Category: Blog (Page 2 of 99)

News of The 70273 Project with a side of Jeanne’s Barefoot Heart

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morning Glories, All

So far, today has been

smiles . . . . . .

a young girl smiles

 

a young boy plays with a toy car

 

a man and a dog smiling at each other

art (inside and out). it appears i am the proud grandmother of a 2 year old graffiti artist. And with boxcars not being readily available, a 2 year old resourceful graffiti artist . . . 

a child’s art marks on a brick wall

 

a child’s drawings on a chalkboard

Showing Bubbles (that’s me) all the things he’s learned to do for himself since February . . .

a young boy putting his shoes on

Expressive faces, like what to do when Bubbles says “give me surprise” 

a young child makes a face

and “give me pensive”

a young boy laying on a floor pillow

Serious talks with Bubbles. Seems Handful did not have a very good day at school today, and when I asked if he’d like to talk about it, he said yes. So I asked him why today wasn’t a very good day, and it seems he had to do way too much 2-people, 3-people, and rug work when what he really prefers is 1-person work. Just like his Bubbles prefers.

a young boy

And Morning Glories of the blooming variety. i especially love Morning Glories because that was one of the things my mother called me when i was a tot. other nicknames were fruit loop, peanut, and doll. You can’t go wrong with special names like that. Or “Handful” and ‘Sprout”.

a morning glory blooms

And we still have bedtime to look forward to. Baths to be taken. Books to be read. Songs to be sung.

a young boy sleeps on his fire truck bed

 

a young girl sleeps with Ana from Frozen

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings here in Heaven.

Making it Through Exhibit at the Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum

The Rinse Cycle: Pivotal Epiphanies in a Woman’s Life, Whispering Bones
25.75” h x 18.25” w

Artist Statement: As we sheltered in place for more than 60 days, I was the bologna between my mother and daughter in our three generation sandwich. I struggled to keep Mother occupied and find things she could do to feel needed and useful, and I struggled to find way to tend to my daughter who was experiencing adverse reactions to a new medicine – all while keeping my husband from jumping off the nearest ledge. One morning, I declared asylum in my studio, and having zero ideas and even less inspiration – both stomped flat by exhaustion – I checked my brain at the door and  went full speed into haptic mode, turning my hands loose to select fabric and create at will. This is the result. This is what my heart and hands wanted to say. This is what helped me make it through our COVID-190 togetherness . . . and kept me out of an ill-fitting orange jumpsuit.

I am honored and delighted that this piece was selected to be part of the Making It Through exhibit at the Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum in Carrollton, Georgia. It’s a virtual exhibit, and you can see it on the Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum Facebook page. While you’re there, be sure to click on the photo to read the artist statement for each piece that will pop up and appear to the right of the image.

Did I Tell You the One About

Our Vows . . . 

Forty-seven years ago today, I made my way down the aisle to say “I sure will!” when asked if I willingly made and agreed to keep my vows to Andy, The Engineer. Now I can’t say I thought about it at the time because the words “I sure will” just fell right out of my mouth, but looking back, it seems to me now that saying “I will” might be more meaningful and lasting than saying “I do.” I might’ve said “I sure will” because of authority issues (The preacher who married us was not chosen because I liked him – I didn’t, and the feeling was mutual – but because he was the only one available on the date we set.). I  might’ve said “I sure will” because my brain chose that particular moment to take a nap after the inevitable hecticness preceding a wedding. I’ve had a while to think about it, and saying “I sure will” sure seems like  my heart’s way of saying “For the rest of my life, I will honor these vows I make to you here (and the vows we made to each other in our private-just-the-two-of-us ceremony”) while saying “I do” seems more like a “yeah-sure-whatever-you-just-said-now-let’s-party” commitment to keep the vows at least tonight.

I told the preacher not to worry about the vows, that we were writing our own. (I’d already started mine, but you knew that.) I want y’all to know that man put both hands on his desk palms down, rose up out of his chair, leaned over the desk in my direction, and said in what amounted to a hiss, “I have NEVER let couples write their own vows, and I’m not about to start with you, Jeanne Hewell.” I looked him in the eye back to his retinas and said, “Fine, but know this: if you use the word ‘obey’ or anything akin to it, I will NOT say it.”

I waited till just before the ceremony to tell him we’d be saying our own words when we exchanged rings. Score one for Jeanne.

How We Chose The Date . . . 

My father-in-law was known to harumph and complain quite loudly when a wedding interrupted his weekend, so we got married at 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night. He’d promised us the prize – a cruise on the Rhine – if his company won some purchasing contest, so we thought it a good idea to be officially married before setting sail. I wrote dates on slips of paper, and we drew July 31 out of the hat, making July 31, 1973 a date that will live in infamy, as they say.

wedding invitation in frame

The Preparations . . . 

My mother got married in the local jail. Yes, really. Back in The Day, citizens of Fayette County elected the sheriff and got the wife for free to do the cooking and cleaning for the prisoners. They kept expenses down even more by providing the sheriff’s family a place to live instead of hiring extra guards. Well, my maternal granddaddy was the sheriff, so Mother and Daddy tied the knot in the living room at the jail.

While I love that story, Mother? Not so much. So once the date was set, I told her, “I want you to give yourself the wedding you wished you’d had. Go ahead. Knock yourself out,” reserving for myself the job of designing my bouquet, choosing the color (Tropicana. Everywhere we live, we plant a tropicana rose bush.); invitations; my attire; and the place. I asked that the reception be held at home (because I’ve always loved the story of a jailhouse wedding) and  asked that we have watermelon at the reception. We wanted to get married on my family’s land, atop a hill overlooking the lake where my paternal granddaddy and I sometimes fished (and killed snakes) and, it occurs to me as I write this, just in front of the place where the uncle I am named after was killed. Likely thinking of parking, women walking on soft earth in heels, and wondering if the church had enough folding chairs, my mother was not enamored with the idea. As it turns out, the preacher we wound up with wasn’t either, so into the church we went.

And the watermelon? It was served, and Andy and I got to enjoy some only because Donn, Andy’s brother, fetched a bowl full and delivered it to us.

The Photos . . . 

I was hit by a car on the streets of downtown Atlanta five weeks before the wedding. I’ll tell you that story another day, but what you need to know right now is that it broke my left knee and landed me in a full leg plaster cast. Everywhere we went from that date forward to our wedding day, I sat on the backseat with my leg on the seat while The Engineer drove with his left hand so we could hold hands over the seat.

Five days before the wedding, the  orthopedic doc cut the cast off, took an x-ray, then came into the room to tell me with a straight face, “Your leg hasn’t healed the way I’d like it to, so we need to put the cast back on.”

”Oh no you don’t,” I told him. That cast is now an umbrella stand, and I’m outta here.”

My left leg wouldn’t bend willingly, so I was still on crutches when July 31 came around. I used Daddy’s arm to help get me down the aisle. When it was time to exit stage left, The Engineer whisked me off my feet and carried me out of the church. No, it wasn’t planned. I was every bit as surprised as the men you’ll see leaning to the right to avoid my size 5.5 saddle-clad left foot getting awfully close to their faces ‘cause The Engineer had eyes only for me back then.

The Dress . . .

Having missed the memo alerting me that Mothers of the Groom were to wear beige, stay out of the way, and keep their mouths completely shut, I invited my mother-in-law to go shopping for wedding dresses with my mother and me. “It’ll be fun,” I told her, “we’ll snag me a dress then go have lunch somewhere.” She agreed, my mother and I picked her up, and off we went – the bride and her two mothers.

We started at a shop at North DeKalb Mall, not so far from the Chambers’ house. I selected a dress with a higher empire waist, thinking it would hide all my rolls of fat . . . the flesh that only I saw when I looked in the mirror at my 98-pound self. I came out of the dressing room, both women liked it, and I said “Great, we’ll take it.” I stood as the pins were put in place for the person who would make the alterations, then asked, “Where will we have lunch?”

the bride, the groom, a young girl

The Other Dresses . . . 

I also have in my cedar chest, the dress Mother wore that night and the dress her mother wore that night. Three generations of dresses, one pink, one blue, one white. I wish I had the dresses Mrs. C and Nancy wore.

gold journal on old brown, white, and blue quilt. on cover of journal is Follow Your Heart.

The Stories . . . 

I’m delighted to tell you that earlier this year, The Engineer surprised me yet again earlier this year by agreeing to co-write our memories. I found matching journals at the dollar store in Denver, and told him the deadline is July 31, 2022. That’ll give me a year to merge the two journals (likely more, in my case) into one book. What a kick it’ll be to see what he remembers (and how much he gets right)!

red stitched letters on white dress with lace

The Plan . . . 

Oh, the things we keep. I am now stitching memories onto the skirt of the dress – slowly, so far, because there’s something about the possibility of COVID-19 lurking around every corner that slows me down and faster as we move towards the big Five-Oh mark. I have plans for the veil, too, and I still have the shoes (they are on display in my studio)  and the fingerless gloves Mother “encouraged” me to get. Who knows what I’ll do with all those accessories? Though I have no idea what to do with it, it seems I’m staging  an installation  – three generations of dresses, my veil, the shoes, gloves, photos, my wedding planning book, a box of napkins from the wedding, the book, my bouquet, and so many other things – and I’m calling it The State of Our Union. Stay tuned.

~~~~~~~

Post Script . . . 

Today, The Engineer marked the day by gifting me 3 pairs of new socks and 2 replacement bulbs for my photography lights. And me? I gifted him this blog post.

 

Loving Kindness for the Win

My growing collection of eye shades that might one day find their way into a quilt.

Wednesday, July 9, my 16th eye treatment. To say that treatments 14 and 15 were not good is a textbook example of understatement. I’m accustomed to the roller coaster – at least as accustomed one can get with eyesight and emotions going up and down. Such is the nature of being in a clinical trial. My vision kept sliding down the mountain, though. The big black thumbprint in the center of my vision came back. Telephone poles curved like mountain roads. Letters ducked and danced. My emotional complexion plummeted. I withdrew. Tucked in. Hid.

I got up early on Treatment Day, did yoga, meditated by the falls, and just before we left, I did something I hadn’t done in two months: I posted on Instagram and Facebook asking for good thoughts, healing energy, prayers.

Four hours later my name was called, and I took my seat before the dreaded Snellen chart. Just the thought of that dreaded chart usually sends me into shallow breaths and glistening . . . sweat. It’s how every treatment begins – auditioning this lens then that lens then reading the letters out loud. It’s usually a slow, laborious process, as the letters become shy and duck out of sight in a game of hide and seek that I seldom win.

But that Wednesday . . . that 16th treatment . . . oh my goodness.

There was no glistening.
No shallow breathing.
No fidgeting.

I felt this delicious, multi-colored coat of calm and loving kindness wrap itself around me with arms and whispers and goodness from around the world. I read Mr. Snellen’s letters, and I read them with confidence and with speed.

Denise, my Main Handler came to fetch me, and when Julia told her about my confident reading – about my 19 NEW LETTERS* – they joined in my cheering and crying. There were tears of relief that this part of the treatment day’s events was over; gladness that I’d read 19 NEW LETTERS,  and gratitude – oh my goodness, the deep, overflowing vat gratitude. How will I ever adequately thank y’all for creating that web, that hammock, that blanket, that coat of loving kindness? For now, all  I can think to do is say “Thank you” for holding me in the best remedy ever . . .

. . . and ask if you’d mind doing an encore on Wednesday, August 5?

 

(*Important note: There’s no guarantee that those 19 letters will be visible on August 5, but they’re here now, and for now, we rejoice!)

Rainbows of Gray

ocean breaking on huge, jagged rocks

When her daddy refuses to let her return for the last three years of her full-ride scholarship to The Piano Conservatory saying sternly, “Women need a husband not an education – especially an education in playing the piano,” my grandmother agrees to marry Granddaddy who agrees to let her keep her piano. When we are old enough, Grandmother teaches each one of her grandchildren to play the piano. On our assigned day, Granddaddy picks us up after school in his white and gray Ford F-150 and takes us to their house where he treats it to Co’ Colas (in the small bottle, of course, because they taste better) and ‘cream (vanilla ice cream) before our lesson.

From small bottles of soft drink, I learn about forming  relationships over food.

”We weren’t allowed to buy soft drinks at the local store,” he tells me, “but there was one shop owner in town who would sell us a case if nobody was looking. His delivery boy had to carry them to the car, though. We couldn’t risk being seen toting a wooden case of Co’ Colas out of his store because black people didn’t buy enough groceries to keep him in business and white folks, if they saw him selling Co’ Colas to us, would stop shopping there.”

From small bottles of soft drink, he learns about discrimination.

~~~~~~~

”Which bus do I ride home?” the seven-year-old me asks Mother as she drops me off on the first day of second grade.

”Just ride the bus you rode last year,” she tells me, and I do, waking up just as Mr. Dan Phillips pulls the snub-nosed, rounded bus #5 into his barn at the end of his route.

”Mr. Phillips,” I say as he turns the silver upright handle to open the door and let himself out, “am I spending the night with you?”

”Where did you come from Jeanne?” he asks.

I point to the third seat on the row behind him, still rubbing my eyes awake.

”C’mon,” he tells me, chuckling softly. “I’ll take you home.”

”She was sound asleep,” he tells my mother, and she’s so short, I couldn’t see her in the rear view mirror. The routes changed this year. She needs to take bus #2 home now, Robert Storey’s bus.”

From riding a school bus, I learn to ask for help.

As a fourteen year old, he drives a school bus, stretching to make himself big enough to reach the pedals and shift the gears. “We didn’t usually have enough gas to get us through the entire week,” he tells me, “so Friday afternoon I had to zig-zag back and forth across the road to slosh what little gas was still in the tank to keep the engine running and get us all home.”

From driving a school bus, he learns resourcefulness.

~~~~~~~

Harriett Dean, mother of my best friend Dianna, takes us swimming at Lake Spivey. Harriett Dean spreads out a towel and settles herself with a good book while Dianna and I run to the water. Quickly tiring of the pick-up game of Marco Polo and knowing it is too early to get the inevitable grape snow-cone, Dianna gets out of the lake, climbs onto the concrete block wall, grabs her nose, and leaps feet first into the water.

The smile that wraps around her face as she comes to the surface, shaking the excess water from her curls-from-a-box hair tells me this is some fun I want to have, too. I hoist myself up on the wall, walk out to where I think Dianna jumped from, and leap. When I come to the surface, I’m too far out in the dreaded deep end. My feet can’t find the bottom, and every time I try to yell for help, my mouth fills with water leaving no  room for sound. Dianna is making her way back out of the lake for another jump. Harriett Dean is laying face down on the towel now, tanning her back. Nobody else knows or notices me. I am going to drown, and I’m not even sure how they’ll find me because this is a lake, not a swimming pool.

Eventually I dog paddle my way to the shallow end. I will need a nap, but I will live.

From swimming, I learn that just because my friend friend can do something doesn’t mean I can do it, too..

They were to jump from the 40-foot platform because that’s roughly the same distance to the pool as the ship’s deck is to the ocean. He wasn’t afraid because he knew how to swim – his mama made sure of that – but he was puzzled when the Navy survival course instructor barked, “Black people can’t swim, so those of you who can swim form a line over here, and those who can’t swim, fall in behind the two black boys.”

Surprised to learn that black people can’t swim – something he’s been doing his whole life – he watches as self-declared non-swimmers fall in line behind him while his friend Austin, the only other black man within sight, takes a place at the front of the Can Swim Line. One man jumps in, comes to the surface, and swims to the side of the pool. Another does the same, and now it’s Austin’s turn. Austin leaps into the water easy enough, but he goes straight to the bottom and stays there. “We have a rock,” the instructor calls out before he and his assistant dive in to pull Austin to the surface.

Sputtering and coughing as one is wont to do after spending unplanned time under water. Austin catches his breath, looks up at the instructor, and asks wryly, “Which one did you say is the line for those who can’t swim?”

From a swimming training session, he learns stereotyping.

~~~~~~~

Excerpts of stories from the memory banks of two people – a black man and a white woman who are roughly the same age and who grew up not too far from each other. I learned a lot about racism, racial inequality, and the power of listening and bearing witness that story-swapping afternoon.

I asked which term I should use: desegregation or integration. He prefers desegregation. Why?  Because desegregation brought us together, allowing black to keep their own culture and community. Integration implies they must lose their culture for us to live side by side.

It was the best conversation about race, racism, racial inequality, segregation, and integration I’ve ever had. It happened with a stranger, and it happened because it was true conversation – no attempt or need to convert; no accusations and anger; no finger wagging. Just good old-fashioned back-and-forth conversation, complete with deep listening, bearing witness, and asking questions that rose from a place of curiosity, of sincerely wanting to know more. Chalk one up to the reaffirmation of the  power and value of storytelling and good old-fashioned conversation.

Let’s Talk Pin Poppets

My Fainting Couch Pin Cushion

Thanks to COVID-19, I have time to carefully gaze upon and consider various objects I live with. Today  I pay special attention to and ponder pin cushions. In the Middle Ages, pin cushions were called by several names, my favorite being Pin-Poppet (in no small part because that’s what Sharon Howell, my friend from across The Pond, calls me). Pin Poppets were a way to showcase prized collections of needles and pins. Having a plethora of pins and needles was an apparent status signal, probably because pins and needles were expensive to make or purchase, what with the need for swords and protective body armor being so great and all.

The familiar tomato pin cushion came into play during the Victorian era when tradition held that placing a tomato  on your mantel kept evil spirits at bay. (Next time maybe we’ll talk about my favorite way to keep the dreaded evil spirits moving on past my house: colorful bottles.) What to do when tomatoes were out of season? Grab some red cloth, fill it with sawdust or dirt, tie it up, and hope the evil spirits had wet macular degeneration. As was the hallmark of Victorian home decoration practice, it wasn’t unusual for women to fill parlors to the brim with  pin cushions of every hue and design, and their most prized pin cushion was always the ubiquitous tomato pin cushion that did double duty monitoring evil spirits and storing pins and needles.

I can’t remember ever owning a tomato pin cushion. Does that surprise you? My studio is a tiny little ole’ space, which means I don’t keep anything that isn’t cherished or needed, but I do stray towards excess when it comes to pin cushions. I have five, and they’re all favorites.

I discovered my Fainting Couch Pin Cushion in a little church bazaar in beautiful downtown Cashiers, NC. The price tag said $5, and the volunteer apparently misread my appreciative gaze with price reluctance because she immediately blurted out, “I’ll sell it to you for $3.” Money well spent, if you ask me. Not only can my pins and needles recline in comfort as they wait to be called into action, but there’s storage space underneath. All this for only $3.00 (I offered to pay her the full $5.00, but she wouldn’t take it.)

 

This little beauty comes from my friend Peggy Thomas, a woman who is fearless in the face of big projects like creating the searchable database for The 70273 Project (Speaking is that, Peggy and Gladys Loewen – also a wicked good organizer and fearless woman –  need volunteers to enter info, so if you know your way around Dropbox and an Excel sheet – or are willing to learn – and would like to do something productive and hugely appreciated by people around the world, let me know!) Isn’t it adorable?  It lives on my studio altar.

My friend and German Ambassador for The 70273 Project Uta Lenk gave me this pin cushion (gifted me the pins, too!) when I admired it while watching her stitch hexies during some down time at the Patchwork Gilde Exhibit in Celle, Germany a few years ago.

The Engineer surprised me with this heart-shaped wrist pin cushion – had it sent to me while I was staying with our daughter through some health issues she had several years ago. He heard me lament that I needed a pin cushion that went around my wrist, so he did what any amazing husband would do and went shopping to find one that’s heart-shaped. Perfect for a man who loves his wife (even after 47 years), the wife who was born on Valentine’s Day, right?

Last but definitely not least, this pin poppet belonged to my mother-in-law. I claimed it for myself after her death. She and I didn’t make quilts back then, but we did take many, many, many sewing classes together. Stretch ‘n Sew, to be exact. Remember that? And when The Engineer came into some money the first year we were married by winning a radio show contest, he went straight to his mother to ask what kind of sewing machine he should get me for Christmas. She sent him to the store to get one just like hers – an Elna  Super. I still use it. I wish I knew where she got this pin poppet, but that wouldn’t make me cherish it any more. As you can see, it’s made in colors of 1970s, and the base is velvet. It feels SO good resting in the palm of my hand.

Though I haven’t quite figured out all the details (I do already have the crushed walnut shells, though), I will eventually be making pin poppets from the tops to laundry detergent containers as soon as I get finished using them to draw circles for another project I’ll be telling you about later.

Now it’s your turn. You know I’d love to hear stories about your favorite pin poppets – ones you own, have inherited, or remember fondly. Feel free to use  my new, improved, easier-to-use commenting system or find me on Facebook or Instagram or join us around The 70273 Project Facebook Campfire to regale me with all your pin poppet stories.

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