When Joe lost his job on the railroad that year–through no fault of his own–and our first little one was born dead, I was just about past pickin’ myself up and goin’ on with life. But Joe insisted that everything would be all right; we’d go back to his home in the mountains. His mama and daddy always had a big garden, back in a black-dirt corner of their property, and best of all there was a cabin, the one where they’d started out married, that we could fix up and make a home in.
I was too sick and weak to dispute him, and so we arrived in that little community called Citico just before winter. Now sure enough, his mama had plenty of food canned for the winter, from sausages to green beans and tomatoes, and his daddy had killed a beef and a couple of hogs and had a full smokehouse.
What Joe didn’t tell me was that the cabin was in pretty bad shape, and he hadn’t warned his daddy we was comin’.
It didn’t have but two rooms: one for a kitchen, with a big old cast iron woodburnin’ stove, and the other for a bedroom, separated from the kitchen with a thin curtain of unbleached domestic.
There was no heat whatever in that bedroom. We tried, once the winter set in hard, to keep at least a bed of coals in the cookstove, but that worried me; I was afraid of the chimney catchin’ fire or somethin’.
And the wind blew through those cracks in the walls, always a cold wind from the north; and when the snows came, they blew in too.
I had low blood still, havin’ lost a lot when the baby was born, and although Joe’s mama give us quilts and Joe held me tight when I cried from the cold, I still couldn’t seem to get warm.
The only place I could warm through to my bones was right by the kitchen stove, but a body cain’t cook all the time, and the room weren’t big enough to move the bed in there. Joe did, when he saw I felt better near the stove, brought a rockin’ chair over from his mama’s and set it there for me.
But still, come bedtime, I was cold.
One night, deep in the night, I woke out of a restless sleep to hear somethin’ odd.
The rockin’ chair was rockin’.
But Joe was beside me asleep.
I raised up a little so I could see into the kitchen. The moon was full that night, and it shone in enough between the cracks in the walls that I could see somebody a-settin’ in that chair, rockin’. It was an older lady, and I could see she had beautiful white hair and pink cheeks and pale eyes.
She was doin’ somethin’ with her hands. After a minute or two, I could see by the glint off the hook that she was crochetin’, what looked like little tiny squares, one after the other, with a speed that surprised me. As she finished each one, she was layin’ it in a basket next to her chair.
Once, I fancied, she seemed to notice I was watchin’ her, because she looked toward the bedroom and smiled.
I must have drifted back off to sleep after that, because when I woke Joe was already up, makin’ up a fire–he was good that way–and singin’ to himself, as he always did of a mornin’.
“Hey,” he said suddenly, “where in tarnation–”
By then I was up and crossin’ that cold floor in my bare feet, with a quilt around my shoulders. “What is it, honey?” I asked.
“Where’d this come from?”
He was holdin’ a basket–about a half-bushel basket, I’d say–and in it was stacked twenty or more crocheted squares; they all had middles in different colors, some solids and some mixed, and all of them edged around in black.
“If I didn’t know better,” he said, “I’d swan to goodness that my granny made these.”
“Daddy’s mama,” he said. “She used to make afghans out of squares like this. She’s been gone since I was a kid, though.”
Well, I didn’ tell him what I’d seen the night before, and he was worried I’d catch cold, so he busied himself with the fire and I got dressed and began the day.
And, ever night for the next two or three weeks, I’d wake up in the chime hours and hear the chair rockin’, and I’d raise up and there was Granny. By the end of the second week, she was beginnin’ to stitch them squares together.
And then, one night in late in January, with snow on the ground and more comin’ down, and me covered in quilts and with Joe’s arms around me and I still couldn’t sleep for the cold, Granny stopped work.
I heard the chair stop rockin’, and the thought flashed through my head,Oh, Granny, no! Please don’t go! I’d got so used to hearin’ her that I’d miss the rockin’ and the sight of her white hair and her smile, and her little hands workin’ away in the night.
But Granny stood up and shook out this big, finished afghan. This time–the only time–there was a glow around her, like the light was comin’ from Granny and the afghan herself, and I could see every little square, and all the colors, set together like she meant them to be.
And, while Joe slept away by me, Granny walked over to my side, and for the first and only time she spoke to me.
“This is for you,” she said.
And, gently, gently, she spread that afghan out over the bed, tuckin’ it around me. In wonder, I slipped my hand out from under the quilts and touched it. I felt the roughness and weight of wool under my touch. It was heavy. And oh, it was warm.
I looked up at Granny. I tried to say thank you, but suddenly I was in tears.
Granny smiled like she knowed what I was tryin’ to say. She said, “You keep this, always. There’ll be more cold winters ahead. Sleep warm, now.”
And slowly the light faded, and Granny was gone.
I told Joe, come mornin’, what had happened. He didn’ have no choice but to believe me, seein’ that the afghan was there and neither me nor his mama could crochet, but he was a bit leery about it for awhile.
I still have that afghan. Its colors are faded now, and there’s holes wore through it. But it kept me–and later, the babies Joe and I had together–warm through many a winter, just like Granny said.
I wouldn’t part with it for the world.
Many thanks to my friend Sharon (aka Aunt Ornery) for asking, “Why not write about a ghost who crochets?”
This story is based very loosely on a story of a winter when my mom and my paternal grandmother boarded and taught school at Citico, in the mountains in southern Monroe County, Tennessee. As I was reading it to Mom, she kept protesting “It wasn’t that bad!”
But my Gran–very much alive then–did sit by a stove in a three room cabin that winter, crocheting a big afghan, in many colored squares edged in black, wool and heavy and warm. She even finished it with fringe, and when it was done she brought it and put it on Mom’s bed.
It kept Mom warm that winter, and me and my brother and sister later on.
It’s worn and has a few holes in it now, and even if I hadn’t eventually developed an allergy to wool I couldn’t fix it; I can’t make Gran’s meticulous stitches and those colors and wools are no longer available. I’ve looked.
It’s packed in a box now.
I wouldn’t part with it for anything in the world. 🙂
Copyright 2011 by Faire Lewis.