I’ve tried twice to throw it away. It’s my last single-bed patchwork quilt that my grandmother made. This time, I wrapped it around a display shelf I was donating to Purple Heart—doing a good deed and de-cluttering at the same time. The old quilt hasn’t been on a bed in years. It’s nearly my age and very worn: in places, the thin material is shredded. I can’t wash it because the fabric is too fragile. Might as well get it out of the closet.
My thrifty grandmother cut her patches from colorful feed-sacks. This quilt has an interlocking ring pattern and scalloped edges. When I was a kid, this quilt alternated on my bed with a daisy-patterned one (long since gone). I decided that before sending it to Purple Heart, I’d spread it on our bed and take a photo as a keepsake. After all, I thought, I do still have my crib quilt with the kittens on it and my parents’ double-bed quilt. My grandmother made them all.
Grandmother won a blue ribbon at the 1941 Morgan County Fair for one of her quilts. Years ago I framed that blue ribbon and its envelope (mailed with a one-cent stamp). On the envelope was written “For the prettiest quilt.” Maybe my ring quilt was the one.
I think she would like the way her quilts were used and loved. For me and then for my sons, quilts were way more than bed-coverings. They led a rollicking life, turning chairs into rainy-day caves or making pallets for sleepover guests. Tented on a clothesline and weighted at the corners, they gave the backyard an air of Araby.
While I was pondering these memories, Zeno jumped onto the bed. He padded about as if testing the quilt for feline suitability. He couldn’t know that he is merely the last in a long line of family cats to “make up dough” on this quilt, or to pounce on the toes it covered. The quilt, I saw, still has an affinity for cats.
When he looked up at me with question-marks in his eyes, I made a decision. The shelf gets wrapped in something else. The quilt stays in honorable retirement, with me.