Grandma’s Last Christmas

 

Something took apart my beanie, ripping every seam,
stealing my favorite panel for its evil scheme.
Dad’s boxers and Mom’s flowered blouse likewise disappeared.
Our baby sister’s blankie the next thing commandeered.
Mother’s apron, then a snip from her wedding dress,
taken from an inner seam, so who would ever guess?
And who would ever notice Father’s tie now missed an inch?
Was there no sacred item that they were loath to pinch?
Auntie’s favorite hanky. Uncle’s tobacco pouch.
Grandma’s antimacassar that graced her threadbare couch.
Grandpa thought the moths had been at his old red flannels,
and several of our curtains were missing parts of panels.

All of us superstitious about what we’d next lose,
a semi-official inquiry offered no clear clues.
Sister’s last year’s prom dress was the next sacrifice.
Was it a new type of moth? Was it rats or mice
operating with precision, taking a tidy square?
What creature did its robberies with such exquisite care?
A year passed and another year. We began our defections
as our lives led us here and there in various directions.
Home again for Christmas, then off again to lives
involving universities and jobs and kids and wives.
Until that special Christmas, gathered at Grandma’s bed,
with Grandpa at the foot of it and Mother at the head.

We kids gathered around each side, except, that is, for one.
That was the year that Sis had said she could not join the fun.
Our husbands, wives and girlfriends did not quite fill the space.
Not one of all our children quite made up for that face
missing in the middle. That favorite of all.
That special pesky sister, sliding down the hall
on a purloined skate board, or filching Halloween
candy from the sack you’d saved. Center of every scene
that involved tricks or mischief, yet only bent on fun.
No mean bone in her body. Not a single one.
We’d sung Gram’s favorite carol, and, about to sing one more,
we heard a footstep in the hall. A creaking of the door.

A cloth-swathed creature leaped at us, then swirled it overhead.
It settled over Grandma, resting lightly on her bed.
It was a quilt of many fabrics, many colors, many shapes
made of communion dresses, knickers and wedding capes,
prom dresses and baby blankets, doilies, curtain panels,
and right there in the middle were Grandpa’s old red flannels.
I found my purloined beanie and a boy scout badge I’d missed.
I even found a scarf I stole from the first girl I’d kissed.
We all gathered around it, and stories fell like snow
upon this quilt that told them all, and on Grandma below.
We ate our Christmas dinner gathered around that quilt.
Everyone so careful that not a crumb was spilt.

Grandma with her bed tray, fingered now and then
a scrap of cloth that told another story of back when.
We should have known, of course, that our sister was the schemer.
What other one among us was such an inventive dreamer?
She knew the time would come when, scattered far apart,
something would be needed to rejoin our family’s heart.
We had no idea then that what seemed a dereliction
was  a noble enterprise, founded on her conviction
that our family history must somehow be recorded.
She kept her project secret from us, lest it be aborted.
All our buried memories needed to come to light,
so she bound them all together, in stitches neat and tight.

By Judy Dykstra Brown

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