A lot of what passes for depression these days is nothing more than a body saying that it needs work.
Grandma pulled the quilts she'd made out of the trunk, like she did every time I came to visit. "Did you see this one last time?" she asked, as she held one up that was sewn in bright primary colors, pieced together to form one large star.
"The Lone Star. I remember that one. The colors are beautiful," I answered.
"I figured you might like that one since you live in Texas now."
She lifted several more quilts out of the trunk and unfolded another one.
"How about this embroidered one?" Grandma smoothed her hands over a quilt that featured blocks embroidered with the birds of all fifty states. "I can't remember if I got that one out or not."
"Yes, we talked about that one. I didn't know you did embroidery until you showed it to me. It's fine work."
Grandma smiled at the compliment but looked frustrated. It didn't appear that she would be able to rest until she could show me a quilt I hadn't yet seen. I could tell she was tiring herself from lifting the quilts out of the trunk and spreading them out. I stood up to help, but she waved me back to my chair.
"You can see them better from back there. You just stay put."
I wondered how much more time we would spend looking at the quilts. My visit wouldn't be long, and I had hoped our talk would center on our family. Grandma was able to summon up wonderful memories of the distant past, and she would regale me with detailed stories of her childhood if she was in the mood. I had even brought a pad and pen with me, hoping to write down some of the things she said in order to chronicle them for future generations. But we seemed to be stuck on the quilts.
"Now I know I've finished some since you were here last. They've got to be in this stack."
I thought maybe if I pried her away from the living room we might get a chance to talk about something else. "Grandma, how about we take a break and I'll take you out to lunch somewhere?"
"Oh, I don't think so dear. My hair's a mess and I'm not dressed for it."
"Well how about if I run out and pick something up for us?"
"That would be fine. While you're gone I'll try to figure out which of these you haven't seen."
Grandma turned back to the pile of quilts, while I slung my purse over my shoulder and headed for my car. I couldn't figure out why she was so fixated on the quilts. She always liked to show them off, but I'd never seen her unable to focus on anything else.
As I sat in line at the drive-up window, it came to me so suddenly and so simply that I wondered how I had missed it. Grandma had been a busy farmwoman all her life. Her days had been filled with chores like feeding the chickens, tending to her vegetable garden and cooking meals for her family. She measured her worth by how much hard work she did each day. My grandfather died several years earlier and now Grandma lived in a small apartment. Her quilts were now her contribution to the world, and she needed to show them to anyone who came by to prove that she was still providing something of value. I knew what I needed to do when I returned to her apartment with our lunches in a sack. I left my pen and pad in the car—I knew I wouldn't need them.
When Grandma opened her door I saw she had set out glasses, silverware and napkins for our fast food meal at her small kitchen table.
"Would you mind if we took our sandwiches into the living room to eat?" I asked. "We don't want to get food on the quilts, but we could see them while we're eating and I can ask you questions about them."
Grandmother's eyes sparkled. "Well, I think that's a great idea," she said, as she started for the living room. "And while you were gone I think I found a couple I've finished since you came last time."
I smiled and grabbed the sack of food and followed her. My questions about family could wait for another day.