The Little Brown Church

Nearly all my childhood Thanksgivings were spent at my paternal grandmother’s house, four hours north of us and across a state line. My husband and I continued the tradition after we were married and took our children up to see their great-grandmother every year. She passed away over two years ago, and it still doesn’t feel right to eat our turkey elsewhere.

The following account was written soon after her death. If your grandmother is still alive and you see her this Christmas season, hug her. You never know when it’s the last time.

* * *

My grandmother died on the day I introduced my daughter Jenica to needlepoint.

I did not notice this coincidence, not even a few days later while standing in Grandma’s living room, examining the dozens of needlepoint buildings—houses, churches, shops, a covered bridge, even a gazebo—intricately stitched and assembled by my grandmother. All the grandchildren were supposed to select one of these treasures as a keepsake. I picked up my childhood favorite: a little brown church with a music box that played “Little Brown Church in the Vale.”

My daughter’s face reflected her awe. “Play it again, Mommy.” She hummed, off-key, to the tinkling notes, cautious fingers touching the fuzzy yarn roof, a dusty, slightly shabby church from years spent long on Grandma’s shelf.

“Did Great-Grandma make this all by herself?” Jenica asked.

“Yes, she did, a long time ago,” I said. “I remember this church when I wasn’t much older than you. It was my favorite.”

“Why?”

“I have no idea.” I smiled. “Why is your pink blanket your favorite?”

She giggled, knowing there was no answer to that question. Just because.

“We’ll take this church home and put it in a special place, where we can remember Great-Grandma when we see it.” I blinked away unexpected tears, looking at the room around me, full of a lifetime’s worth, yet strangely empty.

Why do I never value what I have until it is gone? I cradled the feather-weight of the little brown needlepoint church, wishing I could tell Grandma one more time that I love her.

* * *

Today, I study my daughter’s face, bent over her needlepoint stitches, creased with concentration. She looks up as I set the little brown church on the table beside her. “I want to show you something, Jenica.”

“Look what I just realized.” I turn the back of the church toward her, running my fingers over the yarn, more simply stitched than the front and sides. “Do you see these stitches?” She nods. “Now, look at your stitches. What do you see?”

Little Brown Church 020

She looks from the beautiful complexity of the church building to the simple flower design in her square of canvas. Her face lights up. “Great-Grandma did needlepoint, too, just like me.”

“Isn’t that special?” I wind the church’s music box, the tune weaving a musical bridge across the generations.

“I’m glad we have this church,” Jenica says, her eyes serious. “When we look at my needlepoint and when we look at Great-Grandma’s needlepoint, we can remember her and cry a little in our hearts because she died.”

“We’ll smile, too,” I say, “when we remember.”

She bends her head and spins another stitch in her flower, and the little brown church sings.

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