I couldn’t be with my family in Minnesota for Easter, but a little piece of my family was here with us. When my grandma died ten years ago (I can’t believe it’s been ten years), I inherited her china and a tablecloth that she had crocheted. Of all the things that were in her house, I really wanted the tablecloth because it was something she’d made herself.
Today James Lileks wrote about his trip home for Easter, and he mentions some afghans that his grandmother knitted:
Because here I am in my father’s new house, staring at this letter my Grandma wrote in wool. You can run your hands along it and pretend you’re touching her; you can imagine the day at the farm, with Grandma knitting in the front room, Grandpa looking for the car keys so he can drive out and check the progress of the crops, Folger’s brewing in the kitchen, Eli loping off to the barn to change the oil in the tractor, worrried about a pain he’s been having. But you’ll get nothing out of them. Gnat has no idea of the blanket that kept her warm, just as Grandma had no idea there would ever be a Gnat. It can drive you nuts, the wishing. But what can you do? You remember, you pass it on, you let it go.
I love those images of the letter written in wool, and of pretending you’re touching Grandma when you touch the object she made. I had some of these same feelings yesterday, but I can’t express them as well as Lileks does.
The afghans and tablecloth are just objects, but it’s their stories that make them special. My tablecloth has a tiny dot in one of the corners. If you didn’t know the story, you’d think it’s just a stain. Every time the tablecloth was used, we’d all get into a big discussion about whether it was on the table with the wrong side out. Everyone would examine the stitches, then turn over a corner to peer at the other side. “Which way does it go?” “It’s upside down!” “Can’t you tell that this is the back?” “No it’s not!” The debate became as much a part of our holiday traditions as the Christmas tree or the Easter ham. Grandma ended the good-natured discussion once and for all by putting a dot of nail polish on the back.
Now when we set the table, the story isn’t really about the tablecloth itself. It’s about Grandma, her dry sense of humor, and the way she looked at life. Hmmm . . . it seems maybe I’ve inherited more than just the tablecloth.