Thursday, August 31, 2023

The Afghan

             One of our new routines is the afternoon nap, often in front of a forgettable movie. Kim usually lies on the couch, wrapped in the afghan that her grandmother made for her years ago. It is light but warm. (Our television is in the basement, which we keep cool.) Kim says that when she is wrapped in the afghan she feels the presence of her grandmother, and she appreciates, now, all the work that went into it. She is thankful, now, every day. She did not feel this appreciation, she says, when she was young. Some days she wraps herself in a light blanket that was a gift from a good friend, and she feels the love in that blanket, too.


            This kind of gift can be wasted on the young, caught up, as they are, in the present. A lovingly knit sweater can be casually tossed aside, a hand-made quilt spread out on the ground for a messy picnic. I was in my 20s when my father offered me a collection of books written by my grandfather, Arthur Stringer, a prolific and successful author of popular fiction. I declined, except for one slim volume of poetry. Dad looked surprised and a bit annoyed, and later he donated the books to the University of Western Ontario. When I was in my 50s I realized my short-sightedness, and I began collecting Artie’s books – work that he had committed his time and talent to creating, a commitment that I had rejected. I am passing my current collection of over fifty volumes to my grandson, Lucas, himself a writer, who is eager to have them. What was once wasted on me is not being wasted on him.


            Most of us have some version of Kim’s afghan. It need not be something physical, but it nonetheless is an experience of appreciation. Here’s an example: Last week I sent my brother and sister a note reminding them that the 19th was Dad’s birthday – he would have been 106. My sister, Candace, wrote back a charming reminiscence of Dad’s jokes and games at the dinner table, plus a few other memories. Now, when I thought of Dad, I thought of him as emotionally distant – seeing him that way must fulfill some psychological need of mine. But Candy’s message opened a window to his warmth, perhaps fueled by an after-work cocktail (or two), but still . . .. It was an afghan experience for me – not a blanket, but a memory. And no, I can’t cuddle up on the couch wrapped in my college diploma – which Dad paid for – something I took for granted at the time – but the thought of it warms me today. Thanks, Dad.


            Kim is able to generate afghan experiences of a more concrete nature. She makes scrapbooks for the grandkids, and though they may not now appreciate the work, talent and love that she puts into them, they will some day, and they will be warmed. It’s not just the scrapbooks – it’s the appreciation of Kim that will provide the warmth. The “afghans” she knits for me daily take the form of the meals she prepares and presents, despite her growing pain and fatigue. I pause, and appreciate, as I wrap myself around the chicken stir-fry, the soya beef-strips, the scones, and much, much more. And only now do I appreciate the meals that Mom put on the table when I was young. Thanks, Mom.


            What do I do to create afghan warmth? Hard to say. These blog posts may help do the job, and Kim, in going through her files as part of an ongoing downsizing effort, has found some old poems I wrote. And I suppose she can wrap herself in these. I can’t speak for my sons, but I think that the afghan I make for them often takes the form of checks that I occasionally send south – that, and my sometimes failed efforts to coach them through some troubles. I sense some of my own father’s distance . . ..


            Diplomas, checks, poems – these are words. But now, as we are slowly downsizing, we are dealing with things – things we may want to move, or discard, or pass on to family and friends. I am learning, mainly from Kim, how each thing carries its own version of her afghan’s warmth – its history, the love or artistry that made it, or the wonderful natural world that created it. Things glow. I’m a word guy, and as such, I have a lot to learn.


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