I suppose it is no surprise a tinge of ageism creeps in when quilting with this group of women. Our ages stretch from mid sixties to mid nineties. Besides piecing, hand quilting and putting on bindings, these women also set up wooden quilt frames which are large enough to hold a queen size quilt. They schlep boxes with fabrics and other odds and ends when there is a rummage sale. They schlep boxes of books when there is a book sale. They move furniture around in the museum as needed, set up displays and archive the treasures. They trim bushes on the grounds, pick up trash and shovel snow – whatever the season requires. They keep accounts, run membership campaigns, and sell raffle tickets. They oversee construction projects in the Historical Village and often do some of these projects themselves. Two of the quilters recently helped to replace broken slats in the boardwalk.
When there is work to be done, especially this time of year, we look around at our ranks and wonder where some younger people are. Not so much because we can’t manage, but because it seems there are things young people might learn about maintaining their valley’s heritage and running a museum, picking up skills along the way such as grant writing and chinking an old log building. And this is where ageism slips out, while sitting over the quilt stitching. Remarks are made about ‘those’ people who spend too much screen time, or time constantly checking messages on their phones. Or those people who say they would like to help out but it is just too difficult for them to find time on a Wednesday morning or a Saturday afternoon or any other time when help might be needed at the Historical Village.
Thus that tricky sneer of ageism, the shrug of shoulders, the roll of eyes at the group – those young people – who are summarily dismissed. And of course it isn’t true as of course there are some young people who do make an effort, who do show up. Magdalena, delightfully middle aged, stepped up to help on a regular basis at the museum. Madison, who graduates from high school this June, is bringing a group of her high school friends over next week to weed. But as some of the current quilters started helping at the Historical Village back in the 1970s, they wonder where the young people are who will pick up the torch to carry it forward. And young doesn’t necessarily mean teens or twenties. Middle aged is fine for learning the skills we can teach, or bringing skills already honed. As we keep our eyes open for individuals willing to step up, ready to take the torch, we also are going to try hard not to fall prey to ageism.
Despite the mounds of snow currently in the Tobacco Valley, we are inching towards spring. Days are getting longer. The sun, when it is out, seems warmer even when it is bouncing off the snow. There is even that sense that below the snow, small green shoots are getting themselves ready. Before you know it, in just a few months, we will see crocus coming up and the lilacs in the Historical Village will be putting out buds.
We are still working on the Hawaiian fabric quilt that Joan pieced. Yes, it isn’t the easiest fabric to quilt and all the women are quick to point that out. At the same time, there are the bright colors and we are doing some lovely designs on it. The border has leaves that remind us of February hearts. At least that is what I think when I sit there appreciating the quilt and the quilters. Lynda pointed out to a visitor last week that some women can quilt and talk, while other can only do one or the other – not both at the same time. I am one of those who can quilt or talk. Actually even listening to a good story or some interesting idea requires me to pause in my sewing. Cathryn on the other hand can easily quilt, talk and listen, managing to do all three very well. I like to think it is a skill that comes with age.
Most of the quilters here are in their eighties. A few are in the nineties and some others in their seventies, but eighties is our average. This is probably one of the criteria that makes this group so special. All those accumulated years of experiences, wisdom, taking care of babies and family, work, travel, love and hard knocks…so many things that polish a life, creating that wonderful patina. And when the women are quilting together on these wintry mornings, there is a glow that comes from their conversations as well as their silences.
The visitor Lynda spoke with was encouraged to try quilting with us as she waited in the old school house for her car to be fixed. She said holding a needle would probably give her hives and we laughed at that one. And then different women started telling how they began to hand quilt, the wheres and the whys. All those threads that brought the group together here in Eureka, Montana, sitting around the quilting frame stitching hearts during a frosty February.
The Dinner on the Lake was over the top fabulous this year. If you didn’t attend, I am sorry but perhaps you can grab a ticket for next year. Cathy did a spectacular job with the food and I would be hard pressed to say which was my favorite course as they were all delicious. The setting is always lovely thanks to Rick and Lynn opening their home. Elena and Ruth provided beautiful music on violin and harp. Dawn and Niko served so graciously that everyone who attended felt cared for. Tickets were sold out for the event which meant the Tobacco Valley Board of History made much needed funds to keep the Historical Village going for another year. The weather and the bees cooperated.
Now as summer winds down, all the volunteers who help with the Historical Village including quilters, docents and the board will celebrate another successful season with a potluck on August 16. I very much enjoy this event. It doesn’t have the haute cuisine of the Dinner on the Lake nor the lovely music, but the volunteers are a special group and it is a wonderful time to join them for hamburgers and pie, to talk about the summer and to look forward to quilting starting up again in the fall.
The women who gave their time to work the Dinner on the Lake along with all the other volunteers who attend the August potluck have one thing in common. None of them are spring chickens. This is a concern as we look down the road and wonder who will continue maintaining the Historical Village, help with fundraising events, tell visitors about our valley. We know there are individuals out there who can find time for this. It might require doing a bit less social media or perhaps turning off the television, but you can give Lynda Young a call to say, “Yes I would like to help. What can I do?” Thank you.
Thank goodness for October. Today I went to quilting. There were nine of us there working on a quilt for Nikki. It is a top that her mother pieced many years ago and Nikki decided to have it finished. She stopped by today to have a look and take a few photos of the process. Cathryn was her usual diplomatic self and expressed how much we were enjoying the fabric (a very soft cotton) and didn’t mention our grumbling as it had been difficult to sew the border as a result of the color and the quilting pattern that had been chosen. But we finished the border today and decided to set up a second quilt for next week. Once we begin rolling the ends of the quilt in, it limits how many of us can sew on it at one time. The new one we set up is this sprightly yellow pattern that is going to make someone’s bedroom lovely. The two quilts are so different in both their colors and their styles. It will be nice to have choices when we show up on Fridays. Everyone was so enthused to be back sewing together that we decided to have a celebratory luncheon at a new place in Fortine the last Friday of October.
For me today was a reminder of time. Darla I(Nikki’s mom) pieced this quilt about thirty years ago. Now Nikki is pregnant with her first child and here we are finishing it up so it can be used. This quilt will easily span three generations. Of course there are quilts that have been in families longer than that. I look around the old school house. Many of the quilters here have grandchildren. Some even have great grandchildren. I wonder if the wisdom these women have is appreciated and passed down? I’ve no doubt this quilt will be cherished for years to come. I hope the wonder of these women is cherished as well.
It is official. Fall is here. Not perhaps according to the calendar but according to the rhythm of the Historical VIllage. We had a lovely indoor picnic (weather was threatening rain) on Wednesday to celebrate all the volunteers. The museum will close for the season this coming Monday. The blue quilt is finally done! Now we can start to prepare for the rummage sale in a few weeks. After that we will seriously get back into our schedule of quilting every Friday from 10:00 to 3:00. I for one am looking forward to it. I appreciate that time every week to spend in the Village. I appreciate the time with the quilters. I have even decided to cut back on my regular job so that I can have Fridays free. In life we need to make decisions about what is valuable. Yes, of course there are some things that need to be done regardless. I need to take time to wash dishes and pay the bills. I try to get enough sleep and to exercise. But there are those other hours in the day, week, month, year which are more flexible. Do I want to quilt on Friday or sit in front of a computer all day? Am I willing to tighten my budget so I can visit with these women a bit each week around the quilting frame? And the answer – at least for me – is that I do want to spend time in the old school house listening to their stories and advice. I want to learn more about our valley’s history. I want to be able to answer at least some of the questions tourists stop by to ask.
That time of year again. Shakespeare in the Park happens this Tuesday (August 25). The county fair is the coming weekend. Then the picnic for all the volunteers who helped with the Historical Village this summer takes place on September 2 with Lynda and Lewis grilling hamburgers for us all and lots of potluck salads and desserts. A group of us continue to meet on Friday mornings to finish the blue quilt. This past week a young Czech woman, Martina, was there to learn quilting techniques with us. Bev was very patient demonstrating how to sew through all three layers and make knots that don’t show. Martina caught on quickly and the women agreed that she was a keeper. As she makes beaded jewelry, I guess it is not a surprise that she can take small neat stitches. But for me it not just the new quilting skills that were valuable for her but the exposure to these women. Talking about their life experiences, cracking jokes, giving each other advice – they are such great examples of how to age with grace. There isn’t any grumbling about pesky neighbors or inept politicians. There wasn’t excessive complaining about aches and pains. No one bemoaned inattentive children or the prices at the grocery store. Rather than digging a hole of despair, they build joy. Often I wonder how good people can make a difference when there seems to be so many problems and sorrows to contend with in the world. This group of quilters has found a way. They support each other and set a standard for doing well and I’ve no doubt this impacts our community in a positive way. And although it would be hard to prove, I imagine this positive impact also reaches out beyond the Tobacco Valley as well. I am very glad Martina got to experience this for even one morning.
Sometimes there’s a nudge in my mind that too much time has passed and another blog post is due. There is no lack of things to write about because this group of quilters is amazing and even when they are busy elsewhere there is a lot going on at the Historical Village because its summer. The dilemma is more me sitting down to write and narrowing a topic down to one thing. And today it came to me that I really needed to write about getting older because 1) we all do it and 2) some do it better than others. The other morning the quilters came en masse to my house to meet a musician who was passing through. We had coffee and various pastries while the musician told his story of growing up in the South and learning to play music which he attributes to saving his life. I asked the women if they would introduce themselves and tell him something about who they each are. Joan began by explaining how she came to Eureka with her husband and started the newspaper here. Then Cathryn introduced herself and gave her age. I was thinking about why she did that and then Mary Louise introduced herself and gave her age. I was starting to feel flustered as I know that these individuals are so much more than their age. Cathryn was a nurse and her husband was the only doc in town for years and years. She astounds me with her beautiful garden, her skills at mahjong and her ability to always know the best thing to say. Mary Louise ranched and worked in Washington DC. She’s a wonderful artist and a great cook. I asked how can telling your age possibly be enough when there was so much accomplished? Afterwards thinking about this I realized that perhaps saying your age is enough. Kind of sums things up. Its not said as an apology (“Sorry to be so old”) and its not said with regret (“ahh…if only I was in my twenties again”) or even as an excuse (“How can you expect anything useful of me at this point?”). Its a statement. A fact that isn’t the least bit bare but inscribed with rich colors and intricate designs. It is said with respect for the life the individual has led up to that point; the experiences, the accomplishments, the failures, the loves, the adventures. I suppose it is saying, “I am 93. You can’t possibly appreciate all that I have done and continue to do so let me just give you the number so we can move on.”
I know that we are nearly into Spring as Sally brought some daffodils just a week ago. The grass on the Village grounds is turning green and the lilac bushes are starting to leaf out. Surely we have made it through another winter but then last week at quilting it felt like we were still struggling. Bonnie was out laid up with a bad infection. Cathryn was out taking care of her son who recently had surgery. Bev is out caring for her husband. There was a fragile feeling as though we had to talk softly and send our energy out to those who were having a rough time of it. When Lynda left early and then Cathy couldn’t stay, we were down to five of us quilting in the afternoon. There was a certain peacefulness without too much talk and without any visitors. Mary Louise and I both could focus more on our quilting without the social distractions and felt our stitches were more even. But still…we missed those who couldn’t be there. Almost as though we had to quilt harder in their spirit. Almost as though we had to quilt better. I thought a lot about Cathryn who truly is one of the best quilters amongst us. Her stitches are so small and so even and she quilts so fast. I was trying hard to inhabit her mindfulness as I quilted last week, being focused on each stitch but not going too slow. I appreciate the example some of these women give me. Not only the way that they quilt but the way they live their lives. Their generosity of spirit; the purposefulness of their days.