I didn’t always see her quilts as love. I first saw them as comfort. I saw her hands holding scissors cutting out patterns, then sewing them together. The bright shapes were carefully stacked and pinned. I saw her with needle and thread, hand-quilting each piece. This one with French knots, that one with ties. I slept under her quilts growing up. They kept me warm, they protected me. My fingers would absently trace the outlines of the bonnet girls. When I was sad, they offered a sense of comfort.
As I grew older, I saw them as art. The bright bold colors she chose challenged life and called your eyes to them. They were things of beauty and I proudly showed them to my friends. Art has a special power to make moments stand still… and more often than not, those still captured moments are snapshots that look suspiciously like ordinary life.
But when I had my own children and wrapped them in a quilt my Granny sewed, I realized that while her quilts were art and comfort, more than that, her quilts were love. Her quilts, with flowers and birds and girls and boats, were pieces of love sewn carefully together. Sometimes, wrapped in those quilts made with a thousand moments of Granny’s life and love, I feel her strength and I think some part of her spirit watches over us as we sleep.
My Granny, Dorothy Marie Wood, was the strongest woman I’ve ever known. For all of us who had her in our life, she was strong and constant. I remember going to her home to spend the night, sleeping next to her in the king sized bed in her room. I remember talking her ear off until one of us dropped off to sleep. Those slumber parties always involved ice cream and Hawaiian punch and pickles and pimento cheese.
She was such a good cook! She would make biscuits and gravy, and pot roast, and mashed potatoes and pies. At Granny’s house, people never went hungry. Guests didn’t use the formal living room or sitting area, everyone gathered in the kitchen, my uncles often sneaking around trying to get samples of food before it was ready, Granny swatting them away.
It’s really hard for me to imagine a world without my Granny in it. She was a landmark in the lives of everyone she knew. She played 42 and Skip Bo. Her friendships were life-long. When I’ve talked to them, I laughed when they told me stories about Granny and Grandaddy – or “Dorothy and Johnny.”
“Dorothy and Johnny had the most fun game night. They would make us laugh until we cried. Those two were quite a pair!”
My Grandmama, Margaret Martin, told me stories about Granny making her giggle during choir practice or laugh so hard during their game nights until she couldn’t catch her breath. “She was my best friend,” Grandmama told me before she passed away in 2011.
Even when my Grandaddy left her side too early, Granny resolutely held fast to her independence and courage. She travelled the world, she embraced adventure, and she reminded us that we were never far from her heart by bringing back gifts from her travels to us.
Granny didn’t write books or stand in front of a crowd, but she shared her wisdom generously by telling stories to us, and to our children and to our children’s children about life: She left us those stories in her quilts.
She taught us lessons about breathing deeply. About slowing down and giving up parts of yourself to love. She taught us lessons about life and loss and carrying on. She taught us perseverance.
I think there’s really only one lesson that life teaches us all, and that is how to say goodbye. Love was more than words to her, it was action. Her love wasn’t conditional: once she gave it to you, it would always be yours. Hers was a practical art, filled with all the things that made her joyful: friends, laughter, good food, family, novels, dominos, cutting up, sewing, remembering, creating, warming, and feeding us all.
Her children grew up to be strong and independent, but full of the same compassion and love she carried. I have a bit of her stubborn streak in me. She would not accept no for an answer when it was something she had her mind set on.
She greeted each challenge that came her way with a quiet, resolute strength. She simply put her shoulders back and her chin up and moved forward. She didn’t crumble in defeat or self-pity when she faced obstacles, she simply kept walking, and as she walked, she left people smiling at a joke she told, or comforted from a shared hug, or warmed by a gift of her cooking or her sewing. She left behind a practical legacy of love.
Saying goodbye will never be easy. I think we spend our whole lives learning to say “good bye,” and “I’ll miss you”… and in the end, we pull away slowly and our road takes us on. Granny’s love was baked into pies and sewn into quilts and traded in conspiratorial whispers and giggles with her companions, and when I look at her life, I’m reminded…
“There are things that you do because they feel right. And they may make no sense, and they may make no money, and it might be the real reason we are here: to love each other, and to eat each other’s cooking, and say it was good.” (Brian Andreas)
We loved her, we ate her cooking, and it was good. Thank you for the ordinary beauty you gave all of us to keep, Granny.