Mail Call

Oh, boy, oh, boy!  Excitement arrived in the mailbox today.  I opened a package from a distant relative and was transported back in time to the days when my Grandfather wrote letters to me from California.  I was in elementary school and he was my best pen pal!  He typed his letters on onionskin paper and folded them very precisely to fit just so in the red and white striped air mail envelope.

Our newsy exchanges were pretty humdrum everyday stuff, but it was exciting to me because our letters traveled by plane.  GrandDaddy had moved to California when I was a young child to escape the Georgia humidity with his asthma.  He did return to visit a few times,  and there were occasional long distance phone calls, but our deepest conversations during my formative years were by letter.

After my most recent post including him in a photo, Ilse and I chatted and she said she had more photos of his that she could send.  GrandDaddy (Homer Youngblood) had two families.  My mother was born to his first wife, Cora, who died when my mother was four years old and her sister was two.  Later, GrandDaddy married Miss Katherine and had two more children.  Ilse married Homer, Jr. and is the keeper of many memories and stories he shared.

Today is the anniversary of my first blog post.  Site stats say this is the 105th post I’ve written.  I never made a formal plan to share something on a schedule, and didn’t really have a plan as to what I would include.  If I had an original goal in mind, it was to continue the journaling I’ve done on paper, on cloth in 52 Tuesdays, and now on the web, to encourage others to record their stories in some way.

This blog has grown into a way to document my quilt stories, old works and new projects as well.  The new projects that excite me have included many photos, sometimes family members, so the old stories behind the photos have now been written down, too.  And I’ve been the joyous recipient of others’ stories (and sometimes their photos) once readers knew I was interested in such things.


This package from Ilse holds some family photos, both previously seen and new to my eyes, as well as some of unknown people GrandDaddy was hired to photograph.  All are interesting, but the treasures are the ones of him that I had not seen before.  Oh, my, I think Ilse in Arizona must have heard me squealing as I opened the package!

Now to scan, print, and stitch!

Four Brothers

The man on the far right…what’s that he’s holding in his hand?  That’s my grandfather, here with three of his brothers.  When I find a photo in which he is included, I’m always intrigued by how the photo was taken, since he was usually the one behind the camera.

I recently wrote about the coincidence that both my husband and I had maternal grandfathers who were professional photographers.  Sometimes we can find a cable in the photo leading to a remote shutter release.  Those were available from as early as 1918 in  advertisements like this one found here.

In this case, zooming and examining (you can click on any image to enlarge it) reveals no cable, and in the 1940’s when this photo was probably taken, there was no timer built in to cameras as we have now.  However, my Grandfather did have a son who helped him with his photography business by that time. Homer, Jr. went to work in the darkroom at age 7, in 1935.  It is likely that he, Jr.,  is the one taking this photo.  And, GrandDaddy is probably holding the remnants of a cigar.

I printed this photo on fabric from a vintage linen tablecloth, painted some elements, layered it on wool batting, and stitched around the figures with silk thread.  It is layered on cotton fabric, a layer of old burlap, and then on an old quilt remnant.  The resulting piece measures 14” x 17”.


The process of stitching these photos sometimes yields as interesting an image on the back as on the front.  Here you see what one viewer considered the shadows of these brothers.

.

Man With Bicycle, 1905

Homer Carter and Homer Youngblood were both professional photographers in the early part of the twentieth century.  In our house, we have a lot of photos taken by these two men who, to our knowledge, never met.

Homer Carter was the father of Sadie, my mother-in-law.  Homer Youngblood was the father of Cleo, my mother.  Interesting, don’t you think?

This serendipitous happening means that we have some images on hand that were made with the best photographic equipment available at the time, and printed on quality paper.  Perfect for scanning and printing on fabric, I think.

This photo of an unidentified gentleman of the early 1900’s was compelling to me.  He was a client of Jim’s grandfather.  I printed his image on a remnant of a vintage linen tablecloth, painted the bicycle red, and quilted the layers with silk thread.  Free motion quilting gives dimension to the man and the bicycle with wool batting underneath.

The image is layered on a denim remnant, hand stitched with a Kantha stitch using red embroidery floss.  All is then layered and attached to a scrap of an old tattered quilt.

The label is written on a piece of an old man’s handkerchief.

Fruitcake

Turman Capote and I have a shared history.  We had loving spinster aunts as partners in fruitcake preparation.  When I taught a high-school course called the American Short Story, students’ reactions to the old-fogey ways Capote related in his A Christmas Memory were not ones of delight.  But I was thrilled to revisit my childhood.

It’s the time of year when I buy things at the grocery store that I would normally never allow past my lips.  Some candied fruit (I don’t even want to know how that is accomplished), a lot of sugar, butter, nuts, disposable baking pans.

This is a result of a lifelong habit of eating fruitcake at Christmastime.  My mother baked the dark fruitcakes for as long as I can remember.  She chopped all the fruit by hand, added nuts that either my grandmother or my Daddy had picked out of the shells, and that I had picked up from underneath the trees at home, and filled the house with a delightful smell including vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Mama made these cakes and gave them to family and friends.  Her gifts were generous, a full recipe baked in a tube cake pan.  They were huge!  Every year the search was on to find a store selling the round tins which would hold these 5-lb treasures.

Once I was grown, I became a recipient of the heavy gift in the tin.  Mama would always have ours ready to take home at Thanksgiving and we would savor the treat throughout the holidays.

Jim found a way to improve on Mama’s recipe.  We would remove her foil or waxed paper wrapping, substituting cheesecloth.  The cheesecloth would soak up the brandy Jim added and make the cake more moist.  Yes, that’s it, moist.  Once when Mama came to visit us at Christmas, I served dessert.  She remarked, “This is GOOD fruitcake.  Who made it?”  “I made it?  Are you sure?”  “Well, I don’t know.  This tastes much better than the one at my house.”  We never confessed the alteration.

Mama gave a cake to anyone who she thought would like them.  Only when I started following in her footsteps did I realize what a gift a fruitcake was.  The time, and expense, to bake these was no small matter.  A few years ago, a cousin said, “You know your Mama always made me a dark fruitcake at Christmas.  I always took it.  But I couldn’t stand those things.”  She lowers her voice when she uttered the words “dark fruitcake,” as it she were speaking of something evil.  Now that I think about it, I bet Mama realized Charlotte was unappreciative, but she was one of those people who would have been hurt had Mama not given her one.

I’ve found some shortcuts to Mama’s process.  I sometime buy nuts already shelled, and bake the concoction in small foil pans.  Once the cakes are cooled, they are ready to wrap for presentation to appreciative friends.  I know fruitcakes are the punch lines for many jokes, and I know we are all more conscious of our diets these days, but most reactions I get to the fruitcakes I share are of the “oh, I love this – it takes me back to Christmas of my childhood” type.  And when I take a plate of sliced fruitcake to social gatherings this time of year, it’s always emptied.

If your mouth is watering for a trip down memory lane, here is Mama’s recipe.

  • Mama’s Stirring Fruitcake
  • 1 lb candied cherries
  • ½ lb candied pineapple (white)
  • ½ lb candied pineapple (green)
  • 3 pts shelled nuts, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ lb raisins (⅔ cup)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ lb butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring
  • 2 teaspoons almond flavoring
  • 2 teaspoons cake spices
  • Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at the time and beat well.  Add flour and spices and beat well.  Add fruit and nuts.  Pour into a large greased pan and place in 375 degree oven (note that she found 300 degrees in her oven to be better).  After baking 15 minutes, stir.  Do this a total of 3 times.  After 3rd time, pack in tube cake pan and bake 15 minutes longer.  Let stand in pan for 15 minutes before turning out.

My recipe notes:

I reduce the nuts to about 4 cups.

“cake spices” seem to be unavailable these days, so I use: 1 t. allspice, ½ t. nutmeg, and ½ t. cinnamon

I sometimes use 3” x 5” loaf pans to give as gifts.  This recipe fills five of those.  The plate pictured above the recipe shows one of those small loaf pans sliced.  So the whole recipe is five of those!

Note:  An internet search will yield numerous links to Truman Capote’s story, analyses of that work, and even audio files for your seasonal listening.  It’s worth the time.

Spinster Sisters

spinster-sistersNeither of them ever married.  This photo was taken sometime around 1912.  They were 18 and 15 at the time.  Within ten years, their mother would be confined to a wheelchair, their older sister would die in childbirth, leaving two young daughters to their care.

The family was rich in acreage, but World War I and the  boll weevil meant cash was in short supply, and these two women contributed financially to the household.

The older of the two earned teaching credentials, sometimes living with families in distant communities (ten miles from home) and sending money home.  The younger ran the household as the orphaned nieces and younger sister grew up.

They saw women get the right to vote, lived through the Great Depression, and World War II.  There were adventures, too:  travel with an eccentric millionaire, letters from faraway lands, and a barnstorming adventure.  Charles Lindberg did fly in Georgia, was he the pilot?

spinster-sisters-olderDuring WWII, the teacher was offered “script” as her paycheck (a promise for money from the state someday), so she traveled further to work in a naval ordinance plant.  The younger worked as a switchboard operator and in so doing, connected many families to news of their beloved ones.  She was the first in town to get the word that the war was over, running down the stairs of the downtown office to spread the news.

As they laid their parents to rest and saw their young charges grow up and establish lives of their own, they continued to hold their shares of the land together, hiring others to farm the land while they moved to town.  They lived together until the death of the younger from breast cancer at age 49.  A few years later, the older would face the same diagnosis, but her treatment would be successful.  She would live her life productively until the age of 91.

These women were a big part of my childhood.  From them I learned that life is to be lived fully and to be enjoyed on a daily basis.  It may be hard to meet responsibilities in front of you, but complaints don’t help; just get the job done with a smile on your face.

Because of them, I am not surprised to read the ‘revelation’ that spinster does not have to be a derogatory term.  In the later Middle Ages, the term spinster was first used.  Then, it denoted a person who spins yarn and therefore has a marketable skill.   Memories of these sisters convey the modern interpretation of” a woman who can live independently and doesn’t need a man to be happy.”

spinster-sisters-backDetails of quilt:  A vintage photo (circa 1912) of two unmarried sisters was printed on a remnant of a vintage linen tablecloth.  Hand-guided, free-motion machine quilting was used to add detail, lace collars and beading were added with hand stitching.  The linen background for the photo was attached to a vintage linen log cabin quilt made from silk.  A vintage cotton doily was used for the label.

Hand stitching on the piece was completed while demonstrating work at the Georgia National Fair.  The quilt finishes at 16” x 20”.

My Daddy Wore Overalls

herbie-holding-sandyThere’s something iconic about a man in overalls.  To me, it means he is unpretentious, hardworking, honest.  Someone with whom I would want to spend time in conversation and in hugging.

There aren’t many photos of my Daddy in overalls.  Though he wore them every day to work, when he came home, his first order of business was to take a shower and change into his “knock-about clothes”, khakis and a sport shirt.  That would be his uniform until bedtime.  And on Sundays, a suit, or at least a sports jacket and tie.

He wore overalls when he farmed.  I heard stories of his walking behind the mules and plow in his overalls and barefoot.  When he left the farm to begin building houses, he added work boots to his wardrobe, but kept the overalls.

The many pockets had designated uses.  The partitions in the bib held his wallet and a fat flat pencil, you know the kind wood workers used. Another held a pocket knife, used for sharpening that pencil, among other things.  One of those spaces sometimes held his wristwatch if it needed protection from the task at hand.

A long pocket on the leg of the overalls held his folding carpenter’s rule and a hammer hung in the loop.  He could flip that wooden rule open to just the right length for a measurement and refold it in the blink of an eye.  If you don’t remember those devices, or that they are called rules, not rulers, you are a young whippersnapper.  See, just thinking of overalls has me using his words.

I can smell the denim.  And the sawdust embedded in the fibers.  Maybe a little tobacco scent, too.  And I remember how heavy they were when wet.  I was a tiny little thing, but one of my jobs was hanging clothes on the line.

man-in-overallsMaybe all that is why I was so intrigued by the man in this quilted piece.  I snapped this street photo the minute I saw him.  Since then, I have come to know who he is and have secured permission to use his image in my art.  He, like my Daddy, is worthy of long conversations and hugs.

 

man-in-overalls-backThe quilt measures 10” x 18”.  The photo is printed on vintage linen fabric, hand painted, then quilted.  I used cotton thread, using hand-guided free motion quilting on my domestic machine.  It is layered with raw silk, a remnant of denim, and a worn reclaimed quilt fragment.  The label is a vintage cocktail napkin.  (I found this one with the rooster in an antique store ramble just as I had finished this piece.  Perfect!)

The photo of my Daddy holding me is one of the few I have of him wearing his overalls.  I guess it’s obvious why men wearing overalls pleases me so.  And, I still have that chair.

Golden Bells

Recently driving down the road, to a destination two hours south and a few decades in the past, I was playing Angel Band full blast.  People in other cars could see me singing and think I’m crazy.  Well, maybe, but my singing along with Emmylou is not sufficient to have me committed.

This is how I deal with sorrow.  I was headed to the funeral for my cousin Wallace.  So When They Ring Those Golden Bells, We Shall Rise, and Drifting Too Far are soothing sounds to my soul.  Wallace loved these songs, too.

It’s been a long time since I played this collection; so long that I actually had forgotten some of the words.  Jim and I both find comfort in music, and this CD and others by Alison Kraus, Ralph Stanley, and selections from O Brother Where Art Thou and Cold Mountain soundtracks have blasted away in the car on too many trips down that same road. For part of this trip we were in separate vehicles, and my solitary time is when I had the music the loudest.

As Precious Memories plays, I can hear my mother’s voice as I sat beside her in church.  That song was one of her favorites and she and I thought she sounded like Emmylou does.  Another album with soothing voices I sometimes play is Trio.  When that plays, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and I join Emmylou to form a quartet.

The songs on those two albums brought me comfort in the drive to and from visits with my mother in the last seven years of her life.  Visits when I didn’t know if she would recognize me; later visits when I was certain she would not.  But the sounds she loved brought me comfort as they always had her, especially  the song Who Will Sing for Me?

Once in the church for Wallace’s service, more music was part of the goodbye.  A first-time experience for me was a lonesome harmonica playing.  That, and the later solo were nice, but I missed the Bethel Boys, a foursome of local men who have harmonized at several farewells in my hometown.  In answer to Emmylou’s question above, the Bethel Boys (and the entire congregation) sang for my mother.

We buried a lot of knowledge today.  Wallace knew where everyone was buried, who owned which plots in the cemetery, which family owned what farm and who had owned it before them.  In recent years, a visit to Wallace might include a ride around the county.  Wallace would narrate a rolling history lesson with detours to check every neighbor’s crops. He knew who lived in this house or that, who built the house and when, whose dog bit someone in the yard, who had been arrested.

I had learned to take a list of questions and a recorder on some visits.  But I’m already wondering what questions will come up this week that Wallace could have answered.

One of the preachers said that “Wallace lived 87 years and I don’t know that he ever made anyone mad except Miz Dot.”  I’m sure that’s correct.  And, I don’t think he ever said no when someone asked for help with anything.

The next generation has asked for some “Wallace stories.”  Here are a couple:

When he was a lad, Wallace stayed with my parents for a few days, maybe his mother was sick, I’m not sure why.  At breakfast one morning, he remarked, “Aunt Cleo, your biscuits taste alright, but you shore can’t sop syrup with ‘em.”  My Daddy quoted that line over many years, always with a twinkle in his eye.

When I was a child, my bicycle broke.  I don’t know how that happened – I don’t remember a crash. Daddy’s suggestion was that I ride a unicycle.  But since the pedals were on one portion and the seat on the other, that wasn’t going to work.   Wallace had added welding to his list of skills needed on the farm. He reattached the two halves of my bike and I was a happy little girl.  Wheels, whee, freedom!

A fine honest man, a community leader, a foster father to many children, one shining example of humility, integrity, compassion,  is no longer with us.  In the far off great forever, beyond the shining river, they are ringing golden bells for Wallace.

Photo:  Wallace as a boy, maybe about the age of the “sopping syrup” remark.  Circa 1937.

Disconnected and Reconnecting

mountain vistaWe spent a few days in the mountains.  The temperatures were nice, the scenery beautiful, a delightful getaway.  One of the things we got away from was internet access.  At the top of the mountain, you were in touch with the world.  But our cabin was at the foot of the falls, so we were off the internet pipeline.

That was a good thing.

We did have a television in the cabin, but saw no need to see if it worked.  A bubbling stream was entertainment enough.

One purpose for this annual getaway is to reconnect with my husband’s family.  Their reunion has been held at a state park for many years; we go to see the cousins and catch up.

I have come to know most of these people by name over the years, but I don’t share a history with them.  I can’t engage in the “we would go visit…” and “I remember when he…” conversations.

But I do have some history with Charlie.   He is my cousin-in-law, I guess.  When we first saw each other at this gathering some years ago, we shared one of those, “don’t I know you somewhere?” moments.  A few minutes of conversation led one of us to say, “I was a math teacher.”  “Oh, Rock Eagle.”

We had seen each other at professional conferences over the years, but had never had the occasion to realize we shared the same last name and make sense of that.  Now we did.

As the years went by and conversations grew longer, we learned that not only did we share the same profession and know many common colleagues, but that a cousin of mine had been Charlie’s mentor teacher early in his career.  And that another cousin of mine had been his teacher in high school.

Our most recent conversation revealed more commonalities.  We are both married to spouses who always see life through the lens of a camera, both couples enjoy traveling the backroads and exploring the unexpected side trip, and we take pleasure in enjoying every experience that presents itself.

One of the nice things about getting older is that you have had more opportunities to meet people who share the things you do, it’s easy to validate the joys in life, and those connections to the past are treasures.  Whether sharing war stories from teaching, a love of the outdoors, or simply the appreciation of traveling a back road, it’s always fun to reconnect with friends like Charlie.

My sewing basket does not need wifi, so it got its normal workout on this trirescued linensp.  There were some antique stores, and I did rescue some linens.  Some of the green  napkins you see in the center have already been cut up and sewn to something else.

Father’s Day Singing

Mama Daddy & me 1952My Daddy was a church-going man; an old-line, foot-washing Primitive Baptist.  Most Sundays (and some Saturdays) were spent going to one of the churches in our regular rotation.  Each church held services only one weekend per month, having a service and conference on Saturday, just worship on Sunday.

The third Sunday of the month was not the weekend for “his” church, the one where he was a member and church clerk, so we often visited different churches on that weekend.  Sometimes on the third Sunday in June, Father’s Day, we would go to Damascus Methodist Church in the community where locals would gather for a gospel sing.  Gospel groups from all around the area would come and sing.  There would be a mix of congregational singing, too.

It was always a memorable day with friends and relatives and friends of friends and friends of relatives coming in and out and visiting and listening to great harmony.  It was especially joyous for me and my mother if the Oakes Family came to sing.  L.A. Oakes was Mama’s first cousin.  He and his wife sang beautifully and were joined by other strong voices over the years.  It was always a thrill to hear them and to visit with them.  And to tell people, “I’m related to them.”

Some of these groups were accompanied on a piano, but never any other instrument.  And some of them sang a cappella.  We were accustomed to that.  Primitive Baptists do not use musical instruments in their song service, so the pure harmony of humble voices sounds more heavenly to me than any other.  Nonetheless, a good gospel quartet with an ivory-pounding accompanist thrilled me, too.

I miss being with my Daddy on Father’s Day and every day, for that matter.  I know the image our culture has portrayed of Heaven includes harps.  But for the corner of Heaven where my parents are now, I hope there is some good, soul-stirring, a cappella harmony being lifted today.

Mother’s Day Memories

Cleo 1951On this Hallmark day when so many people feel guilty if they don’t visit their mothers, or buy them flowers, or take them out to eat with 40,000 of their closest friends waiting in line to eat at a restaurant, I’m thinking of calmer Mother’s Days.

When I was growing up, we observed the holiday with a gift for the Mothers in our lives.  Sometimes, I bought my mother something. My Daddy would take me shopping to select something for her.  I cringe when I remember some of the choices I made – but she displayed the horrible treasure anyway.  And, I still have a ragged sheet of paper on which I wrote her a poem.  I think I was about ten years old at the time.  I recall hiding in the closet to secretly write it when I was supposed to be vacuuming the house.  She scolded me for dawdling at my task, but all was forgiven when she read the poem on Sunday morning.  I found it in her belongings after her death 46 years later and it’s tattered state leads me to believe she read it and reread it a few times.

We always wore corsages to church on Mother’s Day.  The only time I recall Mama spending money at the florist was for a funeral, or for Mother’s Day.  Mama wore a white corsage (because her mother was dead, she explained; none of this “passed away” language at our house) and I wore a red carnation.  We always bought an orchid for Aunt Nellie (the spinster great-aunt who lived next door and who had “raised” Mama after she was orphaned at the age of four.  “Orphaned” was Mama’s word, too.)  I was a bit perplexed because the orchid wasn’t exactly white, but in Mama’s world, it worked.  Since Aunt Nellie attended a different church from ours, we made a visit to her house on that Sunday morning to pin on her corsage before her departure.

When Granny (my paternal grandmother, Ollie Jane) lived with us, she wore a white corsage to church, too.  Now that I think of this, I realize how important that corsage was to my mother – and I wonder, did I take care of that EVERY year after I left home?  I know I did if I was there to visit and go to church with them on that day, and I do recall phoning the florist in our hometown and having a corsage delivered some years.  I hope I didn’t forget any time, but I know if I did, I was forgiven.

There were occasions when I couldn’t get home for Mother’s Day.  I remember Mama saying, “It doesn’t matter to me.  Any day you come visit can be Mother’s Day.  It doesn’t have to be when everyone else thinks it is.”  I still felt guilty about it, though.

Now that I’m a mother, I do understand.  Sometimes other things come up.  The last thing I want my children to feel on Mother’s Day (or any day) is guilt if they have lives to live.  I know they love me.  And, any day they visit is Mother’s Day to me!

The photo is of my mother in 1951, the year I was born.  The photo was taken by her father, a professional portrait photographer, and was hand tinted by her sister.