The Elephant Blanket: A Requiem

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I’ve spent the last thirty years of my life being astonishingly open about everything that seems to matter: My depression, my love life, my sexuality. But there’s one thing I’ve always kept a secret from the Internet:

My elephant blanket.

My elephant blanket was mine.

My elephant blanket was given to me by my Aunt Esther when – well, I say five sometimes, three on others, but “young enough when I could remember her giving it to me as a gift.” My Aunt Esther was one of those eclectic artists, the sort of strong independent women who zig-zagged between forms because it amused her, and she made me a thick-stuffed quilt shaped like an elephant.

She made one for each of my cousins, if I recall – I think my cousin Kelly got a lion. But my elephant blanket was blue and purple, with a big white eye and a little smile, and whenever I was uncomfortable or scared I cuddled my elephant blanket.

And I never stopped.

When I was in college and scared I was going to flunk out, I cuddled my elephant blanket.

When I was alone in my mid-twenties because my fiancee left me and I was facing a vacant apartment for the first time in my life, I stared out into a street in Ann Arbor and cuddled my elephant blanket.

When I was Uncle Tommy died in my early thirties, leaving me facing a future without my best friend and closest confidant to guide me, I cuddled my elephant blanket.

When I had a heart attack and was in the ICU waiting for a triple-bypass I might not survive, I wrote what I thought might be my last blog entry and cuddled my elephant blanket.

And every time I thought of Aunt Esther.

That blanket was – is – what centered me. It was – is – a straight line back to my childhood, a physicality that has been a constant, a piece of fabric and love that is scented with all that I’ve ever been. The elephant blanket has been there through joy and pain, through all my adolescent angst and my adult understandings, and I never discussed it on the Internet because it was not meant for you.

That blanket was – is – my secret feelings, my history, my internal life. It was the part of me that sometimes got shown to my most intimate partners and my best of friends, a quiet introduction to this aspect of me that nobody else got to see.

And now Aunt Esther is dead.

She lived a good life – made it to 98, made a lot more art, had a supporting, loving family. And every time I saw her, I tried to explain what that elephant blanket meant to me – that it was my secret heart, that her off-handed gift of a half-day’s work of love back during my childhood had led to a lifetime of comfort, a lifeline of comfort, a treasure that nothing else could replace…

She never got it.

I tried, but she never got it.

Now she’s gone, and what I think of are the small gifts we leave behind that nobody will ever know about. The other day, someone reminded me that when they were young I talked them out of suicide. I had little recollection of that, but apparently my kindness on a good day kept them going, and for that I am grateful, but…

We give elephant blankets all the time, don’t we?

Giving gifts we don’t, can’t, understand? Treasures infused with beautiful, personal meanings, seeds that grow and blossom in ways we never could have intended?

Don’t our kindnesses survive us when our bodies won’t?

I think of Aunt Esther and of course the first thing I want to do is cuddle my elephant blanket, but this time it’s different because she’s gone and holding it reminds me that this gift that’s lasted me half a century has now outlived the woman who made it for me. And it’s still the same blanket, this threadbare collection of stained quilting – I’m terrified to wash it, lest it fall apart – but…

She gave me a gift, and never realized.

That’s my prayer today; that we all be Aunt Esther sometimes. That a good life consists of gifts that, like the elephant blanket, deepen in meaning, that become coping mechanisms, that become a part of life itself.

They say to be kind. What they don’t say is that sometimes your kindnesses outlive you. That sometimes your kindnesses are strewn behind you in a haphazard fashion, that kind word that kept someone going, that twenty dollars that was a saving grace for someone in an impoverished moment, that quilt to a child that they clutched when they were 45 and couldn’t understand why their heart was failing and was this cold ICU the last room they would ever see?

Be kind. Be flagrantly kind. Be so kind that your kindnesses take flight like dandelion seeds swirling into the air on a warm summer day, settling into places you could never have imagined, creating beauty you will never see with your own eyes.

Make an elephant blanket. Give it to a kid.

And hope.


  1. Anita Hollister
    Nov 25, 2020

    Thank you so much for sharing this intimate, poignant story. I sit in my home office with tears in my eyes, thinking of kindnesses past and present and wondering which of my own will outlive me. Gods bless your Aunt Esther; sincere condolences on your loss.

  2. Doug S.
    Nov 25, 2020

    I am sorry for your loss.

  3. Gray
    Dec 5, 2020

    I used to think – or at least hope – that the conventions I facilitated were basically “elephant blanket factories” – where people might find or create a thing that just might be that comfort or inspiration later.

    Now, working in NonProfit work, it is a weird kind of Elephant Blanket…because we create things (like a literal blanket) that geeks like and treasure because it reminds them of OTHER E.B.’s that authors made for them…and then we channel the profits from that sale into creating, well, literally clean water, sustainable food sources, fighting poverty…not sure what that would be. Conservation of Elephant Blanket Energy? “Elephant Blankets can never be destroyed, only transformed.” (“and if you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you could ever imagine…”).

    Huh. Thanks for giving us this framework. And…well, thanks to Aunt Esther, too, for kicking it off so many years ago.

  4. Jayne
    Jul 29, 2021

    Thanks for sharing- your story only adds to the beautiful tribute that was shared at the memorial today.

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