfold the soft pink fabric, worn by time and plenty of use. Twenty hand-stitched dolls, their expressionless faces shaded by oversized sunbonnets, dance along the fabric. They wear dresses of every hue – bright red prints, green paisley, and cheery yellow sunflowers. Eyelet edging, frayed now in places, frames every dress.

Touching the face of each doll, I wonder about the absence of eyes, nose, and smile. Could this be the influence of the Amish, the ladies who taught my grandmother the art of quilting? I think about these women, their true selves covered from the world.

I think of my own daughter and am thankful that her world is so different, so free. Like the rainbow-colored dresses, her future is vibrant, with limitless possibilities.

It is important, I think, for her to know the women in her family who came before her.

"Is that for my big-girl bed?" My daughter stares at Sunbonnet Sue, now spread out over the princess sheets.

The quilt completes something – the bed or my heart, I can't be sure. The careful, even stitches, quilted by hand around each and every doll, remind me of my grandmother's unlimited patience, something I could use more of when navigating the sometimes unsteady waters of motherhood.

It would be good to use this quilt again, so my daughter could know something of her great-grandmother. It would be good for her to know the master quilter, the farmer's wife who rose before dawn each day to cook flapjacks and eggs for six children and a live-in hired hand.

It would be good for her to know her great-grandmother's hands, the skin rough from both the garden hoe and the weight of the milk pails she carried from barn to milk house each morning.

It would be good for her to know those hands, which spent hours picking string beans and husking sweet corn, yet were never too weary to help others.

Those hands made countless chicken pies for church fund-raisers. They fed wandering hobos who appeared on the farm, nourishing them with egg-salad sandwiches and an accepting smile.

My daughter should grow up knowing of this woman, the quilter whose fingertips gently sewed intricate patterns for months, then turned around and gave away her masterpieces as gifts. She should know how a woman can be strong, yet selfless; giving to others, yet asking nothing in return.

I look at the sunbon­net girls, only now noticing their faded dresses and torn seams. With a little loving care, repairs could be made. A few stitches here, some fresh thread there. My heart leaps at the thought.

"Yes," I finally answer my daughter's question. "I want you to have this quilt. My grandma made it for me when I was little." The quilt, washed and men­ded, completes my daughter's new bed.

She likes it. "The dolly dresses are pretty, Mama, don't you think?"

For now, it is just a bedspread. Later, I hope, it will lead us to talk about what is important – like how a girl can grow into a hardworking, giving young lady.

Tucked under rows of sunbonnet girls, my daughter sleeps. She is a big girl now, growing up under the loving gift of a special woman who came before her.

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