Sunday, November 04, 2007

Destroying my Grandmother's Blanket

As the craft bloggers churn out one unique handmade object after another, you have to wonder where all those objects go. How many of them end up in the trash after being given as gifts? If people keep them, how long do they last? How much vomit can a baby blanket absorb before repeated washings take it down the drain? What happens when you wear a hole in a sock somebody knitted specially for you? In light of these questions, I have decided to challenge craft bloggers to write about unique handmade objects they have destroyed. I’m no craft blogger myself, but here’s my swing at this.

Lola and I recently retired a purple blanket made by my great grandmother from bed-service, and I must admit that I felt a little funny doing it. I grew up with this blanket, and upon leaving home, I took it with me without asking. Mom didn't care because she thought it was ugly. I, however, always liked the way the pattern of hearts, flowers, and cherubim interacted with the tufts of red acrylic yarn. This blanket was with me before I graduated from college, so it’s been keeping me warm in winter for seventeen years at least. No longer. Repeated washings have finally made the batting it is stuffed with clump together, and holes have started to form in some of the worn spots. In the gaps in the lining, the blanket is just two thin pieces of cloth, so it’s not very warm or even comfortable to sleep under anymore.

My parents think my great grandmother made the blanket sometime in the 1920s for the hired men who worked on my great grandfather’s farm. These days, I imagine those family farmers who are left buy cheap blankets at Wal-Mart or some such place for hired men who need them in winter. Back then, however, the wives of male farmers were expected to tend to the needs the hired help not only by cooking but also by making blankets. Hired laborers in farms like that were and are mixed bunch. My Dad, for example, worked as a hired man for my uncle Delos, and farmers then often hired (and some still hire) nephews, nieces, and cousins for seasonal jobs. Farmers also employed (and employ) nonkin laborers on a long-term basis for a wage. My grandfather, for example, had a family that lived and worked on his farm their whole lives. Joining these relatives and long-term employees was a shifting mass of landless rural workers, many of them hoboes. I don’t know for sure who my grandmother made this blanket for, but if it had been for the family that lived with them, it wouldn’t have been passed down to us. I have to assume, then, that it was made for temporary laborers.

The blanket itself is not a quilt, and my parents don’t know if there’s a word for what it is. Quilts, as we all know, are made from small sections of fabric pieced together with painstaking precision. This blanket, by contrast, was made on the quick and cheap. Big grandma didn’t do a bad job, but neither did she put a great deal of thought into what was essentially a utilitarian object rather than a conduit of love or a future family heirloom. It’s basically two sheets of identical patterned fabric, cut into bed-sized rectangles, sewn together along the edges, and stuffed with a white batting that is about the consistency of cotton balls. For at least seventy years, knotted stitches of yarn held the lining in place and gave strength to the blanket as a whole. Had I known more about taking care of delicate fabrics in my young adulthood, they might still hold that yarn in place, but alas, it took me many years of error in many crappy Laundromats (or “washaterias” as they’re called in parts of Texas) to learn how to wash things correctly. I admit that ruining a couple of Lola’s angora socks also taught me a few lessons. Today, the blanket keeps moisture in and animals out of the compost pile in our back yard, or at least it will until I catch it on a rusty nail and render it useless for even that task. And just as I didn’t ask my parents when I took it with me so many years ago, I didn’t consult with my wife before putting it over the compost pile. Lola objects vociferously to my decision.

So that’s how I destroyed a unique, handmade object. Let’s see if others will take up this theme. I tag Olga, dissertation be damned.