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Grandmother's Quilt

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It can’t be that bad. It can’t be that bad if she asked me to go home before the hospital.

It seemed odd; this morning the only thing on my mind was washing my car and seeing a movie. Everything was different now.

I ran up the freshly-painted steps and through our front door with its brass knocker. I raced down the hallway, turned a corner, and skidded into the small dark room at the back of the house. Only then did I stop to catch my breath.

When my grandmother moved in with the rest of my family, she insisted on only one thing: a sewing room. As far back as I could remember, my grandmother had sewed. She didn’t sew ordinary things, though. She liked to sew what she called “stories”. The rest of the world would have called them quilts. When I asked her what was the point of making stories no one could read, she just laughed and said they helped her remember the things that happened in her life. Using every color she had, she mismatched patterns and made huge messes. We called her crazy, but her quilts always turned out in the end. The last few years, I noticed them becoming smaller, but no less brilliant. I recalled the many afternoons she tried to teach me what she knew, and how I always brushed her off. I felt regret, just like my mother said I would.

What if there are no more quilts? No more stories?

With that thought, I remembered what I had come here for. I reached under the small cot shoved into a corner and grabbed two things: an old picture of my grandfather and an even older bible. I turned around and went quickly back through the house. As I passed the garden in front of the porch, I impulsively ripped up a few black-eyed susans by their roots, rejecting the thought that it might be too late for bibles or pictures or flowers to help anybody. Then I got into my car and sped down the road, thinking about the phone call that had changed the course of my day.

I had been sitting at my best friend’s house, watching a stupid cartoon. I can’t remember what we were laughing about when her mother walked in.

“It’s your mom,” she said, and I could tell there was something wrong by the way she was frowning. I took the phone and turned away from my friend.

“Hello?”

“I’m at the hospital. Something’s happened to Grandma.”

“What’s wrong?”

“The doctors say it was a stroke.”

Afterwards, the only thing I remembered was being asked to go home and pick up grandma’s bible and her picture of grandpa, and then drive straight to the hospital. The rest of the conversation was lost on me as I thought of everything I knew about the word “stroke”.

Not much, I realized, as I got closer to the non-emergency entrance of the hospital. Do people die of strokes?

My mother was waiting as I ran through the doors. She smiled, but her eyes were red and shiny.

“Good, you remembered everything,” she said, and hugged me, crushing the black-eyed susans. When she pulled away, there was brown dust all over her crisp button-down shirt. I wasn’t reassured; my mother didn’t hug me often, and she never got dirt on her clothes.

“She’s through here,” she said, and walked quickly across the waiting area, past other tired mothers and scared-looking children.

We turned into a bright room that smelled like medicine and soap. Frightening -looking equipment cluttered the floor. Suddenly, I was scared. My mother, never one for hesitation, grabbed my hand and yanked me towards a small bed. My grandma was there, eyes closed. She breathed slowly through tubes running from her nose and mouth into a machine on the floor that made soft hissing noises. With our arms folded tightly, my mother and I watched doctors and nurses adjust dials and observe data as they darted around the frail woman in the middle of the room.

When she woke up, my grandma was a different person. The entire left side of her body was frozen: her eyelid and lower lip drooped, her left arm and leg were paralyzed, and she couldn’t talk. The doctors said with time and therapy, she’d regain some movement and probably be able to speak again. But the changes weren’t just physical. When we came to visit, she kept her eyes fixed on the ceiling, ignoring us when we talked to her.

“She’s depressed,” my mother said, “that’s all. Don’t take it personally.”

I took it personally. I couldn’t handle my grandmother not listening to me; she was the one that always made me laugh, the one I went to with my problems. She was always on my side, even when my opposition was my mother. I needed her.

I thought for a long time about what I could do to cheer her up, about all the things she enjoyed. Finally, as I was sitting on her bed, it came to me. There was one thing my grandmother had always wanted me to do, one thing that made her happier than almost anything else: I would make her a quilt. I was sure there was enough leftover fabric and thread in her room. I imagined what it would look like, with every color and pattern I could find. It would be beautiful.

I started the next day, checking out books from the library and asking my mother for all the information she had about sewing quilts. Then I sat down in the small dark room at the back of the house and tried to create something that would bring back my grandma.

Sewing was much harder than I thought it would be. Colors wouldn’t match up, threads and needles broke, and I quit in frustration more times than I could count, telling myself I was done with all the fabric and patterns. But then I would go to the hospital. I would see my grandmother lying on the white sheets, unresponsive, and I would pick up the pieces and try again.

I remember the day I finally finished it. I sat by myself in my grandma’s room and looked quickly over what I’d made. Then I folded it carefully, put it in a brown paper bag, and drove to the hospital.

In the weeks I worked on the quilt, my grandmother had made progress. She could awkwardly move her left hand and foot, and mumbled barely-intelligible words when she wanted something. But she wasn’t the joyful person she had been before. That’s what I wanted to change.

I walked into the hospital room that had become so familiar and approached my grandmother’s bed. I saw her look at the paper bag and then up at my face.

Gently, I set the bag down on the floor. I reached in and gently pulled out the quilt I had worked on for so long. I shook out the fabric and spread it over my grandmother’s legs.

Here, under the florescent lights of the hospital, the quilt looked much worse than it had in the dimly- lit sewing room. Now I could see the crooked seams, frayed edges, loose threads, and a small coffee stain I thought I had removed after scrubbing for half an hour. My face turned red, and I stared down at the quilt, avoiding my grandma’s eyes. I felt ashamed for showing her this. Blinking away tears, I grabbed one edge and started to fold it over.

“Stop…” Surprised by my grandmother’s soft voice, I looked up. She smiled with one half of her mouth.

“Very… good,” she said, and took my hand.





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