TITLE: FAMILY TRADITIONS 5/20/16
By Rachel Jamerson
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I couldn’t hide my excitement when the leaves began to change in the fall. The mountain was like a huge canvas painted with shades of red, gold and amber. The bright colors reminded me of Grandmother’s quilt pieces. My brother and I would play hide and seek in the piles of fallen leaves. One afternoon I decided to play a trick on my grandmother. When she called for me I hid in the leaves and didn't answer. After she ran around screaming for me awhile, I jumped up to scare her. She wasn't scared she was furious! I never tried that again.
In the spring and summer, Grandmother worked in the fields planting and harvesting food for the winter. It was a safe and warm feeling to see all the fruits and vegetables lined up on the shelves. When the last apple was in the jar, and the winter’s wood neatly stacked under the shed, Grandmother would retreat indoors for the season. She was never idle, even when the snows came and we were cabin-bound for days at a time.
Throughout the year, she collected worn-out clothing in a box under the stairs. A calico dress that had been outgrown, an apron with a big hole in the front, any pieces of fabric she could find. The first spell of bad weather would find Grandmother digging out her quilting box and sorting through its contents. She cut the fabric into small squares, triangles, and many other interesting shapes. Soon there were enough pieces to start a quilt top.
I watched as she pieced together the colorful shapes. It was exciting to see the patterns emerge. Sometimes they were large daisies, a cross, or a lot of barrel hoops. I learned later the pattern names; Grandmother’s Flower Garden, The Baptist Cross, and the Double Wedding Ring. The back of the quilt was made of larger pieces of plain fabric. They were sewn together until it was the same size as the top.
When the tops were finished grandmother called in the other ladies of the community. Together they set up her quilting frame... a huge wooden square so big it took up the entire room. Grandmother had also saved pieces of fabric not suitable for a top; she placed them between the two sides for weight and warmth. Then the quilt was pinned together and fastened into the frame. Gathering around the outside edge, the women began to sew the layers of fabric. For hours they would sit sewing and talking. Sometimes I would get my dolls and play under the quilt while they worked.
Their fingers would fly as they skillfully pushed the needles back and forth through the fabric. Sometimes the stitches took on the shape of a fan; others were more detailed such as flowers or bonnets. Over the years, I must have watched millions of stitches as I listened to the idle chatter of the women.
It wasn’t until I was a grandmother many years later that I gathered up fabrics and set out to create my own work of art. I was pleasantly surprised as I picked up my needle and began pushing it back and forth through the fabric. I realized I had done more than listen to community gossip as I watched the women so many years ago. I had also learned a skill that would bring me much joy, and continue a family tradition.
The old cabin was still standing. Not much to look at, just a small rectangle about 26’ x 26’. There were two rooms down and another two upstairs. The walls were covered with old newspapers. A little creek ran alongside the cabin and it would get very cold at night. The cracks in the cabin wall let in the cold air so grandmother would paper the walls with newspapers. She was resourceful always finding a way to accomplish what was needed. I think some of that spilled over on me.
Grandmother was the community midwife and herb doctor, in addition In addition she raised a garden and worked in the fields like the men. She was a widow, outliving three husbands. She bore three children, one of which died from the flu in the early 1900’s.
I walked around the cabin to the kitchen structure out back. In the early years before electricity, all the cooking was done over an open fireplace. Many times fires would break out and burn down the family’s home. They began building the kitchens separate from the house to protect it in case of fire. The old rock chimney was still standing. I could almost smell the food cooking. As children we were always hungry. The smell of supper cooking would bring us home from where-ever we were.
Times were hard but Grandmother always had food and warm clothing for her family. She reminded me of the Proverbs thirty-one woman... always looking out for her family no matter the circumstances.
The wind was blowing harder now. I wrapped my scarf tighter around my neck and started back down the road. Leaving made me sad. Soon there would be no signs left of Grandmother’s way of life. The history of this time would be lost to my children and grandchildren. Our world is ever changing, but family traditions help keep the memories alive.
On my way home I think I’ll stop at the fabric store and get some quilt quarters. Maybe I can interest one of my grandchildren in starting their own family tradition. Leaving the past behind,I returned home to my family and new memories.
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