'The Keeping Quilt'

Story Time

January 23, 2000|By Patricia Polacco

Editor's note: A homemade quilt ties together the lives of four generations of an immigrant Jewish family, remaining a symbol of their enduring love and faith.

When my Great-Gramma Anna came to America, she wore the same thick overcoat and big boots she had worn for farm work.

Everyone was in a hurry, and it was so crowded, not like backhome Russia. But all the same it was their home, and most of their neighbors were just like them.

The only things she had left of backhome Russia were her dress and babushka she liked to throw up into the air when she was dancing.

And her dress was getting too small. After her mother had sewn her a new one, she took her old dress and babushka. Then from a basket of old clothes she took Uncle Vladimir's shirt, Aunt Havalah's nightdress and an apron of Aunt Natasha's.

"We will make a quilt to help us always remember home," Anna's mother said. "It will be like having the family in backhomeRussia dance around us at night."

And so it was. Anna's mother invited all the neighborhood ladies. They cut out animals and flowers from the scraps of clothing. Anna kept the needles threaded and handed them to the ladies as they needed them. The border of the quilt was made of Anna's babushka.

On Friday nights Anna's mother would say the prayers that started the Sabbath. The family ate challah and chicken soup. The quilt was the tablecloth.

Anna grew up and fell in love with Great-Grandpa Sasha.

Under the wedding huppa, Anna and Sasha promised each other love and understanding.

When my Grandma Carle was born, Anna wrapped her daughter in the quilt to welcome her warmly into the world.

Again the quilt became a wedding huppa, this time for Carle's wedding to Grandpa George.

Carle and George moved to a farm in Michigan and Great-Gramma Anna came to live with them. The quilt once again wrapped a new little girl, Mary Ellen.

Mary Ellen called Anna, Lady Gramma. She had grown very old and was sick a lot of the time. The quilt kept her legs warm.

When Mary Ellen left home, she took the quilt with her.

When she became a bride, the quilt became her huppa.

The quilt welcomed me, Patricia, into the world, and it was the tablecloth for my first birthday party.

At night, I would trace my fingers around the edges of each animal on the quilt before I went to sleep. I told my mother stories about the animals on the quilt. She told me whose sleeve had made the horse, whose apron had made the chicken, whose dress had made the flowers and whose babushka went around the edge of the quilt.

The quilt was a pretend cape when I was in the bullring, or sometimes a tent in the steaming Amazon jungle.

Many years ago I held Traci Denise in the quilt for the first time.

Three years later my mother held Steven John in the quilt for the first time.

We were all so proud of Traci's new baby brother.

Just like their mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother before them, they, too, used the quilt to celebrate birthdays and make superhero capes.

As the years passed and Traci and Steven were growing up, their grandmother took pleasure at every family gathering to tell the story of the quilt.

We all knew whose clothes made each flower and animal.

My mother was lucky enough to show the wonder of this quilt to my brother's grandchildren, her great-grandchildren.

And now I wait ... for the day that I, too, will be a grandmother, and tell the story of the Keeping Quilt to my grandbabies.

Excerpted from the book KEEPING QUILT. Copyright c 1988 by Patricia Polacco. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., Children's Publishing Division. All rights reserved.

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