Piecing together a life

Quilts are like warm cocoons. They are tidbits of love's history bound together for generations to dream in. My grandmother often pointed to her quilts and, in her honey-sweet southern accent, described the former lives of the fabrics: my great-grandmother's favorite dresses, old aprons, and faded farmhouse curtains. They had matured from their youthful uses to become patterns as delicate and beautiful as butterfly wings.

On one rainy afternoon visit, over a warm bowl of cheese grits, Granny declared it was my turn to learn our family quilting tradition. She handed me a red pincushion shaped like a tomato and proceeded to teach me. Under her close watch, I cut pieces of fabric and put them together like a puzzle.

As I matched the scraps and began to pin them together, Granny advised me that patience was the most important skill a quilter could possess.

In my zealous attempts to impress her. I swung my yardstick wildly and confused myself with the placement of the pieces in patterns. Granny was amused by my antics. But she always trailed onto her giggles some more instructions on how to escape the thread webs in which I often found myself entangled. In her nearly nine decades of quilting, she had learned that laughter is an important ingredient in patience. As my thread began to tangle at the very suggestion of a stitch, I started to laugh at myself.

By the time several sprinklings of Granny's laughter and wisdom had been washed down with a glass of sweet iced tea, my first square was done. I held up my masterpiece for inspection. Granny's soft eyes lit up with pride as she examined the stitching that joined a piece of my grandfather's favorite flannel shirt with part of her worn purple apron.

Months later, when my lap quilt was completed, I folded it into my arms. My grandmother ran her hand along the stitching one last time. She reminded me that the blue and red along the edges had once been a homemade feed sack that spent winters in the barn.

My grandmother's hands had never touched the needle, yet it was her encouragement that was the thread. Her lessons had helped me understand how the quilts on my bed had all been created with the blessings of love, laughter, tradition, and memories in every stitch.

As the screen door gently closed, I let the folds of my quilt fall around me. Eager to share my accomplishment, I ran down the trail that connects my grandmother's house to my parents', past the old barn and the fields of seasons past. I spread my arms and let the wind take hold of the brilliant fabrics my grandmother and I had sewn together.

My quilt billowed in the wind like boldly patterned wings in flight. It was then that I realized how Granny's lessons had nudged me out of the cocoon of youth and into the winds of womanhood.

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