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 –
Green . . .
How Grandmother enjoyed
She had her own riding lawn mower
and she used it when the grass needed
or when she needed the grass to be cut.
Whichever need came first,
strap on her battered straw hat,
take her seat on the mower
and commence to riding.
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.
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 . . .
knowing that Live Atlanta Wrestling
was the real deal
while the man on the moon was
Sock monkeys . . .
and I do mean always
had time to stop and play
and, perhaps most importantly,
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
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.
Other Places to Find Us