“We may be through with our past, but the past is not through with us.” That’s one of my favorite movie lines—from Magnolia (1999), a movie with a complicated plot featuring several famous actors (Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore and Jason Robards). Recently I’ve been thinking about the past more than usual because two weeks ago my family held a memorial service for my father-in-law, who died in May at nearly 89 years old. And an object from my past came back into my possession.
“Grandpa Jim” was part of that “greatest generation” that experienced the Great Depression and then came of age during World War II. The Army kept him in medical school during the war, and he served his time just afterwards. He married his sister’s friend, a woman from the East Coast, became a small-town anesthesiologist in Illinois, and raised three children. Eventually he taught anesthesiology at Washington University in St. Louis and directed the first out-patient surgery center at Barnes Hospital. After his first wife died of cancer, he remarried and had a second long and happy marriage. He wrote that he had had a good life and he was satisfied with it.
What does any of this have to do with quilting? The process of emptying out Grandpa’s apartment and distributing his possessions among the family members brought back to me an afghan I made for him and his second wife in the late 1970s. It is pictured below, with a close-up detail.
You can see it is rather like a sampler quilt. Each square is crocheted in a different stitch, then the squares are joined to make a whole afghan. The yarn is 100% wool, which was expensive for me at the time, but I remember choosing a very high-quality yarn because I intended to put a lot of time into making the squares and I wanted my final product to be very nice and last a long time. (Good advice for quilters: Use high quality materials that will last.) I have known how to crochet since I was a child, thanks to my grandmother, but I only knew the basic stitches. This afghan taught me how to crochet almost anything, and it certainly was an exercise in patience. I was an accomplished garment sewer at the time, but I can look at this afghan today and see the makings of a future quilter.
We also brought home from Grandpa’s apartment a set of twin beds and a dresser—very nice cherry wood—not technically antique, but certainly old family pieces that had belonged to his mother, my husband's grandmother. Suddenly my house has taken on the atmosphere of a furniture store as I am faced with moving other furniture and rearranging bedrooms to fit this in. The first step is to have the roofers come to fix a leaking skylight in an attic room so I can repaint and start moving beds around. It’s definitely true that one thing leads to another when you’re doing home improvement!
My empty nest periodically refills again when my three adult daughters come home to visit, except two are married, the third is getting engaged, and I have a granddaughter. My family has multiplied and I need more sleeping space! I lost a bedroom when I took one over for my sewing studio, pictured below.
I want to make a new little bedroom for my granddaughter in our attic room, then set up the twin beds in the room that was previously hers when she came to visit. As I incorporate the past into my home, I find I have even more beds to make quilts for—a good thing. In memory of Grandpa Jim, our family gathered and dispersed again, and I have tried to keep very busy the past two weeks, sewing and thinking about the past….