Sunday, November 25, 2007

Grandma's quilt

Jane, my coworker, said that she woke up in the middle of the night unable to get back to sleep and came up with a great idea for a title for her autobiography: “Up Hill Both Ways.”

“Why would you call it that?” I asked.

“Because when I was a kid we had to go up hill both ways to school and back home,” she said. Then she explained why she had to go up hill both ways, but I couldn’t tell you what she said. Well, I could make it up, though.

I’ve been telling Joella for years she should write a book, and she keeps telling me she will. But she hasn’t. I’m completely honest when I tell you she is one of the smartest people I have ever known, and I think she could easily harness that brilliance into a book.

“I’m going to,” she said, “I’m going to sit down one of these days and write a book.”

I said, “At least a short story.”

That was two years ago. Now she tells me she’s going to write her autobiography “one of these days.”

I remember grandma, back in 1997 when she was first diagnosed with MSA, telling me that there were so many things she wanted to do that she couldn’t possibly do them all. She took me into her living room and showed me an old quilt she had picked up at a yard sale.

“I love to fix up quilts,” she said, “But I’m probably not going to be able to fix this one.” Her muscles had just started to become feeble at this time, and she was finding herself less and less able to do the things she loved to do -- like sew.

“It’s sad,” she added, “That someone would throw something like this away. Someone worked so hard at making this quilt and all it needs is a little TLC. I know if I don’t finish it, it will probably end up in the trash.”

She never did finish it.

When I was in high school, grandma and grandpa lived just a block away from the school, so I’d go there for lunch nearly every day. One day I went there and grandma told me to leave, drive around the block, and go pick up the chair in front of the neighbors house.

“They’re getting rid of it because it has a leg missing, but it’ll give grandpa something to do.”

At first I didn’t understand what she was talking about, but then she took me out the side door, and pointed to the neighbors front yard. They had a bunch of junk out there for the annual spring garbage pick-up, and, among the junk, was the old chair she described.

I hopped in my car, backed out of the driveway, drove to her neighbors, tossed the chair in the back seat of my 1980 Dodge Charger (my first car), and drove back to grandmas. As I write this, I can picture grandma laughing at my naivety at that moment.

“I wanted you to drive around the block so they wouldn’t know it was me who took it,” she said, smiling.

“Oh,” I said.

I took the chair out, and set it on the ground. She inspected it. It was an old rocker, and not only was one of the legs missing, the seat was missing. “Grandpa can fix this,” she assured me.

I am sitting on that chair right now as I write this. Grandpa had cut off the rocking parts, whittled a seat, and turned this into a really nice chair. That was his hobby after he retired.

Many times I remember spending the night at grandma’s, and she’d get me up very early in the morning. We’d be at yard sales when there was dew still on the grass, and a chill in the air. She’d buy old dolls, antique bird cages, old picture frames, antique bottles, lamps, cuckoo clocks, and lots and lots of books. You know, all that stuff people have no use for any more.

"One person’s junk is another person’s treasure," the old addage goes.

My grandma treasured many things. Or, as she’d probably say, she "appreciated" them. She’d see something that looked like a bunch of junk to me, take it home, and incorporate it into her own personal museum that was her home -- her hobby.

And she loved books.

“It’s a shame someone would ever throw away a book,” she once told me.

That’s one of the things I loved most about grandma is how she appreciated things. She’d go to yard sales and pick up other people’s junk and put in among her collection of antiques and make her house look so cool. Yes: my grandma could make junk look cool.

One of the running jokes in my family is that grandma had this nice collection of antiques in her house, and it looked cool, but everything she had had a crack in it. Many times you couldn’t tell just by looking at it, but upon further examination you’d find the flaw.

A few days ago I found an old book among a collection of grandma’s things dad and his sisters had put into his garage and were in the process of going through. Aunt M. told me I could take any books I wanted, so I took a book from the 1880s called “Ben Hurr.” Upon further inspection of the book, however, I found the cover was loose.

If it weren’t for my grandma this book would have been in the trash 30 years ago. Now, if not for me, it would be thrown in the trash again. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it though, considering I don’t have any furniture to set it on.

Jane thought it was cool when I showed it to her the other day at work, the same day she told me about her “Up Hill Both Ways” idea. I sure hope Jane’s book doesn’t go the way of grandma’s quilt.

Copy write © Rick Frea 2007. All rights reserved

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