Letter From Home “The Quilt” 11/19/12
Nellie’s Crafts in Pelsor, Arkansas will always bring a smile.
In 2001 my Mom’s side of the family had one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ type family reunions in Arkansas, in that everyone was invited to go back to the homestead where the roots of the current family had sprung. It was in Ozone where my great-grandparents farmed, and raised a family. It was there on a cloudy Saturday that my aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws to the family trekked over the fields and through the woods while hearing the stories retold from those who once knew the land during childhood. Clearly this was one of those events that comes around only once.
While there are many fond memories from that reunion there are also smiles pasted on the timeline of my life from the trip to Ozone. Traveling down Highway 7 at a pretty good clip, given the need to stay just ahead of logging trucks that seemed to want to mate with my bumper, was exciting. But it was stopping at the various lookouts, and visiting with small shop owners that added texture to the trip.
Nellie was one of those ‘come into my store and stay a-while’ types who probably did not find as many patrons as she hoped. I felt at the time she was perhaps as interested in having good conversation as she was with selling anything from her shelves. I looked at the walking sticks she was selling as she told us a story of a long-time Democrat who had passed away many years prior to our visit, and how then Governor Bill Clinton attended the service. I bought one of the sticks, and have kept it alongside my desk in Madison ever since.
When I was a boy walking sticks were an essential part to wandering around fields and woods. They were used to poke at things in Wisconsin, but were considered more useful in the grass of Ozone where snakes might lurk. Though at the time of the reunion Grandma had passed away, I am sure many recalled the image of her using such a stick as we made our way around the old homestead.
While at Nellie’s we looked at the many old-fashioned quilts that filled several shelves while others were arrayed on one side of a wall. The hand stitching was most remarkable and we knew the final product was a result of untold hours where local women had gathered to sew, and talk about everything under the sun. We saw more evidence of this type of work when lunching at the old school in Ozone where some of the ‘in progress’ quilts were laying about in the room where much time was spent on making the final products.
The prices on those gems at Nellies did not fit into our budgets during the trip, but the love of those quilts we saw while in Arkansas did not end.
James found the start of a quilt while walking through my parent’s Hancock, Wisconsin home in the fall of 2011 during the probate process. Lots of color, lots of shapes, lots of work. It was folded neatly, as was everything in Mom’s closet that had not already been searched by those ahead of us. Thankfully, no one else saw the potential of the bits and pieces that had been sewed together. We held it up, and both knew at some point the project that had been started with such hope, and then stored in my Mom’s closet, would be finished.
This fall after some searching for just the right person we came upon Gael Lillian Boyd who works on quilts in Madison. She listened to the history of the cloth, and what we wanted in the final design. Her professionalism and care in every stitch made for one very impressive and beautiful quilt. We picked out the vibrant lavender cloth for the back side, and she provided perfect stippling (a great crossword puzzle word) with just the right color thread to enhance the visual impact of the final product.
The ladies of Ozone stitched quilts the old-fashioned way, as did the ladies who sold their work at Nellie’s. Ours had some hand-stitching, but much was completed with the use of a long-arm quilting machine. But with each quilt like this there is a story that makes it as unique and different from any other. There are many articles of clothing that make up the separate and disparate shapes and colors of the quilt. Separate them and they are meaningless. Unite them and they become a thing of beauty.
Quilts have often been used as a way to describe what is best when diversity and uniqueness blend. My Mom understood that when she was alive, and like the pieces of cloth in the quilt made sure our family remained joined. Once she passed away the stitching of her design came undone, and the fabric of the family frayed.
Therefore it is comforting to see this quilt hang in our Madison home. I know the best part of what makes a real family resides here.