Saturday, August 19, 2017


Today is my birthday, and I’m a grandmother. Early this morning I was thinking about my grandmothers—how long they lived, what they were like. My husband’s maternal grandmother was an important part of my life for over a decade. I wrote this tribute to her some time ago and decided to post it today.

The old woman peered over the top of her smudged glasses to identify the visitor, then quickly dropped her eyes to the calico squares on the quilting frame. Her bright blue eyes showed no hint of her 91 years, and her voice was strong and animated. Fingers skillfully pulling the needle down through squares, batting, and lining and then back up through the crazy-quilt top, she greeted me and spoke happily about a letter from a California grandson and--hands too busy to point--nodded her head toward a large cardboard box on the bed. She said a young church friend had just delivered a collection of fabric remnants.

As always, I looked at her crowded room in amazement. "Too busy to be tidy," she said apologetically, with no apology in her eyes. On the brown tile floor, old shopping bags stuffed with fabric squares of many colors and patterns, double wedding ring curves, and Texas star points crowded against boxes overfilled with brightly colored scraps. She wanted me to see the latest finished quilt, so I pulled a battered brown suitcase from under the bed and examined a carefully folded Dutch Boy destined for the newest great-grandson in Atlanta. Because a basket of bananas and apples took up the extra chair, I pushed aside her blue chenille bathrobe and sat on the bed with the new box of remnants, my feet just missing an open breadbox and its tangle of colors in loose and balled thread.

The telephone rang. She moved a pile of pieced squares and talked with a Texas grandson. I picked up the worn black Bible on the bedside table and read several pages of the copious notes in the margins, some written in a sure, tight hand, some in a loose scrawl. A short time later, two middle-aged women from the local homemakers' club stopped by to deliver a caramel cake and a summary of the latest news.

As they chatted, with one visitor on the bed next to me, leaning uncomfortably against the wall, and the other perched gingerly on the window sill, I noticed that the ever-growing stack of sewing boxes (a sameness of gifts) was now precariously propped against the bookcase. Letters, snapshots, and greeting cards were jammed between and into the books. Wandering Jew, trailing philodendron, and airplane plants overran the top of the bookcase, creating a cool green chaos in contrast with the color riot everywhere else. Although I could not see it, I knew that there was a sewing machine underneath the rolls of batting. There was a tiny black and white TV, I remembered, on the dresser under the mound of pale yellow lining. The other corner of the outside wall was all quilting frame, with Grandmama's chair jutting out into the middle of the room, blocking most of the walking space.

The two ladies said their goodbyes until next month. Taking with me clippings of philodendron, apples for the boys, the caramel cake ("Take it home! I don't need the sugar. Besides, it's Warren's favorite."), and a trash basket made from yellow egg cartons tied together with green knitting yarn, I stepped into the hall, contemplating the 104 quilts and 56 baby quilts made since she had decided to move here four years ago. As I left that busy, happy bustle behind me, I suddenly noticed the strong acrid smell of the nursing home.

Minnie E. Porter Moore, 1884-1975

Written in July, 1984

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