by Jennifer on January 10, 2009

I took the afghan from the laundry basket where it had waited two days for me to fold it in fourths and put it back on my daughter’s bed. It never feels right in my hands, though – and if it’s possible to have a complicated history with a thing, I do with this afghan.

When I graduated from high school – or when I turned 16, I can’t remember for sure – my step-grandmother (Sue’s mother) offered to crochet an afghan for me. I could pick the colors from the rows of Red Heart yarn at Kmart, so I chose teal (it was a phase) and pink (I still liked pink, then) and cream (it matched them both). The finished piece was stripes of those colors, in varying widths.

When I went away to college, the afghan went with me and kept me warm through two bitter Nebraska winters.

And then, my family finally broke apart, as it should have done many years earlier. My father and my stepmother would finally get a divorce.

Who would have custody of my younger brother was the question, even though he was 16 and, under other circumstances, would have been asked where he wanted to live. But leaving him there with Sue, after all that happened, wasn’t an option for any of us. My sister and I prepared written statements and agreed to testify at the hearing about the things Sue had done to us.

We hoped that her mother would help by testifying, also, to help her grandson get out of that house. She knew what had happened over all the years, she knew what all of us had been through. Because she had lived next door to us for 15 years, because she had a front row seat to some of what happened, she was in a unique position to tell what she knew.

But she backed out at the last minute. She couldn’t do it. She couldn’t testify against her own daughter.

So I called her. I found a pay phone outside the courthouse and called her, in tears, and begged her to do this for my brother. I told her that maybe it would be the extra push we needed.

And she wouldn’t.

I can understand her not wanting to speak out in court against her own daughter. I do. I can’t imagine how that would feel, not only to believe and accept the truth for herself, but to say for the public record what her daughter was capable of doing. But I can imagine making at least that much effort to save someone who still didn’t have a voice for himself (even at that age, he didn’t).

The story goes on longer than this, but the short version is that my father was awarded custody. In the end, not having her help didn’t matter to the case.

But it mattered to me. A lot. I couldn’t see her the same way.

The afghan went into a box, where it stayed through 11 moves over 20 years. Tucked inside a box, packed inside the past.

A couple of months ago, I found it again. I knew I didn’t want it, but it didn’t feel right to throw it away, either. Someone without any emotional attachment to it might take some warmth from the blanket, so I set it aside to take to Goodwill or to an animal shelter.

And then my daughter found it. “Can I have this, Mommy?”

I hesitated, wanting to be rid of it. But what could I say? Hadn’t I just decided the afghan should be used by someone who wouldn’t care about its past?

Since that day, it’s found a spot at the end of her bed, where she can pull it up over herself if she gets cold in the night. She uses it to make blanket forts, or drags it through the house to the sofa, to curl up under to watch TV or read a book.

It keeps her warm.

That it was made by hands that wouldn’t reach out to help when they could have (at many times through the years, not just at the end)…well, that’s not something she needs to know. It gives her comfort, that’s all that’s important. And don’t I hope that’s true of me? It doesn’t matter to her that I was shaped by hands that knotted me together with uneven, tangled stitches, or that my flaws are more apparent to my children than to anyone. What matters is that she and her brother can find comfort without having to reach very far.

Tonight I put the blanket – clean and fresh-smelling – on her bed. “It smells really good, sweetie,” I told her, and she buried her face in it and breathed in.

As I knew, knew for sure, she would.

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenn @ Juggling Life January 10, 2009 at 9:41 am

When you are strong it is difficult to understand the weak.

Gwen January 10, 2009 at 10:16 am

How complicated people are, and our relationships with them. I am proud of you, if it is accurate to use that word to describe a feeling for a person that you don’t really know, for letting your daughter have the afghan. It seems like a small way to break the cycles, not to visit the sins of the fathers on the children.

Mrs. Chili January 10, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Oh, MAN, but I still struggle with this. What do we do when the people we count on – really count on – let us down? How do we go on after that? How do we adjust our world view (and our view of ourselves for having thought differently of a person than they proved to be)?

I keep getting opportunities from the Universe to learn this lesson, so clearly I’ve not got it figured out just yet…

fancy feet January 10, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I know I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. You put things together so beautifully.

I have been packing and going through my past over the last few weeks and, oh, the memories that surface. I can’t help but be reflective.

Thank you for sharing this. If I can say this…in the letting go of that afghan I think you’re giving your kids your gift of courage. You have an incredible amount of courage.

apathy lounge January 10, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Complicated, indeed. Adults not helping children. Children getting the right decision made for them on their behalf and then giving it up to live with the devil.

V-Grrrl January 10, 2009 at 7:15 pm

I like to think not of the woman who made the afghan but the young woman who took it to Nebraska and endured despite everything, who fought for her younger brother, who let her daughter begin writing a new story for a family heirloom with a sad past….

Heather January 10, 2009 at 9:02 pm

I’m glad the afghan is creating a new legacy.

flutter January 10, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Your light is brilliant and is written all over your little girl. That blanket can be something new, in her.

Indigo January 11, 2009 at 8:48 am

I found your journal through another friend. I could feel each and every word of what you said here. It’s amazing how a thing, an object can carry so much weight, embedded with memories. I couldn’t get the link to what Sue had done to you to come through for me, but I can easily imagine…your words speak of fear and hurt.

I just recently had a similiar epiphany with an old Christmas tree that my daughter grew up with. If you wish to read it, it’s here:

For me what it came down to was taking courage in the memories that laid over the ugly events. The beauty of what unfolded before and after. I don’t see the woman who stitched that afghan here/now…I see a daughter with a smile and a love for something to keep her warm. I see an afghan that can be remembered wrapped around your daughter, smiles, years later remembering that same item at the end of her bed.

A thing can change, unlike people. A thing can be embedded with beauty, unlike the memories that haunt us. I think your daughter gave something that was ugly, a piece of beauty. (Hugs)Indigo

anymommy January 11, 2009 at 6:32 pm

It’s getting a new legacy now.

the mama bird diaries January 11, 2009 at 6:55 pm

This is really lovely Jennifer. How beautiful.

Lisa Milton January 11, 2009 at 7:21 pm

This was so lovely and evocative. Thank you.

slouching mom January 11, 2009 at 7:59 pm

so poignant, jennifer. lovely.

texasholly @ June Cleaver Nirvana January 11, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Seriously girl, you can write.

This was absolutely beautiful.

Mary Alice January 12, 2009 at 5:56 am

Lovely. To her, the afghan is connected to you…she doesn’t see the rest……and it is you who brings her comfort. You should be proud.

Louise January 12, 2009 at 11:03 am

Written in a lovely way about something unlovely. (But not as unlovely as my something.) I forgot to see if I still have mine. If I do, I think I’ll be less nice than you, follow my mother’s example, and let the dog sleep on it.

Jennifer Harvey January 12, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Louise – You did see that mine was bound for either Goodwill OR the animal shelter? 🙂 If I had known that about your mother, I would have loved her even more.

Dharmamama January 12, 2009 at 12:31 pm

I have had a couple of painful items that I’ve purposefully kept around – I call them koans, like the zen stories or statements designed to provoke enlightenment. You can puzzle, puzzle, puzzle, then you let go, stop thinking, and the light comes in.

JCK January 12, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Gorgeous, gorgeous writing…

And how amazing and what hard inner work you’ve done to get to this place, after all of that.


Coco January 12, 2009 at 2:40 pm

It somehow seems perfect and right and destined that your daughter chose the blanket, and is giving it a place of love instead of a place of pain in your lives.

Proud Mom January 12, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Jennifer, I stumbled upon your site recently and I am so glad I did. You write so eloquently and with such passion. My eyes welled with tears as I read this entry… from the cruelty of emotional blackmail that your brother endured to the sacrifice you made by allowing your precious daughter to cuddle with something that still bruises your heart. You are one amazing woman, Jennifer, and I look forward to following your life’s journey.

Kimberly January 12, 2009 at 7:49 pm

She sees it as yours and you’re her comfort, so it is too. Lovely post.

Emily R January 12, 2009 at 8:02 pm

you wrote it just right.

Ann January 13, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Loved this story.

david mcmahon January 13, 2009 at 2:30 pm

You coped bravely with the pain, and you so unselfishly passed it on for her comfort. That, in a nutshell, is the essence of parenting.

Daryl January 14, 2009 at 10:50 am

Next time you wash it, consider it cleansed of all its old history .. washed, rinsed and gone .. down the drain …

I am sorry your brother didnt leave and that your father didnt insist he leave …

Ed Browning January 15, 2009 at 12:21 am

Have you seen the movie Ratatouille? Your post reminds me of the moment that Anton Ego (The Grim Eater) tastes the dish, and is transported back to his childhood.
I have a plain tan afghan my mother made. After my mother died in 1974, my father remarried a couple years later, and they put away all reminders of my mother for a number of years. One year, my stepmother wrapped the afghan up and gave it to me as a gift “from your mother “. I have to admit that in the years since it’s been in a box more often than not, but I do cherish the keepsake and think of her whenever I see it. My life growing up has not been perfect, nor has my stepmother been everything I imagine my mother would have been, but with only a few exceptions she has been caring and loving, and I am fortunate in that.
Thanks for sharing this afghan story – the memory it evoked for me is definiteliy one of Comfort.
And by all means keep cooking up this ratatouille delicacy you call your Thursday Drive.

Fat frumpy and fifty January 15, 2009 at 1:37 am

fabulous post…its heart warming that you can tell the difference between what matters and what doesn’t….

I;m sure your step grandma knew but couldnt take the formal step to condem her own daughter…a hard thing to do….

youve let it go and thats what counts now, you and your daughter and son..
thanks for sharing..

Tessa January 15, 2009 at 4:05 am

How courageous and unselfish to have allowed your daughter to keep the Afgan, despite the not-so-good memories it conjures up for you. Perhaps, having washed it, it is now cleansed and ready to go with your sweet daughter on her life journey?

Deb January 15, 2009 at 5:34 am

Once again you write from the heart and touched our hearts. Your daughter is lucky to have you as her mom – I believe you did the right thing. Take care.

Sandi McBride January 15, 2009 at 7:06 am

I don’t know how it would feel to be so betrayed by a person who is supposed to love you, and to put so much work into your afghan, I’m sure she did…I don’t know how I would have been able to forgive such a betrayal. I do know that this post was heart breaking enough for me today that I don’t think I can go read what Sue did to your family just yet. Maybe later. Definitely later. Congratulations on Post of the Day. So well deserved…

maggie, dammit January 15, 2009 at 10:00 am

Can’t think of a damn thing to say that would lift this up any higher than you already did.

Mojo January 15, 2009 at 10:35 am

I can see now how David chose this as Post of the Day (congratulations by the way). There’s nothing in my experience that can give me the empathy I really need to fully appreciate this kind of torment, but no one with a soul could fail to find sympathy at least.

I hope your brother came out of it all as strong as you seem to have.

Sid Savara February 11, 2009 at 12:11 pm

This is beautiful. One of the best things I have read in a very long time.

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