When my grandmother passed away, my parents’ apartment grew big and quiet. She had always lived with us, filling the space with her presence: a tall, loud woman with endless energy and endless stories. Even in her last years, when illness and old age were claiming her little by little, she still retained the same ability to become the center of everything and command everyone’s attention.
In terms of possessions, there was not too much that she left behind, at least it felt like that at first. Since she had lived in the same apartment with my parents, we did not have to go through a house that would be left behind or find new owners for furniture, books, etc. But we did not know what to do with her clothes. She had many flower-patterned cotton dresses that she’d wear around the house; she is wearing them in the family photos, in my memory of her sitting in the armchair with a crossword puzzle, at any moment that I walk inside that apartment and for a split second imagine that I’m going to look up and see her in the kitchen, she is wearing one of those dresses. How can you throw them away or donate them? What does one do with the clothes of a loved one that is never coming back?
We put them away, out of sight, in one of the closets and didn’t look at them for a couple of years. This past summer, when I was visiting my parents during the summer vacation, Mom and I cleaned out some closets and found the dresses. It almost felt like seeing her again, the familiar patterns and colors, it was heart-warming and visceral – the way I could almost hear her voice, almost feel the touch of her hand.
Instead of putting them back this time, we decided to let the dresses become once again more present in the apartment. We cut them up into patches and found a seamstress who agreed to make two quilts out of them – one for me and one for my sister. When we go back to Russia next time, the quilts will be ready and waiting for us.
In the photos, you see the dresses as we were cutting them up to prepare them for a second life. I don’t know if I will cry or smile when I see the quilt. I do know that I am waiting to see it, thinking about it often, thinking about her wearing a bright cotton dress, signing in the kitchen, her voice deep and cheerful. The most incredible woman I have known.
~ Natalia Andrievskikh
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