Jul 20, 2011

Grave Hoppin'

I grew up going to cemetaries.  When I was little, my grandmother would cut peonies, stack them with layers of wet newpapers in the trunk of the car, and away we would go to decorate graves.  There was rarely ever anyone else there and as we distributed flowers, my grandmother would tell stories about the people whose gravestones we knew.  In a small town this can be quite a lesson, and geneology as well as  history were absorbed as naturally as bedtime stories for me.  Get more than two people of a certain age together at a cemetary, and you will be amazed and delighted at the stories you will hear.

I loved the different stones, calculated how long the surviving spouse spent without their mate, witnessed the babies born who did not survive, and marveled at what their lives would have been like.

I still do.

 It was always a favorite way to spend an afternoon with my mother's family.  Many is the time I have picked up the phone only to have a relative say "Want to go grave-hoppin'?".  It's a little joke, as opposed to "bar-hoppin".  The answer was always yes.  It still is, and I love to go by myself too.  If I'm alone and I pass a cemetary I most usually stop. 

Here are just some pictures I took when I got the new camera, but I have always loved this angel.  She presides at the Catholic Cemetary here in town.  Angels and crosses dominate this cemetary.
Across the road is the city cemetary. Parts of it are very old.  Of course, they are my favorite.  This cemetary also has some angels, crosses, and also little bell shaped tops on the stones.  I do not know what the bell shaped tops mean.  My favorite stones of all are the Woodmen of the World stones, and we have many in the city cemetary.  Here are some from this batch.  I have many more of these taken at many cemetaries, and am saving those for a post just about them.  It is a wonderful story and you should look it up.  If you have never noticed these before you must have not been paying attention, they are immediately recognizable but also have unique features. 

This one I took just for the old tree.  It's in the oldest part of the cemetary and one of my favorite scenes there.

Jul 17, 2011

Turning Straw Into Gold

This post was inspired by The Pioneer Woman, who had one day been looking at quilts, in catalogs, and posted some pictures of her favorite ones. 

If you are not familiar with PW, you would not know that she is originally from the city, and so must be forgiven her mistaken idea that you can buy real quilts out of catalogs.  I scolded her for this amateur mistake (lightly) in the comments section.  I was not the only one.  It hasn't been brought up again.  I'm sure they got her straightened right out in Oklahoma.  (wink wink)

What she had picked out were certainly beautiful and expensive, and I must say, if you've been to a quilt show lately you have probably had your breath taken away.  I have.  Quilting has come a long way.  Traditionally, beautiful and expensive does not a real quilt make, at least not to kids from the country.  A "real" quilt is not made from coordinating fabrics bought special for that purpose.  A real quilt is not machine stitched, ever. A real quilt incorporates pieces considered ugly on thier own into a beautiful whole.  A real quilt never needs to be dry cleaned.  A real quilt has weight.  At least, that's the way it used to be.   I can remember always making a "tent" over my feet, so the weight of the quilt didn't give me cramps as a child.  I still do that, actually.

Quilts were traditionally made from scraps of material for the practical purpose of providing warm bedding for your family.  Through the years it has evolved into an art form and I am awed by some of the beautiful work turned out from the luxurious position of being able to buy the material you want and the vision needed to see the end result without benefit of a map.  I have an Amish community within driving distance and they work on their quilts all the time.  You might be surprised at how much they sell for.  Consider the time that goes into them and the length of time the quilt will last, and it will seem like a bargain.  Estate sales that feature quilts are always well attended, even in terrible weather, and the quilts always go last and rarely more than one at a time.  I always see it as a testimony to effort put into those quilts, and I doubt that I'm the only one.
I grew up with quilts made from clothes that had been outgrown or ruined beyond repair.  Every square was not just part of a quilt, making beautiful larger patterns, it was also a piece of your old baby blanket or favorite dress.  Basically any kind of material that would work for a quilt was cut into pieces for exactly that.  These pieces were kept in piles, bags and chests, sometimes for many years before a quilt would be put together.  Some women could have more than one quilt going at a time, and were considered rock stars before that term was even born.

This is the newest quilt I have. It was made by my mother during her illness before her death.  It was a dream she had put off till the last minute, but she got it done with some help.  She did all the blocks herself and some friends, who were life long quilters, put it together for her.  She was very proud of it.  Since this was a dream she put off until the last minute, I have to tell you that she bought all the material to coordinate especially for that purpose.  So maybe it's not a "real" quilt in every way, but it is not a bad first effort from a woman caught between the generation that couldn't throw anything away and the generation that threw everything away.  It's a log cabin, which is one of the easier patterns.  I am beginning to suffer guilt from never making one of my own.  But I'll try it the old fashioned way.  Go ahead and shake your head, it doesn't bother me a bit.  I learned a long time ago this is strictly my own journey, and shortcuts never did appeal to me.  I also learned a long time ago that the value of a quilt has nothing whatsoever to do with it's worth.

This is the Sunflower Sue, made by Nana, that I have talked about before.  It fits the qualities of a real quilt in every way. 

So does this one.  It is over 100 years old and is a wedding ring pattern.  Each little square, you can be sure, was previously something else in another life and faded from washing before it ever became part of this quilt.  It was made by a teenage girl before her wedding and is still here all these years later.  She would have started cutting pieces for this quilt as a small child, and sewn them together, probably more than once.  You were judged by the size of your stitches then, and they were supposed to be very small.  It must be said that it has spent a significant part of those years in a plastic bag of protection in a closet, because it is over 100 years old.  But still.  You have to admit that machine stitching would have never stood up to the test of time.  When I turned 40 I decided I was going to get it out and use it.  It seemed wrong to be a beautiful quilt over 100 years old and be kept in a closet.  On the other hand, once I got it out it seemed wrong to be a beautiful quilt over 100 years old and be spending the night tangled on the floor amongst teenage boys and dogs.  But quilts have lives too, and they have to live them.  This quilt has had many lives, many of the scenes probably the same, just with different players.  Or dogs.  If it goes down, it will go down with it's boots on, so to speak.  But I imagine it will last many more years. 

Which brings me to my favorite quilt of all.  It's not the prettiest.  Or the oldest.  It is a real quilt because it is hand stitched, and made out of recycled material, but it wasn't made to be displayed or protected.   I can't wait for you to see what the material is, and you will have to be a certain age to recognize it at all.  It is my favorite quilt because it was made by Nana also, and because of the material, it is the quilt that I have never been afraid to use.  It has been to countless ballgames and parks.  It has been spread across lawns and fields to watch fireworks on.  Babies have slept on it and had their diapers leak.  Little children have thrown up on it.  It has languished in the back of a minivan for months until it was needed to cover a seat for a boy who accidentally went into the city lake fully clothed.  In FEBRUARY!  It's had grass stains and grease stains.  I've washed it hundreds of times.  It spends almost every winter in a cedar chest.   It is the one my children recognize as home, even when it's all alone and nobody is standing close to it.  I have never seen another one like it, but surely there are others around.  Check it out:

Ok, now do you remember?  In the early 70's, these were in some kind of laundry powder.  I want to say Biz Bleach, but I can't remember for sure. The theme was flowers, and the tea towels were pronounced  a bad advertising gimmick by one and all immediately after having been pulled out of the powder, where they were always buried mysteriously deep, which usually made a dusting on the floor, which had to cleaned up.  Which, did nothing to improve the mood of these women who were already disillusioned at the thought of having to get some more tea towels after all, because these would never do.  Maybe it was just that the powder wasn't any good, hence the "free" prize, but these tea towels were cussed and discussed all over America, by women who bought that washing powder.  I don't know how many of them used the tea towels or how long they lasted.

What I do know is that though those tea towels were despised by one and all, very few of them were thrown away, and at least one woman saved them up until she had enough to make a quilt out of.  It's just a twin size, so either she didn't like the brand that much or she just didn't need any more big quilts.  We will never know.  We can make stories up about it instead.

That depression-era generation knew how to turn straw into gold.  I miss them.  That's all I'm sayin'.