Grace Notes
A hopeful newspaper column ~ by Natalie Costanza-Chavez
God Words > Grace-Note #44 – ran on 10/23/05
Grace-Note #44 – ran on 10/23/05

Grace-Note #44 – ran on 10/23/05

A Blanket, Octopus Blood, and Age-Old Covers

A blanket hangs over my stairwell. It is the color of bougainvillea on a fogless day, the color of a Christmas cactus bloom in the white of January, the color pink so vivid and deep it glows. It is nearing 200 years old, brought to this country by my great great Grandmother from the 67 square mile Island of Faial, one of the Portuguese Islands forming the Azore archipelago, in the North Atlantic Ocean. She got it from her father when it was already old, after her mother had died, when she was in need of bundling, of wrapping, of warmth.

My great-grandfather said that someone took a wooden board peppered with nails and combed the cleaned sheep wool. The spinning wheel and one pedaled loom were made of wood. Handmade spools held the green, brown, red, purple and pink yarns that had been dyed with berries and flowers – except the black and the deep purple yarns. They were dyed with blood taken from the head of an octopus. These were people of the sea.

The blanket is covered with flowers – they appear to be roses, and some simpler flower, linked together with a sage green stretching of vine and leaves. The blanket vibrates in my house; people stop – sudden – when they see it, back up and look again.

I think it has power, this blanket.

When my son was three and struggling night-long and winter-long with breath, his asthma medicine needed to be measured with a syringe and dispensed into a machine that misted it into him. Those nights I sat on the floor of the dark room and slid him from his bed onto my body. I held his head almost upright and then crooked into my neck, his fat still-baby thighs spread tight against his blue sleeper and splayed across my lap. Those nights I tried to keep him asleep while he breathed the prescription that opened his lungs. I tried to put him gently, in his heavy, child-night heft, back into his bed, where he curled, once again, into a “C” of toddler-tuck and sigh.

And then, sometimes, I’d freeze, fleetingly scared – muddled and dull from lack of sleep. I’d wonder. I’d go over it in my head, become sure that I’d messed the medicine up, measured it wrong, dispensed it twice in an hour, or forgot altogether to check respirations. I’d begin to think, in my dizzy-tired-up-every-few-hours brain, that I’d hurt my son.

And, on those nights, on my way back to bed – after I’d checked and rechecked to reassure myself –I’d pass the blanket in the hall, stop and lean against it.

I thought of the women who’d dyed it, wove it, folded it, tucked it and smoothed it. I thought of one woman, a black haired tailor, with a fierce streak of white hair along the side of her head. The family story says the streak was from the silver of the sewing needle she kept there. I thought of this mother, and all the women who used potions of mint and hibiscus, curing powders, as much clover as would fit on the head of a coin, charms and prayers to cure their young, to tend to their young, to save their young – in the ocean wet and the fog of the Azores. I thought of these women raising their loves.

Then, I knew to tend my son as best I could and that it would be enough.

Sometimes an object catches you – touches you – intrigues you more deeply into it. Sometimes an object speaks to you. This is not a bad thing.

We can near someone we never really knew, yet feel deep in our guts. We can touch the past, a wish, a prayer, a strength and solidity long gone yet vein-deep and all around.

This is not idolatry, or believing in false Gods, or even dangerous. This is history and believing that God weaves passages all around us, that He likes a good game of tunnel and search, and that He leaves clues and prizes and remembrances for the finding, for the long haul, for the moments when leaning into something concrete and tangible only aids in the prayer of wrap me, hold me, carry me – only aids in the prayer of save me.