The Heart of Life
I had all these old t-shirts from high school: track meets, cross-country state championships, the pizza parlor where I worked during summers, grad night. The summer after my freshman year in college, my grandmother, Mimi (her real name was not Mimi, it was Ruth. I, being a natural blonde, did not realize that until I was in high school. Yes, I thought her real name was Mimi Carman until I was 16. I was quite the observant one, wasn’t I?) and I set to work sewing a T-shirt quilt. We worked together all summer, in between my long-training runs and summer internship, cutting up t-shirts, sewing tiny stitches, filling in the backing. Sometimes she’d tell me stories of her childhood growing up in Ohio, or stories about my Mom and Uncles as children, sometimes we cut and sew in silence, or listen to an old movie playing softly in the background.
The day was warm, the sun was shining, and it was a week past my actual birthday. I came down to YL for a birthday dinner, and picked Mimi up on the way. We had a glass of white wine together, and toasted to the upcoming year. She always loved a glass of Chardonnay. We laughed, ate yellow cake with chocolate syrup and celebrated being together.
My grandmother died shortly after that small birthday celebration. She was fine, and then she wasn’t. It was swift and quick, and exactly how she would have wanted it. I can’t talk to her on the phone; I can’t stop off at her tiny apartment in Brea on my way visiting my parents. We would always chuckle because Casey (my dog) would jump up on Mimi’s lap and smother her in licks before meticulously sniffing each square foot of her apartment scrounging for crumbs. I can’t listen to her stories of visiting Australia, or tales of her growing up through the Great Depression. I talk to her in other ways though, remembering things mostly – like how she’d say “yalla” instead of “yellow” or when I read a book I know she’d like. She was forever asking me for book recommendations, she read voraciously, and I was never able to keep up.
This morning, I pulled out the quilt we sewed together. There was a little chill in the air as I sat down for the morning’s work, and for a brief moment sat amazed at the tiny stitches and the worn look of the shirts. I stared at one corner, at the mistake I had made with the sewing machine which she fixed for me. She was forever teaching me how to sew or crochet a skill I still haven’t even begun to master. I remembered the shared laughs over funny stories, or our discussions of which shirt was our favorites. After a while, I got too warm and set the blanket aside. I thought of all the times I had used that blanket to comfort me, and the future uses of the blanket. Perhaps, it’ll be a favorite of my future children wanting to hear the stories of each shirt, or provide a bit of comfort to them on a cold night. I thought about the many memories of my Mimi stored away in the dark recesses of my brain. I thought about the last visit we had. How I walked her out to my brother’s truck, she walked steady on my arm, and she marveled at how beautiful a day it was.
I reached over to hug her, and tell her “I love you”, as was our custom after every visit. However, If I had known that was the last time I’d hug her, I would have held on just a little bit longer.