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This Family Quilt Holds a Prayer in Every Thread

Her mother handed down this beautiful link to the past—and to the future.
Ginger Rue's mother, Lois Griffin, holding one of her quilts; Photo by Michael A. Schawrz

“I’m so glad you’re here!” Mother said as the five of us—me, my husband and our three grown children—trooped in the door last Christmas. Even with my brother in town, Mother and Daddy’s house in Tuscaloosa felt empty. Mother took one look at me and knew what I was thinking.

Christmas made me nostalgic for the holidays of my childhood, when her six brothers and sisters and all their children—17 of us cousins in all—crowded into my grandmother Mema’s little house in Mississippi. Everybody lived close by, and the world just seemed more cozy. Mema had died many years ago; my cousins were spread out across the South. Relatives mostly came together now for funerals, or the occasional reunion, when they could make it. I was mourning a long-gone past, one my daughters would never experience.

“Let’s open presents,” Mother said, and insisted I open my gift first. I tore off the paper. Inside the large, heavy box was a quilt made in a six-pointed star pattern. “Is this really Mema’s quilt?”

“The very one,” Mother said.

I ran my fingers over the soft squares. “It must be a hundred years old.”

“Your Mema was a young girl when she pieced it and quilted it with your great-grandmother.” Mother explained that she’d tucked it away, worn and soiled, after Mema’s death. “But what comfort was it to anyone all wrapped up for safe-keeping?” she said. She’d mended its tears and used a special detergent to remove stains without damaging the fabrics.

“Whenever I spent the night with Mema, she always let me sleep in her bed,” I told the girls. “We said our prayers and whispered under the quilt while the rest of the house slept.” Mother and I fawned over each square, wondering which fabrics were scraps from the flour sack dresses sewn for Mema as a girl. My daughters were fascinated. “Dresses made from flour sacks?”

Mother pointed out a section where the stitches were somewhat crooked. “I bet these are the first stitches your Mema ever made.” She told the girls how Mema, at 16, had married and learned the ways of a country wife. The girls pulled Mema’s quilt over their laps and listened.

I could almost hear the prayers that had seeped into the fabric. They still covered me and my daughters and the family Mema loved. A family that grew and spread out in a bigger world, where our faith warmed us, especially at Christmas. Mother’s house felt full of the past rolling into the future, when I might have sleepovers with my grandchildren someday, to cuddle and whisper and pray with under Mema’s quilt.

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