Unknowns Add to Haunting History of Baby Quilt

Originally published in Senior Style July/August, 2008

quilt 001Lost or unknown family keepsakes show up in the most unexpected ways and in the most unlikely places. The baby quilt made especially for me kept reappearing, begging for attention until l I finally had to give it the consideration it deserved.

It first came into my life in the 1970’s, after my college years. Mom, in a fit of cleaning, gave me what looked like an old bedspread, haphazardly folded up in a ball. She nonchalantly pushed it toward me, waving it out of her sight as though it were a tattered old rag that had outlived its usefulness. When she said it was my baby quilt, I looked it over and then without much thought, probably added it to my box of unfinished sewing projects.

In the early 1980’s, while living in Upper Michigan., I belonged to a sewing and craft group. While looking for a new project, I’d pulled out my storage box and there was the quilt, still patiently waiting. With the help of my craft group, I launched an ambitious restoration plan and got as far as taking it apart and discarding the frayed batting.

Then life got in the way and back into storage it went. I left the UP to go to graduate school and this started a long series of moves. It’s a marvel that since leaving the UP, I’d had eight different residences and with each move I hauled that box along.

My 2005 move to Eagle River felt permanent, so I wanted to finally sort things out for good. While going through my storage closet, there was a box I hardly recognized. Once opened, in the bottom I found a lump of material. At first, I thought, with distain, it’s just another useless old thing I’d saved much too long. Unfolding it, I rediscovered my quilt.

It was haunting me and wouldn’t give up until I’d completed this bit of unfinished business. It’s often only with maturity and the passage of time, that the young finally begin to value treasures from the past. This time I looked at it quite differently and realized it was suddenly precious to me. I guess that means I’ve finally matured!

I approached a woman in my office with a passion for quilting for some sound advice on restoration. Beth had some good ideas and when I asked, said she’d be honored to do the work. I had it dry-cleaned and delivered my crippled relic to Beth, joking that I was entrusting her with my baby. “Do your magic,” I laughed.

Several months later, Beth proudly returned the quilt to me. She’d used every piece of the original material and also had added some intricate stitching around the border. The worn and stained parts had also been preserved. My ragged and tattered quilt, now beautiful, would plague me no more!

While draping it over a chair in my office (drawing many ooh’s and aah’s), Sue, another co-worker, remarked that her aunt had once had those very same squares of baby’s faces. We discussed many possibilities in trying to figure out their origin and surmised the squares could’ve been part of a product giveaway. We chuckled that we were old enough to remember the days when cups and plates came in soap and oatmeal boxes.

But what kind of giveaway could this have been? Since the pictures seemed to resemble the old Gerber baby food labels, we thought it could’ve been a promotion by them. This discussion only intensified my need for more information. So much for getting business finished. Instead it was the beginning of the next phase.

I showed the quilt to my mother, then 88 years old, hoping she could fill in the blanks. But she barely remembered it, let alone who’d sewn it or where the squares had come from. My dim recollection of Mom giving me the quilt so many years ago included her saying she’d made it. But now she’s not sure. I e-mailed, a picture of the quilt to my aunts and uncle, her siblings, but with no luck.

I searched the Internet. My first google (Gerber Baby Food Quilt Squares) located 58,000 items, none of which helped much. Gerber, who’ve been around since the 1920’s, now have a parenting information and help line on their website. What did I have to lose? I typed an e-mail inquiry and waited.

That led to a phone call and the very young sounding woman I spoke to tried to be helpful, with no success. So the details of my quilt’s history are lost to the passage of time. My quilt now hangs in my bedroom and that’s enough for me! I accept this as one of life’s many unknowns.

More important is what I do know. I know this precious quilt was made especially for me by my mother or one of my aunts. Or maybe several of my aunts. I cherish their labor of love. I know it’s as old as I am. I know I treasure it.

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