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Ann Browning

© 2003

The Cloth

On my nightstand next to my bed, I have a piece of cloth that is silk—dark blue and red with dancing figures on it that look to be from the court of Louis the XV. The men are wearing frilly shirts, wigs, and hose and the women frilly dresses. The fabric is woven, the ends unfinished, as if saved to be made into something, part of a fancy dress or scarf, or perhaps a front of a pillow for a formal sitting parlor.

The cloth belonged to my mother’s mother. Surprising, really, to see something that finely woven from that grandmother—who was of German ancestry, grew up working class, was born in America of German parents on a farm in Michigan, only spoke German as a young girl. She had only an eighth grade education.

After she died. I was surprised to see some silk finery among her things. She generally wore plain dresses (never pants) and her house was quite plain—although everything (I mean everything!) she and my grandfather owned, every material good, was treated as precious, and was given the utmost care.

So I am really not sure how old this cloth is, and how my grandmother came to have it. Was it passed through generations, had perhaps come all the way from Germany? Was it part of her dowry or hope chest? Did she actually purchase it? Was it a gift from my grandfather? Why did she keep it hidden and not use it? I suppose it was too fine to be part of her everyday household goods, like a pillow.

Already there is some unraveling of thread from sitting on my nightstand. I don’t have the attention to care and detail that she had. My generation doesn’t have the understanding of the importance of saving such fine things, and the realization of the importance of passing things on.