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For Christmas, little Aria Richmond of North Liberty was wrapped in the loving embrace of a great-grandmother she normally wouldn't remember, but it's a hug warm enough to last her lifetime.
Aria was born April 4, 2019, so Great-grandma Deloris Blake began planning and gathering fabric pieces to make Aria a quilt, as she had done for her youngest three grandchildren and 21 other great-grandchildren. But Blake, 89, of rural Davenport, died Feb. 18, 2020, before she could finish her latest gift.
All 24 of her completed quilts were displayed in tribute at her visitation and funeral at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Davenport on Feb. 23 and 24.
'When she passed away, I was so upset to think that Aria wouldn't have a special quilt from her like my other two girls. Well, I was in for a big surprise,” mom Cara Richmond recently posted on Facebook.
During Grandma's visitation, all of the quilts she had made were laid out so everyone could see her beautiful work. This sweet little old lady came up and was combing through all of the quilts like she was on a mission. Callie and I asked her if she was looking for something in particular. She said Grandma had told her she was working on a unicorn quilt for her newest great-grandchild. I immediately got tears in my eyes knowing Grandma had started gathering material for Aria's quilt.”
Pieces of the past
'I was sad, but then happy at the same time,” Richmond told The Gazette about hearing of her grandmother's plans. 'So many emotions at once, just knowing that she had started this for Aria, and she had handpicked out these materials for her. It was an overwhelming feeling of love and gratitude, and it felt like Grandma was there.”
Richmond's aunts found the quilt pieces in a bag marked with a unicorn, then gave that bag to sewing club member Linda Paustain, who had offered to finish the twin-size quilt. She even copied Blake's signature square from photographs: 'To: Aria Mae Richmond / From: Great Gramma Blake / Jan. 2020,” dating it back to the time when Blake would have started it.
'I'm so grateful to her,” Richmond said.
Even though she knew the quilt was coming, she was surprised to receive it so soon.
'I didn't know how long would take,” she said, 'but I knew it took Grandma a year or two to create a quilt, so when my mom brought it to me on Christmas, I was very surprised to be getting it already.”
Aria's appreciation of the gift will grow as she does, but big sisters Mya, turning 6 in February, and Bria, 4, who have their own great-grandma quilts, were thrilled over their little sister's gift.
'My other two girls thought it was the coolest thing, because they're obsessed with unicorns right now,” Richmond said. 'They remember my grandma Blake, so when they heard that she had picked out fabric for Aria, they were very excited to see it and to hear that she had a hand in making it for her.”
Mya's quilt is in vibrant pinks, with flowers, butterflies and ladybugs, while Bria's quilt is more pastel, with a quote in the middle that says, 'Why God made little girls.” And even though little girls are said to be 'sugar and spice and everything nice,” Richmond wants the quilts to stay nice, so has them tucked away until the girls are older and can properly care for the keepsakes.
'I have them in a special spot so they won't ruin them,” she said with a laugh, adding that she's not quite sure when she'll actually entrust the quilts to the girls.
'I feel like I'm holding onto a lot of sentimental value for myself,” she said. 'When they get older, I'll definitely let them do what they want, but I just want to make sure they stay in the best condition possible right now, because they are so special to them and to me.”
She said her husband, Brandon, 'thought it was pretty special, too, just to have that piece of her that we didn't think we'd have for Aria. He thought it was pretty special, as well.”
Richmond, 31, a school counselor at Regina Elementary in Iowa City, has lots of special memories of visiting her grandparents on their dairy farm between Davenport and Maysville, to the north.
'Grandma was so special,” she said, recalling how she would help Richmond and her cousins with their 4-H projects.
'I also remember specifically some very interesting, little quirky things about her. Every time we would go to her house, she would have this glass jar of peach juice in her pantry. I know that sounds very weird, but it was the best juice I'd ever had in my life, and she would always be sure to tell us, ‘Only one glass - you don't want to drink it all.'
'And every birthday, she would give us cards with money,” Richmond said, 'but then, she would always put packs of gum in the cards, too.”
The special touches continued as Blake's 23 grandchildren grew up.
'Grandma also loved making grape jelly, so whenever we would see her as an adult, she would always have a jar of grape jelly for everyone.
'I remember growing up, we would always decorate Easter eggs with her, too, and bake cookies and decorate those,” she said. 'Lots of great memories with her - it's hard to pick just a couple.”
Just as the quilts have now been passed down to the next generation, Richmond hopes to pass along to her daughters key pieces from the fabric of her grandmother's life.
Especially, 'the love and the compassion that she had for everyone,” Richmond said. 'Grandma would do anything for anybody. She was just the sweetest person. I just hope that I can pass that on to my girls - showing everyone love and compassion and kindness.”
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