Julia Lee Pollock
Here in the South, there’s just something comforting about a quilt. Even as I sit and write this column in the middle of a hot August night, I am wrapped up in an old patchwork quilt that my mother made for me. Some of the pieces of the cotton dresses from my childhood are torn and tattered, but the edges that she scalloped by hand are still distinctively intact.
Toward the end of my mother’s life, quilting became her hobby. She and her two best friends would sit in the den in front of the fireplace and hand-stitch quilts on the frame that my grandfather built for her.
Quilters know they are passing on something that will endure for generations. Like a handwritten letter from the war, a handmade quilt is a gift from the heart, a piece of love with many a fingerprint stamped upon it. And although the particular quilt that I am wrapped in now is tattered and torn from constant use, my other quilts are preserved. To me, they are sacred.
At the foot of the bed in the room where I write lies a quilt that a friend made for my daughter when she left for college four years ago. It is a bittersweet comfort to look at the quilt and to wrap myself up in it from time to time, and remind myself that unlike life, the quilt has remained the same, like an old-timey song.
Just like my mother, the friend died an untimely death, and when I look at the quilt folded sweetly on my daughter’s bed, I am reminded that a part of our friend lives on and is here to cradle us in the middle of the night or during a Sunday afternoon nap. This particular quilt is made of soft, colorful squares of flannel on one side — wildflowers and pastel plaids and clouds in shades of yellow, red, green, and blue. But the backside is even more special because it is made of denim from blue jeans that my children wore throughout the years. Just like Bob Dylan, I get “tangled up in blue” in the middle of the night, and this quilt from a friend is a mere representation of both the metaphor and the reality.
When my grandmother got cancer back in 1982, I visited her every day. One day she led me into the front bedroom and opened a blanket chest that I had never looked inside, which was unusual because I was a curious child who had explored every nook and cranny inside my grandparent’s house. But there was something regal about the blanket chest that sat in the corner of the front bedroom. Like an old safe, it seemed to say, “Look but don’t touch.” And so I never did.
But on that day, Granny took me into the front bedroom and opened the chest and pulled out a cream-colored quilt that was appliqu/d with pink butterflies. It was old but unmarred, just like Granny. It was beautiful and perfectly preserved. “I want you to have this,” she said.
“Why, certainly,” I said. And suddenly the quilt was mine. It was sort of a mystery quilt, emerging from the chest that I had never looked inside. I wondered what else was in there but I knew not to look. At the time, I did not value the deeper meaning of the quilt.
I was a wild child who did not preserve dolls or keep my tea party china intact. Somehow Betsy Wetsy’s head ended up on Chatty Cathy’s naked body and their hair looked like an attack of the cooties.
But something about the quilt spoke to me, and it is only now that I understand the message. It whispered life and love and preservation and hope, all unfolded and passed down to me in hand-sewn stitches of love.
Our quilts will forever be a comfort on a cold rainy day in November, or in a heat wave in the middle of the night in August, for they are stitched with a thread that will endure through heat and cold, love and loss.
I like knowing that.
Julia Lee Pollock is the writer of the weekly column “The Anonymous Mother,” that has been published in The Daily Herald in Columbia, Tennessee, since July 2000. She is the author of the book Will the Real Anonymous Mother Please Stand Up? published through Cold Tree Press.
Julia Lee Pollock