Updated: Jan 25, 2021
In the fall of 1939, my paternal grandmother boarded a train in Gleichen, Alberta headed south, across the US-Canada border, and on to California to attend college. Among her possessions was a Hudson's Bay wool blanket: an iconic mainstay for provincial prairie winters, a curiosity in the land of eucalyptus and palm trees.
Eight decades later, in the height of a global pandemic that separates families at a time of year when we most want to be united, this same blanket showed up under my Christmas tree--an heirloom gift to me from my aunt, the de facto keeper of family loot and lore.
Sealed in a dry-cleaning wrap and protected from moth damage with dryer sheets (the new moth balls, apparently), the blanket was too warm and scratchy for the majority of the family, who had remained in California. The blanket was to be mine, as the family member living at the northernmost US latitude.
I picture the blanket wrapped tightly around my grandmother's twin bed in her dorm room, one of few belongings linking her to the Alberta wheatlands of her home; and, later--when, like so many women of her generation, she left college after her sophomore year to marry my grandfather--folded neatly in a cedar chest.
California residents for the rest of their lives, my grandparents probably never needed the heavy wool blanket, but couldn't quite part with it, either. So it remained among their possessions, past my grandmother's death in 2002 and my grandfather's a decade later at the age of 93.
Looking at that blanket now I see not just the woven threads of its physical construction, but also all the threads of what it symbolizes, the fabric connecting me to my grandmother, the great grandparents I never knew, and the vast Depression-era Canadian grasslands. Like the blanket's colorful horizontal stripes, our links to our ancestors are a series of threads that, across time and generations, forever bind us together.