Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Importance of Quilts

"When the smoke of Armageddon has cleared, I truly believe the survivors who crawl from the rubble will be cockroaches … and Southern women." - Ad Hudler

I hail from a long line of stalwart divas; women who made pies from pinto beans and stewed up hope from thin air. The story of Grandmother Weddle and her brave trek from Missouri to Texas in a covered wagon carrying small children and an elderly mother in tow with only herself to rely on for their well-being never fails to make me feel worthless when I bemoan an extra trip to the supermarket for the forgotten can of tomato sauce. Grandmother was five feet tall in stature, but could have put most men twice her size to shame.

Mamas in my past were devoted mothers, daughters or wives and often shouldered with back-breaking labor, hardship and the extra burden of being female in a man's world. They were loyal to their families, churches and communities; never shirking from what was expected of them.

One particular story of my great great grandmother, Sarah, stays in my memory top dresser drawer:
Sarah and Willis, herding more kids than they could say grace over, came to Texas from southern Louisiana with little more than the clothes on their backs. With difficulties looming ahead of homesteading unknown ground and raising a large family, Sarah had packed a few necessary belongings, particularly several quilts in a heavy trunk. Quilts that were made late at night by candlelight with tired hands and weary stitches. Perhaps some were passed down from mother to daughter, those special creations with pattern names of "Drunkard's Path", "Jacob's Ladder", or "Old Maid's Puzzle". If family written history has it right, Willis might have had a problem with the bottle, his own title of "drunkard" apparently bestowed not unwarranted. In a letter sent back home, Sarah laments the loss of her treasured quilts, left carelessly in a charitable stranger's wagon by a less than sober Willis . Guess the friendly traveler who gave them a lift on their trip west was rewarded with Sarah's trunk as inadvertent fare. The story has always bothered me, my own sorrow mixing with that of my great great grandmother's; her tears of frustration falling through the generations of daughters.

When I was born, my great grandmother Addie began stitching a quilt for me as she had done for all her previous grandchildren. The pattern for my quilt was "Sunbonnet Sue" and it was perfect for a little girl. Sadly, she passed away before my quilt was finished. Years later, my great grandfather George, found the partly completed present wrapped carefully in old cotton sheets in Addie's sewing closet. He tried his own hand at joining the pieced top, but finally enlisted the aid of his daughter, my Aunt Vida. The quilt now has a special place in my heart; it bears the love of a great grandmother, a great grandfather and a great aunt all neatly sewn with tiny hand stitching. I used the quilt on my bed every day for years until the edges started fraying and the material showing signs of excessive wear. Now, I keep it safer and less used. Eventually, one of my own daughters will take it and I hope she remembers the family history that comes with Sunbonnet Sue.

At times, I get the urge to learn the art of quilting, to create a long-lasting gift to my children. My own favorite quilts were pieced with fabrics cut from my ancestors daily lives: old workshirts faded from sweat and the sun, aprons that held wooden clothespins and wooden spoons, Sunday dresses that became too moth-eaten or out of style, and baby clothes long outgrown. Lovingly, I closely inspect each little square or triangle of bright cloth, trying to squeeze a memory of its original use. Mattress-ticking blue stripes, tiny yellow and purple flowers, and a loud red and green flannel plaid - all colorful leftovers of lives long past.

Photographs of generations past are certainly treasures, but my quilts are a three-dimensional touchable reminder of family - an important link to my ancestors and more valuable than any stock or bond I could have inherited. Thank goodness I had quilters in my past.


Anonymous said...

Photographs can't keep you warm, either (at least not for long). I have several handmade afghans from family members – including my dad. If pictures are worth a thousand words, then family heirlooms are priceless.


bill said...

I feel fortunate to have had several generations of quilters in my family. I still have quilts made by my grandmother and my mother and a wedding ring quilt made by my father's aunt as his wedding present.

I remember the quilting frame that used to hang from the ceiling in my grandmother's house.

Now my wife is learning the craft too.

another lisa said...

we have made some patchwork quilts.. one of which my young son helped put together... and he always talks about the day he and his big sister Dorothy made his blanket!

Ronni Bennett said...

I've got the quilt made by grandmothers, probably in about 1905 and by it's appearance seems never to have been used. It's a surprisingly modern design for the era it came from.

There's just never been anyplace to hang it - no wall large enough - and I've never wanted to use it on the bed - cats, you know.

Cop Car said...

Wonderful posting, Pattie. Buffy is just now getting me into quilting, but I do have quilts that my mother made.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

I bought an Amish quilt in Pennsylvania years ago. Have convinced my granddaughter that I made it. Now she'll be sure not to wear it out.

Thanks for visiting me yesterday, Tex.