My 'Little Swedish Grandmother' was a rare jewel that I wanted to hold onto and keep for life. No one in my neighborhood or school had a grandmother who was born before 1900 in a small town in rural Sweden, spoke fluent Swedish, Norwegian and English; stood at her kitchen range for hours turning out delicious Swedish pancakes as we kept encouraging her to feed our hungry young bellies; kept 'Swedish Fish' candy in a small paper bag in her 'pocketbook' and doled them out as we rode the public bus into town.
When I was around five-years old, I remember my Grandmother responding to my inquiry about the lovely formal sepia toned photo of her in her wedding gown with veil and jeweled shoes. She happily responded and opened her clothes closet to retrieve on the upper shelf two boxes hidden in the back. Upon opening one box out came her wedding veil made of wax flowers and pearls with a sheer silk veil attached to the crown. The contents of the second box wrapped in tissue was a long braid of Grandmas 'strawberry blonde' hair that went out of fashion in the 20's and her cream colored silk satin jewel encrusted beautifully handmade wedding shoes. Oh how I loved these precious items. Every visit to Grandmas I would ask to see her veil, shoes and braid of hair. As I left childhood and became a young teen I asked my Grandmother if I could please, someday, have her veil, shoes and braid. I would tell her they would be placed under a glass dome and preserved forever as a remembrance of my 'Little Swedish Grandmother' so I could have her with me forever and ever! She would sadly never respond. One day while she visited our home, she left a brown paper grocery bag on the patio and as she left, told me to look inside as there were a pair of her shoes in there. Of course I excitedly open the bag but to great disappointment, as inside were a badly beaten up pair of black leather 'old lady' style heels. I don't remember asking about the veil, shoes or braid again.
Years later when my Grandmother passed away, her daughter kept my Grandmothers home and sequestered herself away from phone calls, visits and any family ties. My aunt was a severe alcoholic and had no income, so my father and I paid the utilities and taxes on Grandmas home so she had a place to live.
Years later when my Father stopped by (as he did often) to deliver groceries he was alarmed by her physical condition and convinced her to ride with him to the hospital.
He was given the key to Grandmas home. It took weeks of negotiations with my Father to allow me to enter the home. My older brother came with me and inquired about what I was looking for in the home. The coveted wedding veil, shoes, and braid of hair.
Upon opening the door I had my first glimpse of how a hoarder lived. The overwhelming scent of old garbage and urine; narrow passage trails between three foot high packed junk in every room, there was no resemblance to the interior of my Grandmothers home that we recalled. We made our way to Grandmas bedroom, opened the door, and found the room completely empty. Nothing in the closet. No trace of Grandma anywhere.
My brother urged me to leave, but, I told him we needed to go up the stairs to look under the twin bed we used to sleep in for overnight visits. "Why" he asked, "because", I responded, "I have a gut feeling that is where we will find boxes of family photos including the sepia toned photo of Grandma in her wedding dress". My brother thought me mad because the family photos were always in the dining room built-in cabinets which we found empty. We climbed up the stairs among more debris, made our way into the room which was also packed high with debris, picked up the bed and there were the boxes of family photos. The sheer knowledge of me knowing the location amongst the hoarders mess the location of the photos frightened my brother and so with boxes of photos and handwritten letters we left.
I guessed Grandmas precious remembrance items were stolen from the home when locals broke in during the weeks it took my Father to finally allow me into the home. More than cut glass door knobs, vintage linens, vintage glass front cabinet doors were stolen by thieves. The entire contents of Grandmas hope chest that included her stitched Swedish handwork and a coveted Norwegian Solje passed down from my Norwegian Grandfathers mother to her. All lost. All gone. Not a trace.
Years later to celebrate my 60th birthday my husband and I went to Sweden. Iwas ecstatic that at the age of 60, I finally was going to my Grandmothers birth country and I brought with me a photo that I found in the box under the upstairs bed of the church in her birth town, Billingsfor, Dalsland, Sweden. Upon our journey to Billingsfor, I noticed the road sign 'Billingsfor' on the side of the forested road, and called out to my husband who was driving our rental car to "stop! I want my photo taken next to the Billingsfor city road sign!"
Upon opening the car door and placing my feet on the ground of my Grandmothers birthplace, I immediately knew the answer to my quest and the mystery of what happened to my Swedish Grandmothers wedding veil, shoes and braid of hair.
They were placed with her in the coffin by my aunt.
My experiences in life, are what motivate me to design and plan my quilts. As a healing piece I have for years planned and have pieces and parts, drawings, thread, instructionalembroidery books, collections of silk cloth and beads to make a piece that I have named 'Lost Heirlooms'.