The Forgiving Quilt
A family heirloom provides the inspiration for forgiveness and reconciliation at the holidays.
Bulging red rubber tubs of decorations were scattered around the living room of my log cabin as I prepared for the holidays: Christmas lights and ornaments for the tree, red and green candles for the windows, holly for the fireplace.
I’d wrestled the tree into its stand. Now I needed a quilt to spread around the bottom for a skirt.
I went to the linen cupboard. One quilt immediately caught my eye: a hand-stitched antique. Do I really want to put this on display? I thought as I pulled it out. The one she gave me?
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“She” was Mrs. Messner, my ex-husband’s mother. In 25 years of marriage I never got comfortable enough with her to use her first name. Our relationship was always tense, but then she did something I could never forgive her for.
Just looking at the quilt—hand-stitched by Mrs. Messner’s mother—made me furious all over again.
Twenty years ago I was scheduled for a medical procedure that would take me away from home, and my husband was coming with me. That meant we needed a babysitter for our beloved dog, Muffin. “I’ve got a fenced-in yard where she can play,” Mrs. Messner offered.
“You’re sure you’ll keep a close eye on her?” I asked.
“I promise,” she said.
She promised, I thought angrily, shaking out the quilt. For all that was worth. Two days after we dropped Muffin off, Mrs. Messner called to report that our dog had gone missing. Apparently she hadn’t been at Mrs. Messner’s an hour before she slipped out of the yard and ran away.
She wasn’t even wearing her collar because I’d neglected to put it back on after giving her a bath. Of all the terrible times for Muffin to have been without her collar!
I searched the neighborhood, going door-to-door with pictures of Muffin. Mrs. Messner had put signs up: LOST DOG $5 REWARD. Five dollars! That was all Muffin was worth to her. It infuriated me all these years later.
Weeks went by with no sign of Muffin, and I had to accept the fact that she was never coming back. “Could you tell me what happened that day?” I asked Mrs. Messner. “What was she doing when you last saw her? Do you have any idea how she got out of the yard? Did you forget to latch the gate?”
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“Quit upsetting everybody about that dog, Roberta,” she snapped. “You’ve got me so worked up I’m getting hives. Just go out and get yourself another dog.” I was stunned. Speechless. Another dog? That was her solution? How could that woman be so cruel?
Muffin didn’t mean anything to her, and she didn’t care what Muffin meant to me. I got down on my knees and yanked the quilt around the tree.
Mrs. Messner’s quilt was the perfect accent, but I couldn’t appreciate it anymore. All I could think about when I looked at it was my 20-year-old grudge. I didn’t need that at Christmas.
As I folded the quilt back up, a new thought popped into my head. More like a command, really: Give the quilt back to Mrs. Messner.
Where had such a crazy idea come from? I would have laughed if I wasn’t so angry. Why should I give Mrs. Messner anything? I stuck the quilt back in the linen cupboard and chose another for the tree skirt.
The quilt’s a family heirloom. Surely she’d like to have it back. I couldn’t quiet the voice in my head no matter what I did. Since Mrs. Messner’s mother had died, I supposed it made the quilt all the more special to those who loved her. But giving it back would mean having to speak to Mrs. Messner.
I tried to imagine calling her. What would I say? I stared at the phone.