Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Green Stars

I got married in 1991, a time when the most beautiful colours were forest green and dusty rose. I had a fondness for a country look (sans ducks and plaid) and so, where most of my friends were opting for duvets, I wanted a quilt for our marriage bed - a dusty rose and forest green quilt.

My grandmother – who was buying us a bedroom suite – told me that she had a cousin who would make us a quilt, for relatively little money. Her cousin’s name was Tiny. Tiny lived in Exeter, Ontario, and one day, my grandmother drove me up to Tiny’s place to talk about what I wanted.

You would think I would remember what Tiny looked like, but I don’t. I remember our conversation where she steered me away from 100% cotton to a cotton-poly blend, told me I didn’t want a pure white background – it would be too stark, said yes, it could have a great deal of forest green in it, and that I should send her the different fabrics and she would make the quilt.

I visited fabric stores and bought single yards of a variety of fabrics, mostly floral patterns in pinks, greens, purples and blues. The pattern that felt the most daring was an off-white with baby blue alphabet letters dancing across it. To me that pattern was the promise of children who would trace their hands across the stars of the quilt, find letters they recognized and patterns they liked. Imaginary children who would come out of this bed, from under this quilt.

The quilt arrived in a garbage bag, rolled up. I unrolled it and was a bit daunted. The green fabric Tiny had used to make prominent bars around each colourful star was a brilliant kelly green. But – as I did on the morning of my wedding when the flowers arrived and they were lovely and absolutely other than what I had ordered – I nodded my head and accepted what had arrived.

Our first home was a narrow apartment in a post-war divided house on the west side of Toronto. It was an ugly neighbourhood but the buses ran by the door, it was halfway between our parents and I was seduced by the rounded doorways, the burnished wood trim and the old radiators. Plus, I could see a billboard from my kitchen window if I looked straight up. The quilt kept us warm two winters there, one in a townhouse that felt luxuriously spacious by contrast, and about a dozen years in our first home in Waterloo.

By then, three children had arrived and two cats had clawed their way across the bed. One child was even born in the bed, although with the quilt removed for the occasion. I don’t recall a child ever tracing letters or patterns, but the green bars served as benchmarks for babies, lain on the bed to be photographed to see how they had grown.

Some of the fabric looked nearly new, some had faded and others had frayed and torn quite badly. I should have sewn each tiny hole closed each time one appeared, but I didn’t. A finger would catch on a piece of fabric, or a toe, or a cat paw and it would pull a little farther.

A friend was an excellent seamstress. I hired her to sew a few replacement stars, and to insert them into the quilt.

One day a few years later, I went to the outlet mall and bought a new burgundy and navy quilt, probably made in China, certainly not made by Tiny. It never worked for us – it was heavy and it reminded me of the time I had bought it – not a terribly happy time.

We stayed at a cottage and slept under feather down duvets and melted with delight. A few years later, we decided we would buy a duvet. I gave the burgundy quilt away but the green starred quilt got tucked away into a cedar chest.

This year, we moved our tall teenaged son into a double bed. For a while, we turned the comforter he had used on a single bed, sideways, and this worked until the weather grew cold. I wish I had a duvet like yours, he said.

One day, spontaneously, I put our duvet on his bed and reached into the cedar chest for the old green quilt. It sits on our bed now. It’s thinner than it used to be and there are two or three stars that badly need mending. But somehow I like it.

Nearly twenty years later, I still like it.

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