Tag: grandmother

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.

A Grandmother by Any Other Name

LettersToMyGrandchildJournalBookOne

Today, in plain sight of the demanding to do list, I shove everything aside and sit writing letters to my unborn grandchild in a beautiful journal my friend Tari bought for me when I took it off the shelf and told her of my plan. I won’t know this grandchild like I wish I would, you see, and she or he won’t know me, either. Geographical distance separates us – undoubtedly not as much geography as lies between some of my friends and their grandchildren – but today I take no solace in comparisons, and the scolding voice that admonishes me I ought to be ashamed of myself for such frivolity in light of all that needs to be done and warns me with a wagging finger that such honesty could bring consequential riffs in an already extensive geographical divide, is asked in no uncertain terms to go hurl itself off the top of the waterfall.

Today my heart breaks into a thousand shards at the thought of it all, and that is just the way it is.

I pen these letters in what most surely will be Book One in hopes that One Day, when the child is old enough to think his own thoughts and wise enough to ask her own questions, she/he will take this book to a quiet spot – perhaps on a boulder in the middle of a particular waterfall – and get to know me more deeply and will feel my caring, love, and unwavering support, maybe even glean some wisdom, in my inked words.

The time draws near when I need to assume my grandmotherly moniker. Now “Grandmother” is a fine name – and I count myself lucky to have known some mighty fine women who went by that name. But me, I long for something different. Am I being difficult? Is it because my mother, who honored her promise to her mother-in-law to name her firstborn after the mother-in-law’s son who was killed as a teenager, chose to spell “Gene” (my uncle’s name), J-e-a-n-n-e? Is it because I’m a writer? Do I put too much stock into names? Maybe, and I don’t give a rat’s ass why, I only know that I want special names for us.

Kaitaiki

My friend Jane Cunningham, who hails from New Zealand, sent me the most beautiful scarf made of yak wool, and it came to me in a mailer bearing the word “Kaitiaki”, the Maori word for protector or guardian.  “Tiaki”, the mailer explains, means “care.” I’ve kept the envelope for I don’t know how many months because that word spoke to me, and though my Southern tongue will most definitely mangle the pronunciation, it’s a word that tapped its foot and cleared its throat by way of saying “Heed.”  Might this be The Name?

Maybe I spend time on this because it is the one thing I have some say over. A child’s personal history begins with the memories and stories of their grandparents. This child will not know independence and grow wings by walking to see me the way my young children walked to see their grandparents. And this child may not sit at the table with the roots of multi-generations telling stories and kidding each other,  or have a treasure trove of stories about great great aunts who hid cheeseballs in pecan trees, or great granddaddies who saw a teddybear advertised in the Western Auto weekly flyer and insisted on going right then to buy one with his great grandchild, or know what it’s like to ride on a tractor for hours on end with his granddaddy, or go see her grandmother after school and be paraded around the office as the obvious apple of her grandmother’s eye, or have any other number of opportunities to give him or her paternal roots that run so deep . . . but she or he will have a book of letters, and we will share special names.

ancient skins

AncientSkins2

she fed us from her vast garden,
neatly-plowed rows that stretched on and on
as far as my short eyes could see.
we drank from assorted jelly glasses
ate from mismatched plates
most of them chipped or cracked,
bruised by life.
she didn’t draw attention to the
imperfections by way of
apology or neon sign,
but she didn’t hide them in the 
back of the cabinet, either,
any more than she hid the bruises
just underneath her parchment skin,
oceans of color splashing forth
at the mere thought of
getting too close to a hard surface.

AncientSkins1

Ancient Skins
12.5″ x 11″
commercial cotton cloth and embroidery floss from my scrap bowl
hand stitched

featuring phone pranks that don’t involve prince albert in a can

P GenerationsOfBallards11 1979

at the backdoor in grandmother’s kitchen, L to R: Grandmother Ballard, me (Jeanne Hewell-Chambers) holding my daughter Alison Chambers, Kipp Chambers (my son) being held by my mother/his grandmother Ada B Hewell

she was known for many things, but humor was not one of them. to my knowledge, nobody ever used the word “funny” and my grandmother’s name in the same sentence. she did not abide nicknames, was not a prankster, and never told a joke, but there was something about new year’s day that turned my grandmother downright hilarious . . .

HandwrittenAddressBk3

with breakfast out of the way, she settled her short, wiry frame onto the yellow pine telephone chair that was positioned under the wall-mounted telephone, pulled out the baby blue notebook from the cubby, unzipped it, and turned the pages in her handwritten telephone directory until she found the list she was looking for. she cleared her throat then dialed the black rotary phone, the clear plate making its familiar soft clicking sound as it registered the numbers in the order she dialed.

“hello?” answered the (often sleepy) (grandmother was an early riser) (and it was new year’s day, after all. think about that.) voice at the other end of the line.

grandmother sat up straighter. this was serious business, this call.

“is this 2-0-1-4?” she asked, not a hint of a smile in her voice.

“no.”

“oh yes it is,” she said, barely hanging up the phone before erupting in laughter.

(and to think, she’s the one who delivered an emphatic and flat-out NO when i told her i wanted to be an actress. huh.)

[ ::: ]

where cousins wore necklaces, jeanne hewell-chambers wore a brownie camera. her grandmother spent summers preserving food to feed the family, and in her own way, jeanne carries on the tradition by preserving stories to feed and nourish the souls of generations now and later. if you’re ready to do the most important job of preserving stories from your life and your family, stay tuned ’cause jeanne is cooking up a little something special that just might help . . . and she hopes it will be ready by 2/14.

questions and answers of the most important kind: a timed test

AdaQuilt1CU

they (her children) say she went through a spell when she cried a lot. day in, day out, she cried, my grandmother ballard did. one of her children posits that she cried over the possibility that granddaddy had a girlfriend on the side, to which another reminds us that granddaddy was the town’s sheriff and it was his responsibility to make frequent trips to the . . . i don’t remember what they called it, this bawdy, rowdy house out on hwy 54. another child imagines the tears were brought on by the never-to-be-fulfilled life dreams. (grandmother had what we now call a full-ride scholarship to The Piano Conservatory, but after the first year, her daddy snatched her out of school saying girls didn’t need an education – especially one in music – they only needed a husband.) the third living child doesn’t remember her crying and has no earthly idea why she would.

this morning as i interrupt application of my daily facial moisturizer to allow my retired husband access to the bathroom for the fourth time since i started this activity (usually) of short duration, i imagine grandmother crying because she had no alone time and no personal space. no quiet time to just sit and ponder. i wonder if that’s why she made so many quilts – did the constant whirr of the old singer treadle machine provide walls of sound that served to keep everybody out and her in?

it’s what we do, you know: answer the unanswerable questions through our own filters of knowledge acquired through books and life experiences. sometimes it’s as though we gain permission to be ourselves, other times it gives us insights that explain us to ourselves. now would be a mighty good time to ask those questions as you gather round the tree to celebrate the holiday with your family. and hey, don’t forget to take a tape recorder. you can thank me later.

[ ::: ]

While others wore necklaces, Jeanne Hewell-Chambers had a Brownie camera hanging around her neck. Always a personal historian, she’s considering dusting off her old workshops on such things and converting them to online classes. Stay tuned.

production or process?

Handstitching3

Though I love my sewing machine (It was under the first Christmas tree I put up as a married woman some 40 years ago – my husband bought it for me with money he won in a radio contest.), I prefer hand stitching.

Handstitching4

I love the way the fabric ripples up into ridges. How the feel of the cloth changes as I go. I love having an image in mind, then fiddling and grappling to create it in cloth.

Handstitching1

Decades ago, I would’ve been horrified for you to see my knots, embarrassed at rows of stitches that go the way of handwriting on a sheet of unlined paper. But now? I swat the air with my hand and say a hearty Pffffft.

Stitching by hand is yoga for my mind.

BrianQuilt1bcroppsed

I don’t know how many quilts my grandmother made. I’m currently tracking them down, photographing them, building a catalog of her work. She used her Singer treadle machine to make pieced quilts from patterns. I remember the whirr, the up and down of the treadle, the look on her face as she fed colorful scraps under the needle.

CharlesQuilt1acroppsed

I wonder if she preferred the machine for its speed. She was busy from sunup to sundown, and she moved like a rabbit – she had to to get everything done. Or maybe, it occurs to me since my husband retired, the sound of the machine formed a wall around her, giving her space to call her own the only way she could get it.

frolic

Play2

(true: they look more like birds, these jacks scattered around the red rubber ball, but squint your eyes and remember that i never, ever professed to be good at drawing.)

~ a ~

play. it’s so very important, so vital to health and well-being, so essential to creativity. my childhood years were spent in a culture that looked down its nose on play. play was synonymous with laziness. only sorry, no good fools played. fine, good, upright people worked, and let me tell you: they worked hard. that was the prevailing attitude.

~ b ~

my grandmother worked – not outside the home, but make no mistake: she worked. in addition to babysitting the grandkids, cleaning, keeping the lines of communication open with family, planning menus, grocery shopping, cooking, and doing the laundry (washing the clothes, hanging them on the line to dry, ironing them, mending them, putting them up), every spring she planted a big garden, and every summer she harvested the crops, cooked daily meals, and preserved food for the winter.

yes, my grandmother worked long, and she worked hard, but my grandmother also played. she developed new recipes and entered cake contests. she made quilts as meditation. on more than one occasion, i saw her sit on the floor with my brother and cousins staging battles and beating the snot out of their plastic army men. and she played the piano – boy howdy did she ever play the piano.

~ c ~

“Deep play is an absence of mental noise — liberating, soothing, and exciting. . . .We spend our lives in pursuit of those moments of feeling whole, or being in the moment of deep play,” says Diane Ackerman.

~ d ~

“we need to structure our weeks so that we have a weekend,” i recently told my husband who joined me in working from home full time last november. doesn’t have to be a saturday on the calendar, but we need to build in some play – whether that’s having a reading day, going to the library, going to the nearby arts center to view the exhibits, joining the local hiking club, fingerpainting, shopping architectural salvage stores for recyclable materials to use in the construction of what will one day be jeannedom (my studio). doesn’t matter what it looks like or what day of the week it falls on, we just need to escape, and we need to escape regularly.

~ e ~

karen caterson shares an epiphany with us today: “Play is where ideas live.”

~ f ~

“There is evidence that suggests the forces that initiate play lie in the ancient survival centers of the brain–the brain stem–where other anciently preserved survival capacities also reside. In other words, play is a basic biological necessity that has survived through the evolution of the brain,” says stuart brown, m.d.

dr. brown goes on to explain why this “nonproductive activity can make one enormously more productive and invigorated in other aspects of life.

dr. brown goes on to explains why this “nonproductive activity can make one enormously more productive and invigorated in other aspects of life” with scientific evidence and full of interesting anecdotes. it will persuade you not to feel guilty pursuing your dream or enjoying your life because it will make you and your kids more successful and happier.

~ g ~

i wholeheartedly believe in the power of play, don’t you? do you have a steady diet of play, and when you play, what does it look like/sound like/taste like/feel like?

//////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Harmony3

This morning over on Facebook, Sunny Howe posted a plea for positive, fortifying, anti-bullying (a.k.a. playing nicely together) energy, so to conjure that energy, focus, and direct it, I created an altar. I may be showing my ignorance here – maybe it’s a huge faux pas to invite others to create an altar dedicated to a particular theme – but I’m asking anyway: Perhaps you’d like to create an anti-bullying altar and share it with us on the 365 Altars Facebook page? We’d sure love to see them if you are so inclined. That’s where I met Sunny, you know. She creates beautiful altars and posts them there regularly.

More about 365 Altars