My grandmother, an immigrant from Belgium, gave me a thick, crocheted afghan in my senior year of high school. I’m fifty years old now. I still have it. This black, white and gray acrylic afghan—one among hundreds she gifted family members—holds in its hooked stitches the last breaths of the life that she wove into mine. I don’t keep it on my bed today, but my kids will have to figure out what to do with it when I die; I won’t let it go during my lifetime.
Families are big and complex. They can gift us things we don’t understand until many years after they are given. I had the great fortune of living in Omaha, Nebraska, with my grandmother during my junior and senior years. She was in her seventies, alone, and no longer able to drive because of deteriorating vision. I was a grandson who desperately needed refuge from an abusive dad. I’d lived with an aunt and uncle for the second half of my sophomore year. They had already raised three children from another aunt (a story for another time) and had three of their own kids at home. They both worked—he was a cop, she was a secretary. Even then, in the early 1980s these were not high-paying jobs.