Category: Jeanne’s Barefoot Heart (Page 1 of 96)

Jeanne’s personal creative pursuits of stories stitched, written, and spoken

My Trees of Shes: Aunt Rene and Aunt Lucy on Parties

 

 

 

Aunt Rene dances with The Engineer

My granddaddy had one brother – Uncle William – and three sisters – Aunt Rene, Aunt Lucy, and Aunt Mary. Aunt Rene was the fun one. When ever we were with Aunt Rene, life was a party. Aunt Mary was the school marm. She knew she was put on earth to make rules that children were to obey implicitly. Aunt Lucy was the veritable encyclopedia of knowledge on everything – including raising children, which was surprising, given that she had none of her own.

The three sisters were very close. When they weren’t in the same room, they were writing letters to each other. When Aunt Lucy’s husband died, she moved in with Aunt Rene, and the two of them spent all day every day sitting by the same heater, eating at the same table, sleeping in the same bed.

When The Girls hit their mid-nineties, they began to take more naps, and every time they woke up from a nap and found it light outside, they were sure it was morning, so they took their morning tablets. Which meant 2 things: overdose and time to find another place for them to live where others could be responsible for disbursing their medications.

We found a lovely assisted living home close by so we could visit often. As the annual Christmas party approached, Aunt Rene got more and more excited. We made an appointment for her to have her hair fixed,  her nails done, and went shopping for a new gold lame outfit.

The night of the Christmas party, Mother and I went to join in the festivities. We wiped The Girls sitting in the back corner of the room in front of the drink table. On our way to them, Mother made a wide right turn and stopped by to get herself a cup of wine, then we took our places standing behind them. Aunt Rene turned around to greet us, and did a quick double take. “Darlin’, is that alcohol?” she asked Mother.

Mother held the cup out in front of her, looking at it as though wondering what it was and how in the world it got into her hand. Thinking of nothing to say, she went with the truth: “Why yes, Irene, I guess it is.”

”I’ll be right back,” Aunt Rene told us, then took the cup of lemonade she and Lucy were sharing, and headed back to the drinks table where Mr. Joe, the facility’s maintenance man, was ladling out punch. “Mr. Joe,” Aunt Rene said, putting her cup down on the table and pushing it over towards him. “Put some Southern Comfort in my cup, if you please.”

”We don’t have any Southern Comfort,” Mr. Joe told her.

”I think if you’ll go look under that end of the table,” Aunt Renesaid, pointing to her left, “I think you might find some. I’ll wait.”

Mr. Joe obligingly went to the far end of the table, lifted the tablecloth, and looked around to see what was under the table. He came back shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Miss Irene, we just don’t have any Southern Comfort.”

”Well, in that case, I guess you better give me some more lemonade,” Aunt Rene sighed.

The music started, and we all knew that meant time for dancing. Aunt Rene sat up a little straighter, dialed her smile up a notch or two, and handed the lemonade off to Aunt Lucy,. She was ready for the line of men to form in front of her. That woman did love to dance. I knew that, and that’s precisely why when we first got to the party, I asked every able-bodied man to ask Aunt Rene to dance. To a person, they said the same thing: “I sure will take Miss Irene out on the dance floor, just as soon as a slow dance comes on.”

While Aunt Rene was out for her first slow dance, smiling to beat the band, Aunt Lucy decided she wanted to go to bed. “Where’s Irene?” she asked. “I’m ready to go to bed.”

”Aunt REne is at a party, Aunt Lucy. Y’all can go to bed when the party is over,” I told her.

Aunt Lucy got increasingly cranky and louder. I spied a post on the other side of the room, drug an empty chair in front of it, and told Mother to take Aunt Rene over to sit in the chair behind the post so Lucy couldn’t see her, then I took my place in Aunt Rene’s vacated chair next to Lucy. Being the self-appoint4ed family historian, I thought this a fine time to get some stories from Aunt Lucy.

”Aunt Lucy,” I started, “when you and Aunt Rene were teenagers, did y’all go on a lot of dates?”

”NO,” Aunt Lucy barked. “Now where’s Irene? I’m ready to go to bed.”

”Aunt Rene is at a party. When the party is over, she’ll come get you and y’all can go to bed. Now Aunt Lucy, when you and Aunt Rene were teenagers, did y’all like to go to parties?”

”NO. WHERE IS IRENE? I’m ready to go to bed.”

”Aunt Rene is at a party,” I reminded her. “When the party is over, she’ll come get you and y’all can go to bed. Aunt Lucy, when y’all were teenagers, did you like to dance?”

’NO. WHERE IS IRENE? I’M READY TO GO TO BED,” Aunt Lucy screamed at me.

That was the third strike as far as I was concerned. I whipped around in my chair and said in what my children call my meanest teacher voice: “Aunt Lucy, I’ve told you that Aunt Rene is at a party. I’m sitting here being very nice to you, and if you talk that way to me one more time, you’re going to bed all right, and I am going to be the one to take you. I’ll take you upstairs, get your ready for bed, and tuck you in. Then I’ll sit with you while you go to sleep, and when the party is over, Aunt Rene will come in and join you. You’ll already be asleep, so you can see her in the morning. How does that sound?”

In the sweetest voice I’d never heard come from Aunt Lucy’s mouth, she said, “Well, we didn’t party all that much, but when we did, we did enjoy dancing.”

My Trees of Shes: Aunt Rene, on Age

This year for Women’s History Month, I’m gonna’ be celebrating women in my life who make me a better woman. To get us started, meet my Aunt Rene (short for Irene). She was a mess, and today I tell you her view on age . . .

 

If you can’t or don’t want to play it out loud, here’s a non-verbatim version . . .

 

Here we see Aunt Rene flirting with the statue of a handsome man.

My Aunt Rene was a mess, which is the highest compliment you’ll ever hear at my Southern table. When Aunt Rene was rounding the corner headed to 100 (we think), my daughter Alison would often show up at family meals and events with a date. Aunt Rene would always end the conversation she was having, pull her gold lame jacket up on her shoulders, and walk in her gold lame shoes straight over to the date. She’d sidle up to him, flash her biggest smile in his direction, and ask, “Darlin’, do you have a younger brother?”

Yeah, Aunt Rene taught us how to flirt. She also taught us a little something about age: don’t tell anybody.

The first time I was with her and an adult bent down to my face level and asked, “How old are you, Sugar?” Aunt Rene put one hand on each of my shoulders and turned me to face her. She didn’t squat down with her hands on her knees, instead she used one of her hands to tilt my face up to look at her. “When somebody asks your age, don’t tell ‘em, Darlin. They do’no need to know ‘cause you see, when you give them a number, they’ll reach way down into their bag of stereotypes and pull out a description – a preconceived notion – of how people who are that age ought to act. Make ‘em treat you the way you are when you’re with them, cause age is just how many trips you’ve made around the sun. That’s just a number. Life is what matters, and life is how much sparkle and sass you put into every spin.”

Wind Phones

As self-appointed family historian,
I’ve spent my entire life researching in preparation
to write  this book about
what happened to my family in May 1933,
In an attempt to capture information I don’t have,
I pen letters to my daddy,
my Uncle Gene,
my Grandmother and my Granddaddy.
After a brief breathing break,
I take a clean sheet of paper
and channel them,
recording their responses
in letters penned back to me.
It never fails to be an amazing event,
but oh how I long to hear their back door
slam behind me
as I walk into their house,
always invited,
never announced,
to sit with them at their kitchen table.

I ache for one
(okay, 26)
(or maybe 512)
(at least)
more opportunities to sit with them
and ask questions about their loves, their lives.
How did you meet?
Why did you fall in love with each other?
What were your favorite songs, colors, books?
Did you like to dance?
Did y’all  laugh a lot?
What did you wear to your wedding?
Sometimes I’d just like to hear their smiles,
as they answer commonplace questions like
Whatcha doin’?
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Whatcha gonna’ do the rest of the day?
So many questions I long to ask
especially questions
about that horrific weekend in May 1933.
Were you terrified?
How did you comfort each other?
What thoughts ran through your minds?
How did you stay calm?
What were the emotional after shocks like?
and so on.

Today as I gather
my thoughts, newspaper clippings,
photos, letters, and other ephemera
related to what happened that weekend
and prepare to start writing for real this time,
I remember reading about a telephone booth
installed in a field in Otsuchi, Japan,
complete with a disconnected telephone.
In 2011, the small town of Otsuchi was
eviscerated by a double-whammy:
a tsunami and an earthquake.
They lost everything, including 2000 residents.

Itaru Saski was already grieving,
wishing to share just one more cup of tea with his cousin
who died before the tsunami came.
As others around him rebuilt,
Itaru followed the urgings of his heart,
nestling an old telephone booth in his garden.
Calling it the Wind Phone,
he issued an open invitation for others
to come and place
calls to their deceased loved ones.

On the heels of this memory,
I look around me, and I move as if a puppet at the end of a string . . .
My studio is home to a chair I sat in as a teenager,
reclining in its outstretched arms
talking on the phone for hours.
Next to it I place a mid-century modern
telephone table found in a thrift shop years ago.
I have “a thing” for mid-century modern.
Atop this table now sits the red phone I announced I wanted
on a trip to Asheville years ago.
I didn’t know why I wanted it,
I just did,
and it may or may not surprise you to hear
that it was the first thing I spied upon
entering my favorite shop.
Beside the phone is one of my son’s boots
turned pencil holder
and 2 journals The Engineer
gifted me three years ago.

The front of one journal reads
Fill your paper with the
breathings of your heart.

~ W. Wordsworth

The other journal wears these words:
May today there be peace within.
May you trust that you are
exactly where your are meant to be.
May you not forget the
infinite possibilities that are born of
faith in yourself and others.
May you use the gifts that you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content with yourself just the way you are.
Let this knowledge settle
into your bones,
and allow your soul the
freedom to
sing, dance, praise, and love.
It is there for
each and every one of us.

Magic!
And it all happened in the space of 4 minutes.
I’m not kidding.

Now, when the longing punches my heart,
I will sit in this chair,
tucked into the far corner of my studio
where no one can see me without trespassing
and use my personal Wind Phone
to find solace
and who knows –
maybe some answers, too.

 

And you know what else?
I hereby proclaim that One Day
I will install a public Wind Phone
– 2 of them, actually
or maybe 3 –
each with an open invitation
and free long (long, long, long) distance calling.
The thought excites me,
and I look forward to doing just that.
For now, though, a photo goes on my Vision Board,
and when the time is Right
and everything aligns,
the other public Wind Phones will most certainly come to be.

~~~~~~~

This just in:
my friend Margaret Williams
just sent me a link to
a text version of the wind phone.

Losses or Gains?

snow on trees

Snow on Christmas Eve
Icy roads before midnight.
Santa made it, though,
thanks to Rudolph’s fierce
determination.

Snow covered trees around the waterfall

snow covered trees around the waterfall

This morning,
the men are up
earlier than the tots
on Christmas morning,
out to do battle with nature
who’s proving a formidable foe
(just as I warned.)
(I mean foretold.)
In their crosshairs:
getting off our slick mountain road
with little if any regard
for all the other potentially hazardous roads
awaiting them.

While all scurry frantically,
in angst at plans disrupted,
their eagerness to leave
lands like families of porcupines on my heart.

Have they learned nothing from 2020,
The Great Teacher
who gave us so gave us so many
opportunities
to learn
and reframe?

At the knee of 2020,
we learn to
consider plans made as suggestions
or possibilities
to jot task lists in pencil
instead of ink,
to linger.

She gives us countless opportunities
to sample a slower-paced life,
our 2020,
to remember how it feels to
spend entire days letting books
be our planes, trains, and automobiles;
to replace text message with
pen, paper, envelopes, and stamps;
to reacquaint ourselves with
childlike wonder
enjoying games made from bits found
and food made from leftovers
and the awe of trees
newly-defined by snow.

snow covered trees and branches

Now I leave the fantasy land of my studio
and rejoin the chaos of angst –
noses pressed to the
panes in the door,
watching the thermometer,
willing it to reach 32 degrees Fahrenheit,
where –
in their own fantasy land –
the snow and ice will magically poof,
disappearing so they can
hit the road
hours after they’d planned,
moving a little faster
to make up for all the time lost.

Refrigerator Shrine

Short and squatty with a handle that pulled out to open the door, Grandmother’s Frigidaire is home to an important piece of my family history, a story of a first and a last . . .

The first and only time Grandmother Hewell told me “No” was the day I – the apple orchard of her eye – reached to the back of the squatty, boxy, white-on-the-outside-turquoise-on-the-inside refrigerator intending to help myself to the Zero candy bar in the back left corner of the second shelf. Her loud, abrupt “NO” startled me. She offered no explanation, just “You leave that alone,” as she pushed me to the side and closed the refrigerator door.

I was stunned. Grandmother had never denied me anything – not a single thing. My wish was her command, and I didn’t have to clean some funny-shaped lantern to get her attention. But that fateful day, all I got was a resolute, unwavering NO.

a boy holding a baby in front of an old car parked beside an unpainted house

Crawford Jr. plays with 6 month old Baby Gene

William Eugene Hewell – was he my uncle or is he my uncle? I never know whether to use past or present tense when talking about people who are so alive inside me but aren’t readily available to hug or sit beside or laugh with.

Laugh with.

Everybody I ask to tell me about my Uncle Gene says the same three things:
~ I can’t think of him without seeing him sitting up on that tractor seat.
~ I remember him popping wheelies in the front of the school before the bell rang.
~ He was funny. Lord a-mercy how that man did make us laugh. I never knew anybody as funny as your Uncle Gene.

William Eugene Hewell was born on March 31, 1933, a mere five weeks before five armed bandits held the family hostage while waiting on the bank’s vault to open so they could relieve it of its money bags. Uncle Gene was the last of five children born to Grandmother and Granddaddy. Before him, there was Juanita who lived 4 days. Edgar and Earl were twins, one living for an hour, the other stillborn. Then there was Crawford Junior, my daddy. He was five when Uncle Gene was born.

a young boy sits behind the wheel of a tractor

12 year old uncle Gene behind the wheel of the tractor

Zero candy bars were Uncle Gene’s favorite. The morning of December 19, 1951, he pulled the handle to open the refrigerator door, placing his beloved Zero candy bar in the back left corner so it would be nice and cold when he came in later that afternoon. He kissed his mother on the cheek, said something to make her laugh and shake her head, then went out the back door. He hopped up on the tractor and headed off to spend the day pulling stumps up on the property. Though I can’t imagine how he reached the pedals, family lore – those sacred stories that remain forever impervious to logic – holds that Uncle Gene learned to drive a tractor when he was 8 years old. Two years later,  Granddaddy began renting out the tractor, sending Uncle Gene along to operate it. Details aside, it stands true that Uncle Gene knew his way around tractors.

But this day, something went terribly, horribly, unspeakably wrong.

He put the chain too high up on the stump, some tell me. Others say he put the chain too low. Either way, the result remains the same. As Uncle Gene began to move the tractor forward, it reared up and flipped over on him, crushing him instantly. I am told that my wiry, small-framed granddaddy found my rotund uncle, lifted the tractor off him, and carried Uncle Gene back to the house where he laid him on the bed he shared with my grandmother.

Granddaddy Hewell drove a silver stake in the ground to mark the spot. Grandmother kept that Zero candy bar as her private refrigerator memorial to the son she loved to immensely. Years later, Crawford created his memorial to his brother Gene by naming his firstborn child after him. He spelled her name Jeanne.

newspaper article about the death of Eugene Hewell

 

P.S. Uncle Gene died on December 19, 1951. Twelve years later to the day, Granddaddy Hewell died. He died in his sleep, and because the attending doctor couldn’t be sure whether he died before or after midnight, he chose to let Granddaddy’s death stand forever as the same day his younger son was killed.

P.S. 2 I am currently writing a book about what happened to my family on May 5-6, 1933 and having a big time as my daddy would say, learning more about myself as I look back at those who preceded me.

Twenty Years Is Both a Long Time and No Time At All

“In the language of the deaf, the sign for ‘remember’ begins with the sign for ‘know’: the fingertips of the right hand touch the forehead. But merely to know is not enough, so the sign for ‘remain’ follows: the thumbs of each hand touch and, in this joined position, move steadily forward into the future. Thus a knowing that remains, never lost, forever: memory.”
~~~ Myron Uhlberg in Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love

Twenty years.

My daddy died died twenty years ago today, and I still ache with griefcrave one more hug, long to hear him call me Doll just one more time. Every December 2 I become a cauldron of grief – sorrow, anger, pensiveness, no sense of direction.  I usually spend the day doing soft, soulful things like writing, remembering, walking, but with the recent fullness of my life, I had no time to pre-plan. My waking thought was to read something written by someone else remembering and grieving for their daddy, and while that felt like a winner of an idea, what, exactly, I would read remained a question mark. Then, as Magic would have it, I went to the bookshelves in my studio this morning in search of another book for another reason, when the book aforementioned book  leapt off the shelf and into my hands.

Remembering.
It’s what I do.
It’s who I am.
Stories of remembering are my oxygen.

In August 2000, two weeks after delivering the book I wrote about my father-in-law to each of his children and grandchildren, Bones woke me up whispering, “Write a book about your daddy, and do it now.”

“Are you kidding me?” I countered. “I am exhausted, depleted, worn slap out.” (I kept the father-in-law book a secret even from Andy, which meant much writing at night) The Voice of my Bones was not amused or swayed, and I’ve learned (the hard way) not to argue with Bones, so the following week I began gathering stories, photos, newspaper articles, interviews, whatever I could get my ears and hands on, about my daddy. I wrote. I scanned. I wrote some more, and the Monday before Thanksgiving, off it went  to the printer and binder. Everybody in the family would receive a leather-bound copy of this 400+ page book of memories about Daddy.

Four days later – the day after Thanksgiving – Daddy fell, hitting his head. Hard.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, I called Karen, the book binder. “I hear voices, you see, and well, Daddy fell last Friday and the voices I call My Bones tell me I need to get those books back asap. Can you help?” Without a single audible sign of exasperation, Karen said, “I can have one book to you on Saturday and the rest next Monday.”

First-Book-Arrives-Saturday started with all Daddy’s bells and whistles going off, his machine creating a cacophony of alert. I called family members. “If you want to see Daddy alive, you need to get here before noon,” I told them. They came trickling in. Friends followed. Finally, husband Andy and son Kipp walked in, brown package in hand.

In a rather bold move for a Southern girl raised to respect hospitality above (almost) all else, I asked the friends to  leave, gathered family around Daddy’s bed, and opened the package. I began reading at 1:05 p.m. A nurse stayed well past her shift’s end, keeping the machines shushed by holding her finger on the quiet button.

We took turns reading, arriving at “The End” at 4:50 p.m.

Daddy took his last breath at 4:55.

Though he never said a word, I know Daddy could hear his life review because from my position to the left of his pillow, I watched tears make their way down his face throughout the afternoon.

Take from this post whatever you will, just please promise me this:
~ If, God forbid, anybody you love should ever be in a coma or otherwise unable to communicate, take it upon yourself to make sure that only positive loving kindness is spoken within those four walls because I know – know to my very core – that they hear everything, and we all know that words are powerful.
~ You’ll take the time to capture your family’s stories. Start today. Record, write, ask, clip, copy, scan – gather and preserve those stories by whatever means available. You can shape them into narrative later, step one is to capture, and let’s face it: we never know. Preserving these stories will change your life (among other things, you will learn a lot about yourself) and future generations will call you good things and be forever grateful. Count on it.

The Story of Women Exhibit: Whispering Bones and Aunt Addie

I told you about Cannonball – a piece in The Rinse Cycle, Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life Series –  being on exhibit at the the Milford Arts Council (a.k.a. the MAC) in Connecticut, and today I’m here to tell you about the other two pieces that were selected for inclusion in The Story of Women Exhibit  there . . .

 

The Rinse Cycle Series, Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life:
Whispering Bones

About the Series:
We all have them – moments that startle us into utter clarity about the need for significant change. And if we’ve made enough trips around the sun, we know that it’s up to us to create the life we are meant to live, so we grab onto the thread that has guided so many before us – the thread that is being offered to us now – and begin. People – even those who initially quake in fear at how our change might affect their lives – fall in beside us, cheering us on. Ancestors gather round to aid and abet. People we’ll never know grab onto the thread, vowing to live a self-determined life, too. I immortalize the spark and the resolve in art quilts I call The Rinse Cycle, Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life.

Size:
25.75” h x 18.5” w

Materials:
Scraps of fabric, commercial fabric, batting, embroidery floss

A Note About This Piece:
The “I Matter” note is tacked open in this photo and in the exhibit. When she finds her way back home to me, I will snip the threads holding the whisper open, fold it back into its envelope shape, and tie it closed using the strip of fabric underneath it.

Artist Statement:
When she needed it most, she heard a whispered sticky note.

 

Pink Galoshes Women: Aunt Addie

About the Series:
Pink Galoshes Women are those who, when confronted with obstacles, pull on their proverbial pink galoshes and tromp on through the mud and the muck to get to where they need and want to go.

Size:
19.5” h x 22.5” w

Materials:
Aunt Addie’s letters (printed, then chopped into chunks and reconnected to create background fabric of top) and photo transferred to fabric; vintage gloves and pearls; beads; embroidery floss; thread; batting; commercial fabric (back)

Artist Statement:
Committed to an insane asylum by six men because “she talked too much,” Aunt Addie found ways to quiet her soul if not her brain.

 

Viewing the Exhibit

The Story of Women is a hybrid – virtual AND brick-and-mortar – exhibit. To view the exhibit in person, visit the Milford Arts Council. To view from the comfort of your home, you have but to click right here.. Be sure to look for Black Wedding Dress, well-deserved winner of Best Story, by Karen Kassap. Right after the exhibit opened, Karen reached out to me via Instagram, and we are becoming the kind of friends I like best: appreciative, supportive, and encouraging. Add her friend Gale Zucker to that list, too. Gale went to see the exhibit yesterday, in support of her good friend, Karen, and afterwards she, too, reached out to me with supportive encouragement. Isn’t it lovely to be friends with so many women who are comfortable and confident enough in their own creative abilities that they feel no need to behave haughtily and be mean? I am blessed.

 

Dates and People’s Choice Award

The exhibit is open through November 19, 2020,. Scroll to the bottom of this page to cast your vote for the People’s Choice Award. Voting closes on November 18 to give them time to count the votes before announcing the winner at the close of the exhibit on November 19, 2020.  (Oh the jokes I could make were I one to delve into politics. But I’m not, so I won’t.)

The Story of Women Exhibit: Cannonball

I’m delighted to tell you that three of my girls were selected to be part of  The Story of Women Exhibit at the Milford Arts Center in – you guessed it – Milford, Connecticut. The exhibit opened online and in the brick-and-mortar gallery yesterday and remains open until November 19, 2020. Judge Shanna T. Melton put together a strong multi-media exhibit telling stories of women. Click here to hear from Executive Director Paige, then scroll on down to find links to the virtual exhibit, information about Judge Shanna, and on further down to find a ballot where you can take half a minute to vote for your favorite piece of art in the exhibit, the one you think should be awarded the coveted People’s Choice.

 

The Rinse Cycle, Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life: Cannonball

 

We all have them – moments that startle us into utter clarity about the need for significant change. And if we’ve made enough trips around then sun, we know that it’s up to us to create the life we are meant to live, so we grab onto the thread that has guided so many women before us – the thread that is being offered to us now – and Begin. People – even those who initially quake in fear at the thought of how our change might affect their lives – fall in beside us, cheering us on. Ancestors gather round to aid and abet. People we’ll never know urge us on and vow to live a self-determined life of their own. I immortalize that spark and resolve in a series of art quilts I call The Rinse Cycle, Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life. I call this one Cannonball.

 

 

“Then One Day she knew she would rather Dive in and make Waves than Drown in silence.”

 

 

Yes, the back of the swimsuit is on the back of the quilt. Of course it is!

 

The Other Two Girls

Swing back by sometime to read about Pink Galoshes Women: Aunt Addie and The Rinse Cycle, Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life: Whispering Bones, my two other girls who are in The Story of Women Exhibit.

Travel bans may keep us from seeing the exhibit in person, but there’s not a ban strong enough to keep us from making art, right? I’d sure like to see and hear about what your hands are up to, and if you’re a mind to tell me, please leave a comment and/or connect with me on Instagram and Facebook.  Thank you, Milford Arts Center, for your continued dedication to being a facilitator for the arts that no travel ban can stop or even detour.

Unclaimed Hallelujah: Katie Belle Wesley Ballard

 

When the brown paper grocery bag from K. W. McElaney’s corner store was full of fabric scraps, they met in the middle of the road – Mrs. Callaway and my maternal grandmother. After exchanging pleasantries, they swapped bags then returned to their respective homes, spilling the bag’s contents on the kitchen table, marveling at the colors, the patterns, the possibilities. Soon enough, colors were sorted, patterns were chosen, cutting begun. Eventually her Davis treadle machine whirred with life, providing Grandmother the only walls she could lay claim to.

The simple act of me saying “yes” to receiving a garbage bag filled with scraps from an anonymous donor and turning them into quilts made Grandmother smile. I’m sure of it.

 

 

When the box arrived, I had no idea what I was going to do. My mind was a blank slate. I finished a few other projects, and with the calendar ticking, I got up one morning and before anything or anyone else could take the reins of my day, I opened the box, removed the garbage bag, then dumped the contents onto my design table. How I do love a beautiful jumble, the chaos of colors, the cacophony of shapes, the nostalgic imaginings of what the fabric had once been used for. Oh, the possibilities.

But still no ideas.

The calendar ticked louder.

I fiddled with the colorful bits of cloth and eventually began to See.

 

Christmas fabric . . .
Christmas mornings spent in Grandmother’s living room.
Gifts opened only after each of her 14 grandchildren played their two pieces on her black upright piano with the stool that rose and lowered by spinning.
Cousins showing off the 3 Santa gifts we were allowed to bring.
Granddaddy holding up a pair of freshly-unwrapped underwear, hollering across the room
”Katie Belle, are these from you?”
”What William?” she hollers back.
They had big ears – both of them did –
but they were for facial decoration only.
He asks again, “I said Are. These. From. You?”
With a chortle that would not be held back,
Grandmother says, “Oh William, of course they’re new.”

One strip of black and white fabric . . .
88 keys on a piano.
Grandmother’s full-ride scholarship to The Piano Conservatory
an adventure cut short
When her father harrumphed at the end of her first year
That young ladies didn’t need an education
especially in something as frivolous as piano
and declared that she would not be going back
and would instead spend her time in search of a husband.
Even a letter from the Dean
begging him to let Grandmother complete her studies
and telling of her immense talent
could not dissuade her father.
Whether Grandmother’s step-mother influenced the story or not,
we’ll never know.
I doubt anybody thought to ask before now.
She did meet and marry Granddaddy,
and every one of her five children
will tell you without hesitation
that he – Granddaddy –
married up.

Green . . .
How Grandmother enjoyed
cutting grass.
She had her own riding lawn mower
and she used it when the grass needed
cutting
or when she needed the grass to be cut.
Whichever need came first,
she would
strap on her battered straw hat,
take her seat on the mower
and commence to riding.
Another sound
providing her with walls,
a way to close out the world
and giver her space
to create her own.

Flowers . . .
Oh my goodness, flowers.
Grandmother’s entire yard was a flower garden
and how I would love to have just one more
day with her holding my hand,
treating me to a personalized guided tour,
checking on the health of each flowering plant
and telling me the name of the plane
and who gave her the cutting.

The fabric with flames . . .
Even as a teenager
there was nowhere I’d rather be
than at Grandmother’s house.
I stopped by
whenever I wanted.
We all did.
No appointment needed.
Walk-ins welcome.
The back screen door slamming behind me.
Mother forbade it at home,
but it is a sound that didn’t bother
Grandmother at all.

Gray . . .
Color of The South.
She was, after all,
the quintessential Southern Lady
without any of the pretense and subterfuge.

The Jetsons cartoon fabric . . .
Granddaddy died
knowing that Live Atlanta Wrestling
was the real deal
while the man on the moon was
staged.

Sock monkeys . . .
Grandmother always
and I do mean always
had time to stop and play
and talk
and, perhaps most importantly,
listen.

Comfort food could always
be found on Grandmother’s table.
Biscuits made from scratch three times every day.
Leftovers in the center of the table
hidden under a clean tablecloth
always available for snacking
or an impromptu meal.
She entered – and won – cake backing contests.

A rescued tablecloth holds these “scraps”
of memories and love
together
to create the second piece in my new series
called Unclaimed Hallelujahs,
this one a cape honoring
Katie Belle Wesley Ballard.
The woman I call Grandmother.

There’s Only One Word for Day 2

Today gave me plenty of reasons to smile.

When we picked Handful up from school today, he had a 6 word greeting for me: “Bubbles, today was gooder than yesterday.” And that was before he knew there  were two new monster trucks waiting for him at home..

a young boy opens a box with the help of a woman

First he tries them on as a hat.

a young boy puts two toy trucks on his head

Then he introduces them to each other so they can become friends.

 

the young boy puts two toy trucks together

Sprout enjoys the new Princess Palace her Aunt Betsey gave her. (Aunt Betsey is really Cousin Betsey, but we don’t get tangled up in things like that.

a young girl smiling

a young girl inside a tent

a pink castle tent

Soon the Princess Palace is filled with Handful, Sprout, Bubbles, 3 new monster trucks, an ipad, a music-maker that we call a sound system, 2 small cars, and 2 bottles of water. I texted Betsey and, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, asked if there was a Princess Palace Annex available. With air conditioning.

Handful and I developed a secret password to keep, well, y’all know why we created a secret password – same reason everybody develops secret passwords – and 3 seconds later it became quite apparent that I need to work with Handful on the meaning of the word “secret”.

Grave Digger developed some dreaded tire problems, and Handful knew just what to do, pressing the wolf ear headbands into service.

toys

I mistakenly took possession of 1 of the new monster trucks, and was promptly scolded by Handful who looked at me with a face of disappointment and said “Naughty, naughty Bubbles.”

a young boy

There was tickling.

a man tickles a little girl

Books were read.

a man and a little girl read a book together

Bed covers became garages.

a young boy plays with his toy trucks on a bed

A book from Aunt Fwoozie and a stool became a ramp for the new monster trucks to use for their death-defying tricks.

a ramp for the toy trucks

In another part of the land of our creating, books become stepping stones on a path that lead to all kinds of fantastic adventures.

a girl plays with books ont he floor and makes stepping stones

When in Celle, Germany for The 70273 Project Special Exhibit, I picked up a book on fire engines and fire fighters. In German, of course. It’s in amazingly good shape considering how much it’s been enjoyed.

a little girl reads a book about firemen

It’s back to the big bed for a game of jump-jump-fall with Pink Ellie, who proved to be quite patient and accommodating. Truth be told, I think Pink Ellie enjoyed the game as much as Sprout.

a smiling little girl

The doggie door provides a stellar escape hatch.

little girl looks through door

Because everybody ate such a good supper, there was a walk to the ice cream truck for dessert. Handful and I have a rule about ice cream eating: We only share ice cream with people we love. And that’s the truth.

a little boy eating ice cream from a spoon

a woman feeds a little girl a spoonful of ice cream

Handful and Sprout ran off some of their ice cream by playing chase in the alley where we sat. When Sprout’s 2 year old gait faltered and she sat down on the asphalt with a thump, it was Handful to the rescue with a hug.

a little boy hugs a little girl

I heard from both the other grandmothers today, something that’s always a treat for me. I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again: I am so lucky to share these amazing chiclets with these two other women. And, if I might say so, these two chiclets are pretty darn lucky to have 5 grandparents with different interests, backgrounds, talents, experiences, and personalities.

From start to finish, it was a day filled with . . .

the word “joy” on an ice cream cone wrapper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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