It was the last blanket she would ever make, or so she wrote in the note accompanying it. Some months before she'd asked me my favorite colors, and I'd answered, "Pinks and purples." One day in late fall, a time when I was alternately more exhilarated and lonelier than I'd ever been, a yellow slip showed up in my university mail slot. Oh, for a freshman to receive mail! That tiny rectangular mail slot was the last link to my childhood, and I was lucky indeed that my much older brother and sister wrote to me quite often, sensing (or remembering) how unmoored the beginning college student can feel.
Eagerly I brought the mail slip to the university's post office clerk. The package was assembled from brown grocery bags taped together, evidence, if I'd needed it, of my grandmother's essentially thrifty nature. She'd handwritten my address. The handwriting was both familiar and not. It was shakier than I was used to. I had to do the math in my head before coming up with her current age: seventy-eight years old. I pulled off the brown paper and found a crocheted blanket, white with purples, pinks, blues, and yellows. I grinned and tore back to my dorm room to place the blanket at the foot of my bed.
I still own that blanket. As infants my boys first lay on it, then rolled over and sat up on it.
The blanket is the most direct link between me and my grandmother, a gruff, brisk, hardworking woman who was never keen on public displays of affection. Still, we grandchildren knew how much she loved us. Her love was in the blankets she made for us, in the food she cooked for us, in the feel of her gnarled, weathered hands as she worked rubbing alcohol into our skin to bring down our childhood fevers. It was in her gift to us of the bowl with little strips and blobs of dough that hadn't made it onto cookie sheets (salmonella a threat not yet in the lexicon).
We knew that my grandmother cared about us based on these things, things that sufficiently conveyed to us the strength of her feeling. It was only in the last five years of her life that she chose to end phone conversations with a faintly embarrassed, soft-spoken "Love you." By that point, I suspect, she wasn't sure that she'd ever get another chance to say those words, so she offered them up as a kind of insurance.
Her generation was not nearly as expressive as ours, or the generation that has followed it. So a warm gesture, or a word or two of praise, when it came, meant so much. Words are cheaper these days. We use them more often and less thoughtfully. We take far less on faith than we used to. We insist on proof of this or that, and if we don't get it, we object - strenuously. Computers have expanded our social circles, so that there are not only more words being bandied about but more people receiving them, people who might take offense, or misconstrue intent. And with everyone talking, who is left to listen?
I miss my grandmother and her generation. I want my words to matter, to be taken as if they are things of some value, instead of yet more junk polluting the atmosphere. I sit in silence as I finger the edges of my grandmother's blanket, and I wish -- that more of us could take love, friendship, and good intentions on faith, that more of us would as a matter of course accept responsibility for our own actions and work hard for work's sake, that more of us might make beautiful blankets out of skeins of yarn.
What I really wish is that more of us were like my grandmother.