Patterns Appearing

Three weeks ago, while staying at my father’s house as the previous tenants were leaving our new townhouse, my love and I cuddled together on my childhood bed.  We giggled and shared stories, smooched while watching Netflix.  At some point she noticed the quilt we were laying under was quite unique.  Look at this quilt, she said.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  It was a large, heavy quilt.  On one side were impressionistic patterns of airplanes: all identical, all seemingly painstakingly cut from heavy felt of deep-hued green and red.  The reverse side appeared to be random swatches of patterned fabric: trees, field mice, pictures of men laying railroad ties, elegant castles.  I turned to my love in the near-dark and said My Grandma Cohick made this for me.  I’ve had it almost my whole life.  She seemed to contemplate this.  That’s crazy; it looks almost new.  She must have been great at making things.  I paused and thought.  Yes, I said, I suppose she was.  Not everything, but some things.  My love turned the heavy quilt over in her hands and made a final pronouncement.  She must have used a pattern for these airplanes, but this other side, she must have just been thinking about Little Seth.

Three days before our quilt conversation, we had found ourselves driving hurriedly through the streets of Philadelphia.  We were almost late to pick up our U-Haul, which we were going to use to move all of my belongings back to Central Pennsylvania, where, eventually, a townhouse waited for us in the much smaller city of Harrisburg.  But currently we were vexed by the address of the U-Haul place, an address that didn’t seem to exist.  I was driving, and as I passed the spot where I had thought the U-Haul store might be, I turned right, hoping to make a loop back around to see if I had simply missed something.  As I drove, my love used the internet on her phone to try to figure things out, as well.  After a few more loops with no luck I took a new direction, following a hunch I had about an address misprint.  My love looked up from her phone.  I don’t know how you know where you’re going, she said.  I know you’ve lived here for over a year but you seem to know the whole city.  I smiled.  I wanted to take her compliment but I knew the truth.  I said, I’ve never even been here before.  It’s really quite simple; the city is laid out on a grid, and once you understand the grid, it’s like having a map in your head anywhere you go.  For instance, right here is 7th Street.  I know what 7th Street means anywhere in the city.  And here we’re coming up on Oregon Avenue, which is another street that stretches the city, going the other direction.  They’re points on a grid.  You would have had this down faster than I would have.  She smiled at me, not believing my humility.

Two days after the quilt conversation, I’m still staying with my father out in the boondocks as we wait for our townhouse.  It’s noon on a weekday and my love is at work but I have the day off.  I hop in my car, put some super-serious music on the stereo, and drive through the countryside of my youth.  After the previous four years, during which I have moved around quite a bit, sometimes it gets difficult to remember where I’m from, or even where I’m at, at any particular moment.  Especially somewhere like a big box retailer; wandering the aisles at a Best Buy, I find myself unsure if I am in Erie, or New Jersey, or Philadelphia, or Mechanicsburg, or maybe the Great Hereafter.  Many places are very different but also many places are quite the same.  I focus now on the rolling hills around me as I drive, the great elms and sycamores and dogwoods that clump in the middles of vast fields.  I don’t know what is growing in the fields and I never have known; I am from this place but not of it.  Each of these back country roads holds memories of a kind for me, even if many of them are just memories of driving down them.  The memories can be of where I was going, or who I was with, or even the smell of an air freshener.  Suddenly my mind is outside the car, imagining what this vessel I am driving looks like cutting through the air on this gorgeous morning as the sun dapples this newly-paved desolate road; like a movie camera, my mind’s eye pulls up and away from the car and I can see the green-brown field on either side, the trees, the nearby farm’s outbuildings and their shabby off-white clapboard frames.  I keep pulling the camera up and now I can see more adjacent fields, these in slightly different colors: yellows, hues of red, deep browns; the kind of view you might see from an airplane window.  It is the view of a structure that is impossible to see when you are within it.  The beauty of the moment stuns me, even though I am only imagining it, the deep, meaningful colors, the rolling of the hills, the solitary silo, the geese in formation.  I pull up further, further.  It’s a patchwork quilt, this map of my youth, and it has the face of my grandmother.

Yesterday, I was leaving for work from the new, beautiful, modern townhouse my love and I inhabit in Harrisburg.  I still get a thrill every time I press the button from inside my car and the garage door automatically starts going up.  I’ve never had my own garage, let alone one with an automatic door.  I can’t help but be thrilled by the modern amenities we now have, although I worry I’ll get soft, or boring, or worse.  But for now I just enjoy having a dishwasher and central air conditioning and an automatic garage door opener.  I tell myself that not everything that’s easy or comfortable is evil, and I hope that’s true.  On this particular morning I have decided for the very first time to try to get to work without using my GPS.  Despite having grown up very close to Harrisburg, I don’t know it well, but I’ve been driving to work from this house for a week now so I’m going to try to do it unaided.  A few blocks away from my house and I’m a little worried.  But then I see Fourth Street.  Ah, good.  I think to myself.  I know what Fourth Street means.  Now I just have to see what comes next.

4 Responses to “Patterns Appearing”

  1. Cory Warchola Says:

    This is just lovely. And I remember that quilt!

  2. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    Good stuff. You should post a picture of the quilt.

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