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.

Grandpa Tom’s Chair

Grandpa Tom's ChairThis chair sits in our kitchen near the door.  It appears to be an empty chair, but it isn’t.  It is filled with memories from six generations in my husband’s family.

In 1903, when Tom Gilreath was thirteen years old, he rode a horse from Suches to Blairsville, via Sosbee Cove.  A distance of twenty miles, across a mountain, meant that he had to spend the night on his way there and on the return trip.  Tom’s mission was to pick up four chairs which had been hand made for his family.

Many details of this story been lost over time, the bare essentials I’ve outlined are all we’ve been told.  But a thirteen year old boy who had to take his food and bedding and find his way to his destination and home must have had some frightened moments.  Hmmm, four chairs, a boy, and his belongings – does this mean he walked the twenty miles home?

And his mother, Margaret, don’t you know she was worried?  Though I guess she was accustomed to wondering how things were going for the men in her life.  Tom’s Dad, Jonathan, was a circuit riding preacher as well as a farmer.

That made Tom a man earlier than many even in those days, I suppose.  Their Dad being gone to minister to others meant that the children had certain responsibilities.  Tom recalled going out on cold winter evenings and breaking the ice from around Jonathan’s boots so he could dismount from his saddle and stirrups.  Maybe his older brother Henry had to stay home and tend the farm – that would explain the younger one going on the mission to collect the chairs.

I’m sure when you examine an old chair in an antique store you appreciate the craftmanship of assembly without nails.  But next time, look a bit beyond the pegs and think about how the chairs were delivered.  Maybe on horseback, on a mountain road, accompanied by a lad whose mother was trusting that he would be unafraid.

This chair is empty in the photo, but sometimes it serves as a staging area for things we need to remember to take with us as we head our the door.  I did not know Grandpa Tom when he smoked cigars, but those who did say they can smell his tobacco when they see one of these chairs.  All four of the originals are still in the family.

Treasures from India

Oh, I feel loved!

Indian scarvesEarly this morning I got a text message from someone who loves me.  My son-in-law is literally halfway around the world on a work assignment and sent the photo you see here.  He said, “I saw all this fabric and thought you might want some.  There is wool.  There are wool/silk blends.  There are more.  Tell me what you might like.”

Oh, really?  WOW!

I have no shortage of fabric.  I’ve even been on sensory overload this week seeing fabrics of all descriptions at vendors’ booths at the AQS show in Paducah. I bought a lot that thrilled me and I can’t wait to play with it.

But, exotic fabric yet unseen thrills me more.  I’m so excited!  I actually felt a spring in my step as I walked around after the text message exchange.  WooHoo!

Making fabric is a multi-step process involving many people, often in several countries.  Someone plants and harvests the crop, or raises and shears the sheep, or tends the worms. Someone spins the yarn.  Someone weaves the cloth.  Someone grows the dyestuff, mixes the dyes, applies the color, prepares it for distribution and markets it.  I usually don’t know any of those people.  But when I touch the fabric they have produced, I am connected to them.  Across miles and maybe oceans, we share something that helps me realize a comforting project for someone or a piece of art.

But to know that Kenny selected the fabric and brought it to me from a land far away will add a special link in the chain that somehow makes it stronger.  He mentioned scarves.  So I may get to wear it a while and cherish it that way, making memories with it before it becomes anything else.

Daddy was a Beekeeper

bee skep in frameMy Daddy was a hard-working man who loved sports, good conversation, good people, and a simple life.  He did not have a lot of hobbies; didn’t play golf, didn’t go fishing.  I heard stories of his past exploits (before I came along) going hunting, but whether that was for food or the social drinking that came with it, I don’t know.

He did have a hobby that I enjoyed as a participant or a spectator; beekeeping.  During a phase of not-going-to-church during my childhood, Sunday mornings were the time he would choose to “check on the bees.”  I was allowed to go along sometimes with Mama cautioning him to make me wait in the truck.  He didn’t.  Daddy wasn’t afraid of the bees and neither was I.  We both knew that Mama was afraid, however, and that my visits to the hives would be our secret.

Daddy’s hives were kept in an old family cemetery on the farmland of a friend and neighbor, Uncle Hal.  He wasn’t my uncle and his name wasn’t Hal, but if you are from the South, you understand.

We would bump along a rutted road through the pasture to the wooded cemetery.  Daddy would lift the top off a hive or two, lift up a tray to check the status of the honey, and I could hear and see a quivering.  I suppose he was gentle about it.  The bees seemed to be undisturbed and went on about their business.  Daddy would gauge the time to return to collect honey and we would continue on with our day.

If the scuppernongs were ripe, Daddy would have a ladder in the back of the truck, and we would climb up and get some for Mama to make some jelly.  Other times, he would let me respectfully explore the overgrown grave plots. The graves had once been well tended, some groups surrounded with wrought iron fencing.  But now moss-covered headstones, cracked slabs, and invading roots were signs that the bees were mostly undisturbed.

On days when Daddy went to “rob the bees,” I usually stayed home or waited in the truck.  I don’t think he minded my participation, but just knew Mama would not be happy if I did get stung.  She was very afraid of the bees and thought anyone who wasn’t was crazy.  Daddy said the bees could smell her fear.

I remember the preparation included rags, kerosene, a smoker.  I guess he wore gloves and a mask, but I really don’t remember.  I remember his not being afraid and thinking he possessed a kind of magic that the bees respected.  I do remember the big blue enameled canning pot in which he brought home the honey.  It would stay in that pot until Mama sterilized jars and poured it up.  I loved to walk past , sneak open the lid, and get a pinch of honeycomb with honey oozing and chew on the comb for a while.

I have honey on hand at all time and enjoy it in my coffee every morning.  My way of starting the day with Daddy, I guess.

Beehives enter my textile work frequently.  The image above is of all needleturn appliqué on cotton, with free-motion machine quilting.  I designed it to fit in the 8” x 10” frame.  The sampler background fabric is from a line by Blackbird designs.  I’ve used their sampler fabric a lot.  It always adds an element of historic needlework to the piece.  The bees are little charms I picked up somewhere.

Ollie Jane and her Basket quilt

Version 3Ollie Jane Wheeler Hasty was my paternal grandmother.  She grew up in the foothills of north Georgia, married my grandfather in at the age of 17, bore him seven children there.  Then they bundled up the six living children and household goods, drove a wagon to the flatlands of south Georgia where she gave birth to three additional children.

A faithful farm wife and mother, I don’t think she ever got over leaving her parents and her two-year-old Susan Margaret in the cemetery in Cherokee County.

After sixty-eight years of marriage, she was widowed and shortly thereafter came to live in the house with us.  For the last seven years of her life, she educated me by example.  An example that a woman’s hands are never idle, that an old person still has a role to fill and contributions to make to this world, and that kindness is the only attribute a lady needs.

When I was 15 and she was 93, Granny died in the kitchen while washing dishes after lunch.  She had been sewing that morning.  I hope to be able to sew on the day of my death.  And, at age 93 would be good, too.

Granny made many quilts in her lifetime.  Daddy, the ninth of the ten children, recalled that she made their clothes from feedsacks, then when they the clothes were worn out, she cut them up and used the good parts in quilts.  I have disassembled old quilts she had made to discover that another old worn quilt had been used as the batting layer.

Her quilts were generally utilitarian.  Often they were string pieced on a muslin background with big stitches using a coarse thread.

Oj basket quiltBut I own an exception.  I have the quilt that she made prior to her marriage.  It was on her bed on her wedding night in 1890 and on every anniversary night for sixty-eight years.  Some of the binding is worn and replaced, which indicates that it was used more than sixty-nine times, but I suspect as time went on and it was beginning to wear, this quilt was put away to preserve its story.

When Granny “broke up housekeeping,” she passed the quilt and its story on to Christine, the oldest granddaughter.  As Christine’s life was coming to a close, she chose to pass the treasure on to me, the youngest.  And treasure it I do.

Now that I make quilts, I’ve examined the details of this construction more closely.  The young girl Ollie Jane pieced the half-square triangles by hand, but appliquéd the basket handles on a machine.  Yes, this was prior to 1890.  The Baptist fan quilting is done by hand.

I did not know this quilt even existed while I had Granny to tell me about it.  I fear that even had I known I would not have listened intently to the details.  But I can learn from examining it and can be inspired by its existence.  Perhaps this explains why I’ve made so many basket quilts.

Jane’s first–grade wardrobe

In 1942, my sister started school.  My older sister.  Much older.

Jane as child

At that time, any respectable little girl had new clothes at the beginning of every school year.  But for first grade, it was especially important, in my mother’s eye, that Jane have new clothes.

My mother made every stitch of clothing that she, Jane, and later (much later) I would wear.  So, it was time to sew.  On her treadle sewing machine.

Just one problem.  Mama had burned her legs quite badly in a kitchen grease incident.  She had stiffness and pain and couldn’t power the machine.  But the show must go on.  The wardrobe must be complete.  Jane’s clothes must be sweeter than any other child’s in first grade (maybe the whole school).

So Jane sat in the floor, pushing the treadle with her little hands when Mama directed her to start and stop.

Now, I wasn’t there.  I can only imagine.  I’ve sewn on a treadle machine a few times for the novelty experience.  I know these few things:

Getting the motion started is not easy.

Stopping the motion (of the needle going up and down) is not instantaneous.

Five-year-old hands are not very adept at some things.

Five-year-old little girls have short attention spans.

Five-year-olds are fidgety.

Jane was always fidgety…well after the age of five.

In 1942, there was not a lot of leisure time on the farm.  So the effort that it took to corral a child and include her as an integral part of the ruffles, tucks, buttons, and sashes being assembled astound me.

Maybe this explains where I got some of my determination.

The Peddler’s Quilt

Mr. GlazeThis gentleman is Mr. Luther Glaze, a peddler who sold fabric to my husband’s grandmother, Zelema, in the 1920’s and 30’s. Once a week, Mr. Glaze arrived  in his truck, his wares protected with a canvas cover.  “Granny Zee” never paid him with money, but with butter and eggs from her farm.

"Sadie Belle's Scrap Baskets", 2007. Made from scraps from my mother-in-law's mother's fabrics. Zelma Carter bought these from a peddler, Luther Glaze. She never paid cash, but paid him with butter and eggs. All fabrics except the white bacground came from her 1930's stash.







The quilt here, “Granny Zee’s Scrap Baskets,” is one I made in 2007 using fabrics left from some of Zee’s sewing.  Her daughter, Sadie Belle, was my mother-in-law.  In her twilight years, Ms. Sadie found a large bag of scraps and offered them to me to “use in a quilt.”  I washed, ironed, and sorted some 69 different prints.  Many of them were from feedsacks, some were fabrics Ms. Sadie recognized as being a school dress for her or an apron for her mother.  The remnants I had were often the negative space that resulted from cutting pieces for clothing; a shirt front, a sleeve, a collar from a child’s dress.

I delighted in the fabrics and thought egg baskets to be an appropriate block.  Using a solid white fabric as the background, I pieced the entire quilt using Zee’s scraps.  I made a wall hanging and worked quickly to complete the quilt, knowing Ms. Sadie’s memory was fading every day.  She treasured it and shared memories from the fabrics every time we looked at it together.

Sitting on Mama G's back porch with her and stitching on her quilt.

Ms. Sadie had some moments of anxiety and anger with her dementia, but my sewing basket seemed to calm her.  As it always calms me.

One might question, as I did, why the family had a framed photo of the peddler.  Asked, but not answered.