The Warmth of Quilts and History: A Story

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This year my we moved into a house in the woods. When I say “house” I mean “cabin” and when I say “woods” I mean “middle of nowhere.” If you look on a virtual map of far eastern Pennsylvania and find a spot that is nothing but woods, with only a few one-lane roads, that’s where we are.

The middle of nowhere is right in the foothills of the mountains. There are bears and deer and bobcats and the occasional wild turkey. It’s in a place where the trees are so dense that little sunlight gets through, especially that lazy, waning sunlight that wintertime brings. On a beautiful summer day, that’s the perfect place to be.

On a cold autumn day on the cusp of winter? Not so much.


image: artethgray


Wood abounds here, which is great news for the fireplace. And the propane tank sitting behind the garage brings great peace of mind and heat on the coldest nights. But there is no escaping the fact that it’s still cold!

That’s where my grandmother’s penchant for quilts holds me in good stead.

Warmth Generations in the Making

When the first hint of cooler nights rolled around, I opened up the old cedar chest. It was one that my grandfather made for me while I was still in the womb, a true hope for the future if there ever was one. Tucked inside were a bevy of quilts, all of them handmade and most of them very worn, quilts that were created by my grandmother or her mother. There were light ones and heavy ones, crazy quilts and wedding ring patterns, those that were perfectly straight and square and those that were…well, all over the place.

I pulled them out of the cedar chest and shook them open, revealing their full beauty. I draped them over couches and put them on beds. Then — with more than a little delight — I realized we didn’t have enough.

“We need more quilts!” I announced.

And that led to an amazing journey.

quilt 2

image: artethgray

Strangers Who Became Friends

The first new-to-me quilt I picked up was at a yard sale. The man looked at it with a smile on his face. “That belonged to my daughter when she was little,” he said, and spent the next ten minutes telling me the story of the quilt. I thanked him, paid him and walked away with it in my arms, but now it had a bit more weight to it, more substance than it had before.

The second one was an estate sale find. “My grandmother made dozens of these,” the old woman said. I heard stories of grandchildren now grown, harsh winters, new homes and new loves. There was loss mixed in there too, and as she talked I realized that these were more than quilts. They were a legacy, one she was now willing to part with, but she wanted me to know exactly what I was getting.

I took great care in folding them. I already felt a responsibility to them. I put those quilts in the backseat and waved at her as we drove away.

quilt 3

image: artethgray

A new collection

That launched a new collection. Now that winter is bearing down hard, I love those quilts for the warmth they give us as we sit in the living room, wrapped up by the fireplace. I love the heavy feel of them on the beds, the sight of them wrapped around shoulders in the kitchen first thing in the morning, and the way they look folded up neatly on a chair. But what I love most of all is the story behind each and every one, stories I am determined to remember.

Those quilts have turned strangers I never met into old friends. They have also given me a deeper appreciation for my grandmother’s quilts, and those that were passed down to her from her own mother and grandmother. I look at the generations of hands that have touched them, generations of children that were warmed by them, and I have to smile when I see my own child wrapped up in a few of them, fast asleep on her bed in this cabin in the woods.

The firewood is stacked up and the propane tank is full. But these quilts will always be able to impart a warmth that no blazing fire or hard-working furnace could match. It’s a warmth of the heart, a gratitude that will lead me to pass these quilts — stories and all — to another generation.




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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.