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.
We put a quilt on the frame and baste it to the batting and the back fabric. It lies there colorful, beautiful and flat….very very flat. And then we begin to quilt and all at once it is possible to see more and it becomes even more beautiful. The quilt begins to gain more dimensions, designs appear that weren’t there before. And of course one never really knows – at least I don’t – what those designs will look like until they are sewn. We draw in some of the designs using a template and again – at that point its all still flat. But once the designs are quilted then they gain character. I wish I had taken some close up shots to demonstrate this but of course I didn’t. I was too busy quilting and then when I thought to take a photo I was struck by how many of us were working on this one quilt. Yes, there was a second frame set up but we all were putting our efforts on this particular day into this one that Bonnie made. It will require a lot of quilting but it will surely be worth it. And how many stitches – on my goodness. I can’t even begin to imagine.
Because I heard that Ray was going to be celebrating his 80th birthday this spring, I started thinking about transitions. There is the one that these quilts go through from being a flat expanse of fabrics to an object that shows depth and character as it is quilted. And I suppose in many ways life is the same. There we are as infants cute and cuddly but our character is slowly built over time. We transition as we are shaped by experiences and relationships and the daily weather of life. We each begin to show more depth and individual intricacies. We gain character. There are dimensions we have at 80 that we never had as a child. Yes the potential was there with the hopes and design but over time with various influences and perhaps even the assistance of a template or two, the emerging effect can be beyond anything that was imagined at the beginning.
We have reached that midwinter lull when the holidays are behind us and the days are still too short, the nights still too long. Snow and ice are everywhere in this part of Montana so I worry about people slipping. Lynda’s wrist is finally healed although she hasn’t gotten back to quilting a lot yet. Bev’s husband, John, was in the hospital for a piece and than last week we missed Bonnie because she was laid up. There’s something about winter that just makes everyone seem more vulnerable. And yet even as we tread carefully through the snow to get to the old school house, once there everyone settles into laughter and stories, drinking Joan’s coffee and nibbling the shortbread cookies she brought us. We finished up one quilt and are putting another one on next week. The beautiful one with tropical colors is still the one that I enjoy working on at the moment. It gives a sense of warmth and sun during this winter season.
The hot coffee and cookies are a treat as is the quilt with its shades of oranges and reds but as always its the people that draw me to the school house on Fridays. Judy showing us the lovely miniature quilts that she made. Carmen bringing homemade tamales to share. Lynda trading a knitting pattern for a hat. Cathryn giving me a bag of books for my dreamed of used bookstore. The relationships. That’s the magic of Fridays in the Historical Village. Visitors stop by to drop something off or to ask about getting a quilt done and they are all warmly welcomed. Or a tourist might come in even during this time of year to see what’s going on and we take turns explaining how we quilt to raise the money to maintain the Village. And when the guests all leave and we settle back around the quilting frames, that’s the time when we listen to each other, tell about a woe or a challenge or some funny story about the grandbaby. That’s the magic.
It has been too long. There was summer and there were guests and vegetable gardens and events like a big concert and the weekly farmers market and Shakespeare in the Park. The Historical Village volunteers had their annual summer picnic and as it was threatening to rain that afternoon, we ate in the old school house. The first Friday after Labor Day the quilters showed up to transform the school house from a museum into space for a rummage sale. And the next Friday the sale happened and the third Friday we started quilting again. The quilt we set up is a lovely one that Irene brought in. It belongs to a friend of hers. The friend’s grandmother gave her the top as a high school graduation present years and years ago. We figured it might be seventy some years old by now. Wonderful fabrics and a design that doesn’t get tiring.
The first week that we worked on it happened to be a school holiday – actually a PIR day whatever that means. So a young Czech girl, Bara, who is living in the valley this semester came to quilting with me. A pleasure to see her take it seriously as Cathryn explained how to make the stitches. Soon they were both sewing and I smiled at how easily the skills were passed along. I doubt if the girl will remember this exact moment later in life but it seems like a significant one to me. Sitting next to Cathryn who has so much grace and wisdom, learning a skill that has been handed down for generations. Cathryn had the patience and the humor to teach Bara, gently helping her to thread the needle and make knots that didn’t pull through the fabric. And Bara trying her best to take small stitches and not be distracted as the other quilters told stories and caught up with each other after the summer.
Its good to be back. I am glad to be with these women around the quilting frame again. And I am glad that we have the occasional young person who sews with us.
Things are moving quickly towards the end of the quilting season and the beginning of summer. We finished up the beautiful log cabin quilt that Cathryn had pieced. We even tied another quilt. And by this last Saturday which was Rendezvous and the Board of History Book Sale – there was nary a quilt in sight except the lovely one we are raffling off. People came into the old school house out of the rain to buy used books (and to warm up). Those of us working mostly sat around talking and occasionally making the piles of books for sale look more tidy. Darris Flanagan came by with copies of his new book about Trego. We’ve all been waiting to get a copy as we heard from Joan it might just be the best of all the books Darris has written so far.
For me, I was basking in the wonder of these women who seem to get things done at such an amazing rate. Lynda was sorting out all kinds of Village paperwork before taking off to visit family for a few weeks. Cathryn made posters to advertise our Rummage Sale on May 16th. Bev is putting the ad in the paper about the sale. Cathy keeps the money we take in from events and donations sorted out. Having just returned from a trip, I was appreciative of all they give as volunteers to the Historical Village and how much they accomplish in a day. While traveling recently I had spoken with some people in their 60s and 70s who seemed to think their best years were behind them and that sitting in front of a television was enough activity for them on any given day. So it was an important reminder to me that there is always something in us left to give, that each of us can certainly find a way we can personally enhance our community, and that if we put our mind to it – we can improve with age. Aging doesn’t necessarily make us better but it can if we try. And with these women as my models, I am definitely going to try.