Sanctuary: Granny’s Scrapyard Playground

My Granny found a palace quilt in a swamp-color garbage can.

She lived in a mobile home made of what felt like tin and onion skin.  A green and blue bread box of a place, in a coat of dust raised off two red dirt roads that converged at the hitch.  Out front jutted a cobbled-up addition of plywood and whitewash. Out back stood her tin hardware shack, bought at Sears Roebuck, raised next to her clay-clod strawberry field, measuring little bigger than a sandbox.

And down a hill, through some woods and over a neck-breaker of a ledge, stood her playground.  A green dumpster behind a fabric and clothing store named Connie’s fashions.  It caught the castoffs of the polyester age in America.  I never saw a woman named Connie near the place.  I doubt Granny did either.  If she had, she would have asked permission to dive into that green garbage box.  She never did, so far as I know.  If that amounts to stealing, then God surely forgives the crime in the name of reclaimed beauty.

Out of that dumpster, my Granny stitched some good, stout beauty onto the world.

The scraps wore colors for which there are no fashion titles.  Words won’t do for the green.  The purple defies a name.  The colors occur in the rarest nature.  It was her nature not to let them take a ride to a dumping ground.

Up the hill to that tin box, she’d carry that scrap by armloads.  Her feet were long tired from Cotton Mill labor that started in girlhood. They looked worn out by women of the Bible and handed down through ages, so they surely hurt on the trip.  But the dumpster dive and pillaging carried on.  My Granny, undaunted, behind an imp of a grin.

Those feet, in concert with some arthritic and artistic hands, carried three Granny quilts to my life.

My Granny died in 1989.  The heart of me still wears a void the size of her.  But on a chill night, I or my mother — her only girl — may wear a quilt made of scraps, saved from a trash box, sewn in a tin box, by hands rough and soft and tender at once.

My Granny helped make a man of me.  When a girl broke my heart, she held me, told me not to “fret that little gal.”   When I needed to act more like a gentleman, she let me see just enough of my shame in her tears.  She was my re-creator.  She taught me stout should be tender.  Thanks to her, I am more a creature of decency than the Philistine she would not tolerate for a grandson.

Now the quilts do what her arms cannot.

My Granny’s scrapyard mountain art runs the chill of mortal life off me.  The very thought of one, a sanctuary.

I believe in eternal life.  I accept its mystery, not prone to all that fancied up eschatology about gold streets and cherubs with halos made of Vacation Bible School tin foil.  I believe God lets my Granny live on in two poetical worlds at once.  The one to come, lovely beyond words, and another along the stitching of her scrapyard quilts in the wilderness we all occupy in this world. Her hands, in the stitching, still hold me.  And in her hands, God, in touch with his feminine side, holds me together.  Upright, such as I am, in the world.

A true man, perhaps, one day. One worthy of my Granny’s scrapyard playground.


3 Responses to “Sanctuary: Granny’s Scrapyard Playground”

  1. What a lovely memory. Thank you for sharing it with us! I know your Granny is proud of you!

  2. Kathy Hartwig Says:

    Having read most of your words, these almost made me cry! I’ve been reading a series of books about the “Elm Creek Quilters” , but this one is real! Keep it up, Michael!

  3. This is, thus far, my favorite piece…one which I relate to down to my soul. Fortunate am I to have 2 such quilts. One a Christmas gift in my early teens from my paternal grandmother stitched from clothing too worn to wear any longer. The other a wedding gift from my mother-in-law pieced from scraps gleaned during her years working in the mills….finished product from many hands over many years. Both women long gone from my life live still in those pieces and stitches from the heart. We are, sir, indeed blessed to have those memories in which to wrap ourselves. Thank you for sharing yours.

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