This is a personal letter to one of my granddaughters, but feel free to eavesdrop.
It’s only a baby blanket to anyone in the world, but me. Simple baby yarn, a simple pattern, neutral colors . . . and it’s worn. This baby blanket was made by a lady named Jean Walsh, a dear friend to my mother, your great-grandmother. Let me tell you about Jean Walsh.
I always called her Mrs. Walsh because that’s all I ever heard Mom call her. She went to the church where Mom and Dad were members when they first moved to Illinois from Kentucky—a single woman with a couple of teenagers.
I never met her husband. Perhaps he traveled for work and couldn’t be at church on Sundays. Perhaps he had died a tragic death. Mrs. Walsh might have been a divorcée. I don’t know. It wasn’t important to my parents, so it wasn’t important to me. She was tall and beautiful. I wanted to be like her, to walk like her, to dress like her and to speak like her. To be respected like her.
I don’t have a picture of Mrs. Walsh, except in my mind.
I don’t have the complete story either, but Dad, Mom and my older sister, Jan, lived in Mrs. Walsh’s big house before I was born. Mom was pregnant with me at the time, if I am recalling the story right. I can’t even say with certainty whether we lived with her for a week or months. I only think it was less than a year, but I can say, for sure, that Mrs. Walsh was one of the most influential women in my life.
I do have photographs of Jan and me standing by a bed of spring flowers in Mrs. Walsh’s yard. We are dressed in our Sunday best. Could have been an Easter Sunday morning. Dad had a good job by then and we had a house of our own, but Mom never had a green thumb like Mrs. Walsh.
It would be a few years after that photo when the first of my forever memories of Mrs. Walsh would happen. There was an important church meeting or training session where only adults were invited. She thought it so important for my parents to attend that she volunteered her teenaged son, J.D., to babysit.
Mom and Dad stood at the front door, telling us to behave and to “Do whatever J.D. says.” He couldn’t have been more than fifteen. Jan saw him as handsome. (I know that because she told me so.) I saw him as fun. We played games around the coffee table and ate hotdogs in the dining room. J.D. made good Kool-Aid.
Funny thing: No one told me that the J in J.D. stood for John. And why would a normal six-year-old question anything, because J.D. is a perfectly fine sounding name. Someone mentioned “John Walsh” later, when I was in my teens. I was puzzled. “I didn’t know J.D. had a brother named John.”
I remember the street and the city block where Mrs. Walsh lived, the steep hill, and the wooden staircase that went to the bedrooms. J.D. only allowed me to go half-way up, never out of his sight or too far for him to catch me. But from halfway up those stairs, I decided I wanted a house like that, with deep, rich wood and wavy glass. (Changed my mind later when I realized that older homes require so much maintenance and a ton of furniture polish!)
Years flew by. I had another sister and a brother, and our family had moved on to another church. Jean Walsh had moved on, too. I heard her name less and less often, but when I did, I could barely listen for my own memories entertaining me. Still today, I couldn’t tell you what she did for a living, but she had a job. I couldn’t tell you where her new church was, but I knew she served the Lord. I couldn’t tell you where she had traveled or what kind of car she drove, but I knew the lady.
When I followed my military husband to Germany, I often thought of people back home, but not so much of Mrs. Walsh. I hadn’t forgotten her, but it had been so long since I’d seen her or heard her name. And when I got pregnant, I had something else to occupy my thoughts.
To my surprise, among the baby gifts sent all the way to Germany, from home, was this green and yellow baby blanket. No one knew whether the baby I carried was to be your father or your mother. (But Kyla, please know that God meant, even then, for you to be mine!)
Your dad was never attached to any one of his blankets, but he dragged this one on the floor a time or two, and for sure, your daddy’s DNA is between the treads, embedded in this blanket. Mine too. No need to explain all the ways your dad deposited his. Ugggh! However, I will tell you that I’ve poured out and dried my own tears on your father’s baby blanket.
First, when I saw the tag and the words, “An Original by Jean Walsh.” Then, when I wrapped your Dad in it, preparing to bring him home from the hospital. Again, several times, when a crying baby brought me to tears, and God showed me how to love and how much He loved me. And today, after I scrubbed on an old stain, and prepared the blanket for future use. I pondered who should have it after me. Who would ever want this forty-seven-year-old blanky?
I thought of you, Kyla. If not now, maybe when you have a baby of your own?
I pray, Kyla, that the Lord has or will, place a lady like Mrs. Walsh in your life and in your corner. I never figured out her mysteries, but I knew she loved the Lord. We didn’t exchange Christmas cards or phonecalls, but she showed up in other tangible ways. At a time when I needed a godly woman’s understanding and advice . . . not my mom , my aunts or a relative, she loved me and thought me important enough to go out of her way to connect with me.
Look around when you go to church next Sunday, would you? If your “Mrs. Walsh” is there, give her a big hug. Then give her a second one, and tell her it’s from your grandma.
Love you, Kyla.
PS . . . I’ll go through another storage tub tomorrow. Who knows what I might find.
It pays to have a sister who follows your blog and has a great memory too! Mrs. Walsh did have a husband. He worked for a telephone company, and traveled all over the country. She went to Alaska to sprend the summer with him, and invited my parents to live in her house while she was gone – rent free. Nice lady!
Jan remembers a leather, drawstring purse that Mrs. Walsh brought back for her. “I Can’t remember what she brought back for you,” she says. Her husband would be home at times, but Jan doesn’t remember much about him.
Jan remembers more: Mrs, Walsh worked, until she retired, for a family who owned a grocery store. My Pekin friends might remember Vogels. She wasn’t a checker or a regular store employee. Mrs. Walsh’s office was located in the historic Herget mansion – another familiar name to long-time Pekinians. Also, Jan got by with calling her”Walshie.” Perhaps that’s because we called Janice “Jannie” back then. Now that I hear that name, I’m guessing I called her that a time or two, but that was mostly a Jan thing. One last trivial fact about Mrs Walsh. She was the one who encouraged Jan when she was sixteen and wanting a job. She tells me that Mrs Walsh helped in getting her hired, checking groceries at Vogel’s.
Yep. Mrs Walsh did more for our family than crochet a baby blanky.