My father died when I was young, and we only saw his parents and sisters once a year, on Thanksgiving. They’re very religious, very traditional, and for years I struggled to connect to my grandmother, who disapproved of my perpetually scraped knees and paint-stained jeans. The depression-era daughter of Dutch immigrants, she committed herself to a domestic wholesomeness that my angst-ridden self just couldn't understand. Most of all, I struggled to get past the sense of obligation that burdened our relationship. Every Christmas, I received the same present: a quilt she had spent the previous year sewing, and a spiral-bound book of pictures documenting the process. My uncle would joke, “for the gift of guilt, just give a quilt!”
Her health began to fail a few years ago. She stopped sewing, stopped hosting Thanksgiving. It’s only now that I’ve really looked at the quilts and seen how much of herself she stitched into them, how much of me is patched on and worn in. One has grass stains all across its tea-party printed backing, the ugly side that I hid at picnics. The biggest one has frayed corners from being used in too many blanket forts. Most have some ink stains, some paint stains, some dirt; all have the same stitched signature, “With love, Grandma.”
I recently made a quilt for my new cousin, the first baby in the family in 20 years, just like I was. Maybe he’ll grow to resent all we project onto him, but there are worse loads to carry. At least this one keeps him warm.
– Olivia Waterhouse