Tag: family stories

Babymoon, Day 2

Today began with a visit to Lowcountry Whimsy, a delightful gift shop filled with . . .

Amazing Things

(Photo: Two smiling women – one wearing pink, the other wearing turquoise and a hat that says “Stand close to people who feel like sunshine” – stand in front of a sign bearing the words “Amazing Things.”]

To hear Jeanne read this post (3 minutes 57 seconds):

 

Beautiful Beautiful Things

[Photo: The same two women stand in front of a sign bearing the words “Beautiful Things”]

Magical Things

[Photo: The same two smiling women stand under a sign bearing the words “Beautiful Things.”]

We each fill (and payfor) a small bag filled with goodies that will serve as souvenirs for an indescribably fun weekend of togetherness as well as reminders of how we can live a life filled to the brim with intention and delight all the time.

[Photo: a small square of paper bearing the image of a red heart with gold and silver lines radiating from it.]

As we make ready to leave, Sylvia the owner of the shop, treats all 3 of us to a lesson in using Flying Wish Paper. First, you select a fireproof base. I choose a heart. Imagine that.

[Small square of paper with image of heart in the center covered with a small square of thin purple paper.]

Then on a sheet of tissue paper, you write your wishes and intentions. Things like spelling and grammar don’t matter one iota cause there is no spell check to wag a finger at you. Shoot, you can even write your words and intentions all over each other and in every direction like I did, and you won’t lose points over your lack of neatness and legibility.

[The small square of paper with the heart image serves as the base for the thin purple paper that is now on fire.]

Then you fold the tissue paper so it will stand up on your fireproof base card, and set it on fire. Yes, really. When the flame has almost eradicated the entire square of tissue paper, the tissue paper takes flight. Lastly you gather the tiny little bits of burnt paper, nesting them in the palm of one hand while shielding them with the other hand and take them outside where you gently blow them into the wind. Our plan is to use this paper on December 23 as part of our New Moon Ritual.

[Smiling woman in pink displaying a blue journal with pink band titles You Got This.]

In the Things I Thought I’d Never See category we have Alison picking up and looking through a productivity journal / planner. She was not coerced, she did this of her own free will. I joke about this because historically I’ve gotten eye rolls and audible sighs when I pick up my planner or share plans I’ve made. My baby girl is growing up! We did not purchase this journal, though, cause she already has a planner she likes to use. And I tell y’all what, she did such an outstanding job of planning this entire weekend, it looks like I’ll soon be handing over my crown.

[Unsmiling woman in pink rolling her eyes in jest sitting beside the woman wearing red heart-shaped eyeglasses. They sit in front of a sign for the Five Eighths Seams Fabric Store.]

Next stop: The Five-Eighths Fabric Store where one of us was obviously more excited than the other.

 

[Photo, top: 7 pieces of fabric are fanned out on display. One is covered in images of cats in hues of white, black, and tan; a pink fabric bears images of eyelashes; two pieces of fabric are covered with images of pink flamingos; one piece of fabric is musical notes and symbols on a cream-colored background; the next piece of fabric is an abstract design of circles (reminding us of my grandmother name: Bubbles) in various shades of pink; and the last piece of fabric is a pink base covered with multi-colored hearts resembling the Valentine’s Day candies.]

(Though she did pick out several fun, colorful, smile-enkindling fabrics that we brought home for me to use in Junior’s first quilt.) (Why yes, that is fabric with wings  . . . though some would argue it’s really eyelashes.)

[An opened bottle of Sparkling Grape Juice and two hands, each holding a paper cup practically filled with grape juice sit in front of a cup filled with trail mix.]

Tired and filled with joy, we come back to the hotel room early, popping the top off a bottle of sparkling grape juice then toasting each other, us, Junior, and offering gratitude for this astonishing weekend and the sense of wonder and joy it continually lays out before us.

[A quilt top made of pink fabrics surrounded by pineapples in yellows, golds, and pinks.]

Then Alison tucks herself in under the quilt I made her when we went for her frozen embryo transfer. Pineapples are symbols for fertility, and, as you can tell by the fabrics, she loves cats and pink.

[Photo: Another view of the quilt that shows the background fabric of cats in colors of greens, yellows, pinks, and browns.]

[Photo: The quilt is bound in the fabric that is used on the back of the quilt.]

Every quilt my grandmother made was created to be used, and without exception. she backed each one with flannel, binding them in what now has a name: self-binding. My family couldn’t love those quilts any more. In fact, fights have broken out over who gets to sleep under the one bearing my name because let me tell you, there is no better, deeper, dreamier sleep to be had then when snuggled and snoring under that quilt made just for me by Grandmother Ballard. Because of that, every quilt I make to be used (as opposed to being hung on the wall) is backed with flannel and finished off with self-binding.

This particular quilt is named Tantivy (tan TIV ee), a word meaning at full gallop, and the story about the name is another post for another day.

Babymoon, Day 1

Come February 2023, I’ll be Bubbles (my grandmother name) to a third Sprite! I’m calling her Junior for now ‘cause she’ll be named after me, though my daughter doesn’t plan to call her Jeanne. In case you’re wondering, I’m named after an uncle I never met.

New parents apparently celebrate upcoming arrivals by dedicating a weekend to a babymoon- a play on “honeymoon” – enjoying a last fling of freedom and gaiety before a life of diapers, feedings, and sleep deprivation begins. Since Alison is a single parent, I get to enjoy this special weekend with her, and it started yesterday. I’m telling you about it in past tense because by the time we got to our hotel room last night, I was too tired to open my computer.

a reserved space!

We kicked the day off with a 2-hour glamor shot photo shoot (a.k.a. sonogram) because to date, Junior insists on refusing to give the medical professionals the views they desire. They want to see her cleft palate, and she insists on putting her foot not in (that’ll come later), but in front of her face. They want to see her spine, she lays on her back. You get the, well, picture. Frustrating as it is, I can’t help but be a teensy little bit tickled by the early signs of Junior’s independent streak and authority issues. I sense her arrival will be more of a “buckle up” than birth event.

 

After photos and a bite of breakfast, Alison and I made our way to an old Charleston building now serving as offices for several attorneys. On a car-ined street, there was one available parking space right in front (and I do mean RIGHT IN FRONT) of the building. We we made our way to the back of the building, I enjoyed the old, old bricks and the determined green plant life – mostly ferns and dandelions – poking their heads out of tiny little nooks and crannies.

The conversation on the drive went something like this . . .
Alison: Mom, you know to be quiet, right. Don’t say anything.

Jeanne: Alison, you don’t have to worry about me. This isn’t my first psychic reading. Every September in the Way Back When, Mrs Fincher and I would buckle you, Kipp, and Blake up on the merry mixer at the Kiwanis Club Fayette County Fair, and go have a reading done by the woman with a card table set up in the parking lot.

Yes, my friends, behind the door we entered was the most delightful, inviting room where the most delightful Andrea conducted our psychic reading. The first word out of Andrea’s mouth was “mom”, and I felt it was wrong not to tell her that Alison is pregnant, but she’d gone to such great lengths to hide her pregnant belly, I knew things would go badly if I so much as looked in Alison’s direction, so I zipped my lips and let Andrea focus on me as the obvious mom. Daddy came to call first, wanting me to apologize to Mother for something, and honestly, y’all, I silently whispered to him that since I was paying for this, I’d sure appreciate it if he’d talk to and about me. He must’ve heard me ‘cause he shifted to another lane and talked a good long time about how he trusts me and how I’ve taken such good care of somebody (who is obviously Mother), that now it’s time for me to spread my wings and fly – spread my wings, he said multiple times, always with Andrea doing hand motions –  to work on something that’s important to me – which I choose to interpret as this book I’ve been writing on for umpteen plus one years now. He said he trusts me implicitly, and Andrea offered that he meant that it’s okay for me to take intuitive leaps in whatever it is I’m working on (cause thought i might have thought about the book, I knew better than to say anything about writing a book)!

The Engineer’s mother shocked the stew out of Alison and me by coming in with great fanfare (that’s not the shocking part. That she came at all is the surprising part.) She seems just as excited over Junior’s birth as she was over Alison’s birth. Andrea rather emphatically conveyed to us that there is something Grammaw (Mrs. Chambers’ grandmother name) really wants Junior to have – something she made or purchased, something that has been handed down. [She bought Alison a christening gown to wear home from the hospital when Alison was born. I’d never heard of such a thing or such a tradition, but Alison wore that dress home as did my son Kipp as did Kipp and Marnie’s 2 children who were born in Colorado. And that christening gown is in a box somewhere in the chaos that is their new and almost-remodeled home in Colorado. Amid everything else they’re doing, they’re searching for that little white gown and bringing it to  Alison at Christmas.] Yep, gotta be the christening gown.

There were many other things that came through via Andrea, including one female wearing a hat who died and traveled across the Atlantic before her death. Alison and I have an idea of who that could be until we get to the part about traveling across the Atlantic. Thank goodness we recorded the entire session.

 

After hugging Andrea good bye, we needed to walk (something Grammaw encouraged Alison to do via Andrea), and there were 20 minutes left on the parking meter, so we started walking, and what do y’all think is the first thing we saw as our feet hit the Charleston sidewalk?  Right: our first found heart of the day!

Not knowing the area and having nowhere in particular to go, we just walked straight down the sidewalk, stopping at the first shop that caught our eye: the Old Whaling Store offering the most aromatic handmade soaps and lotions for sale. We left with lotion for me and lip balm for Alison. As we pulled away from our front-row parking spot, there was a line of cars waiting to take our place – ha.

Y’all look at this tree we parked beside and tell me what you see. At first I saw a tear because I have a thing for tears and see them as reliquaries. Then in a literal blink, I saw a womb cradling a cherub.

We then made our way to the Bye Bye Baby store, our first shopping spree, which turned out to be mostly a looking spree, though Alison found more things to add to her gift registry and  y’all know I found a few things . . .

a few must-have gifts for Junior, and

a little something to remember what Daddy repeatedly told me through Andrea. Oh wait. I thought those black lines were WINGS. Only now do I see them as eyelashes. Well, here’s how it’s gonna’ go down in the history books: those are wings, and wet macular degeneration or no, I absolutely love my vision. I mean Vision.

Moving on . . .

In the house between shopping and our next step at Urban Nirvana for facials and massages, my daughter-in-love Marnie called to tell Alison that she wants to host a baby shower for Alison and Junior! Alison is so touched and so excited, she actually cried a little bit . . . then got right to work on the invitation list.

 

I haven’t had a massage since they added an “e” to the word, and let me tell you, it was wonderful. Okay, it was beyond wonderful. Ditto that for the facial. (And it was 25% off thanks to the early Black Friday sale, so there’s that!) I want some of the cute and comfortable little sandals we wore at the spa, and i might actually want to go back to wearing robes after a multi-decades long absence. (Silly me, a former version of Jeanne decided that robes take up valuable closet space and besides, I need to get up, get dressed, and get to work ticking things off my (always massive) to do list. Jeanne 7.0 thinks Pfffft on that and will be shopping for a luxurious soft, fluffy robe in the Relative Soon time.)

We kicked off the weekend with Storm Hair, we closed out day one with Massage Hair.

Spying a Chili’s restaurant, we turned in, parked, walked up, and were seated promptly at a larger table for four instead of one of those tiny little tables for two. When we left the restaurant, the line of people waiting was way down the sidewalk.

Straight back to the hotel we came, donning our pajamas and climbing into bed lest we fall asleep standing up. It was a day filled with the magic that comes from laughter, love, wonder, and loving, gleeful anticipation. What better way to spend Junior’s first all-girls three-generations outing, right?

~~~~~~~

Want to see more? Let’s get together on Instagram and Facebook.

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.

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.

Hostage, The Adventure Begins

Vintage boy’s shorts and shirt, vintage embroidered doilie, two red embroidered circles, all appliqués to the top of a small vintage quilt

 

Till the day he died of natural causes, my daddy talked about the barrel of that shotgun placed against the back of his neck. It was a feeling he never forgot.

Daddy was five years old when bandits came to the house, intending to kidnap Granddaddy and rob the bank. It was a weekend of horror I can scarce imagine. After spending my entire life gathering the stories, photos, and information, I am at last sitting down to write the book about that event that happened in my family on May 5 and 6, 1933. It is a story  of many stories woven together, and I will tell them all in books and in quilts.

The red circles represent the double barrel shotgun he felt against the back of his neck when, on Saturday morning May 6, 1933, five year old Crawford Jr. (a.k.a. Daddy) forgot that the bad men were in the house and did what he did first thing every morning: ran for the outhouse.

When I decided to tell the story in quilts as well as words, I went straight to my closet and began culling through all the things I’ve rescued and adopted over the course of more years than I can count. Quilts someone made for their babies; baby clothing that caught my fancy; embroidered doilies or dresser protectors or coasters – not sure what you call them. In less than 2 hours, four quilts were pinned together, using only what I have on hand. That is one of my intentions for this year, you know, using only (okay, mostly) what I have on hand. It’s an idea I got from my talented friend Linda Syverson Guild, who doesn’t buy any fabric the first six months of every year, using instead what she already has. I smile as I weave these storied, already well-loved items into my family’s stories. I also smile feeling grateful  that I listened to my Bones and purchased these things, even with that dreaded voice of authority on The Committee of Jeanne booming in the background things like “You don’t need this” or “You have too much stuff already” or “What on earth do you plan to do with that?” (The others who sit on The Committee of Jeanne are saving up for a firing squad.) Score one – a great, big, fat one – for my Bones.

~~~~~~~

If you’re wondering about The 70273 Project, we’re still here. I’ve been regrouping and hatching plans that I’ll share with you here next week. Thanks for stopping by and trekking through these adventures – all of them – with me.

Playing in the Meadow on the Other Side of the Rainbow Bridge

kippandotto1

My boy, Kipp, rescued him from a Denver humane society.
It was between the border collie and a Corgi – he couldn’t decide.
Ultimately, Kipp chose well.

neuroticotto

Otto was a slightly neurotic dog
afraid of the most, um, unusual things.

otto2a

He was a mischievous dog,
though you usually only knew
he’d been mischievous
when he had this certain look about him.
Oh, he knew you were smart enough to figure it out eventually,
but he was always hopeful that once – just once –
he’d be wrong about you.

otto1
If you couldn’t find Otto,
you could bet your bottom dollar
that something resembling food
(cooked, raw, packaged, unpackaged – no matter)
had been left within, oh, 4′ from the edge of the kitchen counter.

prissyotto

Otto was a dog secure enough in his own manhood
to be prissy on occasion . . .
without apology.

marnieottokipp1

We’re still not quite sure which one
Marnie fell in love with first:
Kipp or Otto,
but no matter.
They were a package deal
and she won both their hearts.

ottowatchesover

And though they were as nervous
as any first-time parents in the history of the galaxy ever were,
Otto proved to be a good Big Brother
to Calder Ray,
watching over him when others
well
went to sleep on the job.

ottstands

Though they’ll surely adopt another furry baby
sometime down the road
when their hearts have had time to heal,
one thing is for sure:
the next Chambers canine will have awfully big paws to fill.

mygranddog

R.I.P. Otto.
You were the best Son Dog,
the best Big Brother Dog,
the best Granddog,
the best Great Granddog,
the best Nephew Dog,
the Best Friend
ever.

A Stitch from the Past

gdb5

About 15 years ago, I had this idea: I cut circles from fabric and stitched biographical plates (portraits) of my ancestors. Small projects, easy to tuck into my bag and work on wherever I happened to be. And what did I do after stitching them?

Nothing.

I’d planned to stitch them onto a tablecloth . . . but that never happened. I just tucked them into the scrap suitcase were they lingered (forgotten) until I went to grab bits I might use on The Storyteller’s Apron, #1: Sky Rider.  Now the plates will become constellations – or maybe galaxies – as I stitch along with Jude Hill and the #sunmoonstars gang.

gdb4

This is the plate of my maternal granddaddy who was a sheriff in Fayette County, GA who liked to play checkers with his grandchildren and took it upon himself to teach each of us to drink coffee. He’d pull us into his lap, fill a saucer with milk, then add a splash of steaming hot Luzianne coffee – just enough to turn the milk a tan color. We’d blow on it and blow on it and blow on it, sending the steam across the room, sipping from the saucer only when there was no more steam to blow. Me? I took part in the ritual up till the part of sipping the milked-down coffee. That was as far as I could go, and to this day, I’ve never even tried coffee.

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