Lines: A Southern Journal
Joyce A. O. Lee
The morning had felt strange to me, not warm, not cool, not windy, not still, not dark, not light. It was still spring, yet nearly summer, and I was reminded. All morning, I was reminded of something I couldn't quite identify, couldn't quite put my finger on, and I was restless.
I passed the day with menial chores until mid-afternoon when my little dog barked to tell me it was time to walk again. He loved the day, and his hangy-down ears flapped in the wind as he jaunted along beside me. He wanted to run toward the sun; however, I directed him toward the shade to a group of large trees, full of leaves, blowing and singing with the best day of the season.
Together, we stopped there to enjoy the canopy of leaves intertwined overhead, with light filtering through, making lacy patterns on the soft blue grass that loves the feel of children's toes. It was then that I remembered the summer days, the summer days...summer days that drift away.
When I was a young mother with three small children, I was the entertainment committee when they became bored and restless. Summers were spent in our own grassy, shaded backyard, with a plastic pool to swim, a swing set, and quiet afternoons with stories and naps to escape the uncomfortable heat of day.
The previous winter, my husband's grandmother had sold her small home and relocated to a seniors' apartment building. She had down-sized, selling some things, and giving away cherished belongings to family members.
Through the family grapevine, she'd heard that I had become interested in quilting, that old Granny sport, long before it became in vogue and known as fabric art, and she was voracious at it. She invited me to her new apartment many floors high in the sky.
I bundled up my youngest son, and off we went for tea at great-grandmother's. He was fascinated by the elevator that took us up and up, and then he stared out her windows at the small moving cars back on earth.
Great-grandmother commented on how warmly he was dressed, and he wouldn't get cold or sick in the below zero Missouri weather. I took that as a compliment.
She served us tea or coffee, and of course, milk for the boy. We ate small sandwiches and cookies while she interrogated me about my interest in quilts. She wanted to learn how serious I was about the craft. She wasn't about to give her precious quilting frame to just anyone.
I answered her honestly, and told her I knew very little about the construction of a quilt top, but I'd always had one on my bed as a child, and I loved it, and wanted to make them for my own young family.
She went to a bureau and removed several pieces she had hand stitched, and explained to me these were nine patch, the very easiest, a beginners' pattern. By late afternoon, nearly dark, I had learned so much, and was anxious to get started on my own nine patch quilt. And she had made her decision. The quilting frame would be mine, and my husband would need to come after it because it was so awkward to move.
As we were leaving, we hugged. We both understood what a very special afternoon we'd spent together. When I stepped through the doorway into the hall, she handed my son a little bag to carry, telling him not to lose it, his mother would need it later.
When we reached the car and were bundled inside, I looked to see what she'd sent. To my surprise, she had given me the last of her nine patch quilting pieces, and I was honored to win the respect of this meticulous seamstress.
All winter, I worked on my nine patch quilt, cutting the fabric and stitching it together by hand. Some around me teased and said, "Why do you cut it all apart, just to stitch it back together?" Others simply watched and wondered what I was doing.
By late spring, I had it completed, and I was ready to set it together. I was able to find inexpensive quilt batting at J.C. Penny's, along with brown domestic, five yards for the back. On my hands and knees on the living room floor, I spread this all out and basted the three layers together, just as great-grandmother had instructed me. My husband helped to figure out how to fasten all of this fabric to the quilting frame as tight as possible, to facilitate smaller stitches. I was anxious to begin.
While I worked, the frame sat morning and night in the center of the living room of our small three bedroom ranch style house. This presented a problem. It could be taken down to stand in a corner, but every time it was moved, it loosened. so my husband, children, guests and visitors learned to squeeze by and talk over the elephant in the room.
One day in early summer, with the children out of school, I had walked into the backyard to check on them. It was warm and breezy, and the trees were full and beckoning. The grass grew soft and inviting beneath. I had an idea, and called to my older children to help. The three of us carried the frame, quilt and all, beneath the tree into the soft grass and set it up for me to work. It was lovely to be out of doors with them at play.
My oldest son and his friend were busy building a fort in the back of the yard, my youngest son played with Tonka trucks and Matchbox cars in the dusty dirt of the garden, and my daughter took her position at my feet beneath the quilt and frame. It was her own secluded place to play Barbies or color and draw.
Time for lunch and out came the sandwiches, chips, cookies, and Kool-Aid, anything of the picnic order. The dog of the moment enjoyed all of this, as well. He was lapping up dropped crusts, chips and cookies.
When my mother came from Los Angeles for a visit, she thought it such fun, and mixed herself a highball to drink, got a chair, and began to quilt. "Hadn't done that in years, and what fun!" When the dog began to chase his tail a little more than usual, we laughed and wondered what he'd gotten into, until my mother discovered her drink was empty, and the dog had been lapping at her Jack Daniels.
Through the summer, I continued to work on the quilt, and the children would help to carry it in and out of the garage every evening. That summer, we had picnics, cook-outs, and great times with friends. We all hated to see school begin. With leaves turning color, then dropping to the ground, it marked an end to our special summer.
And today, when I walked my little dog in another yard of large shade trees and soft grass, with the scent of mowed lawns from somewhere in the distance, with another quilt stretched tight on the old frame, no wonder I felt restless. It was quilting weather.
Only I remember and enjoy the memory of those who are grown, those who are gone, and thank them for the lessons learned. Once in a while, when I scratch the maunchy, soft underbelly of nostalgia, it can be bad, sometimes, it can be good. This time it was good.
Joyce A. O. Lee is the author of the novel The Length of a Love Song, published in 2005 by Cold Tree Press. Her poems were included in Our Voices: Williamson County Literary Review, 1997 and 1998. She attended Columbia State Community College, where she studied literature, English composition, and creative writing. She has studied creative writing with Richard Speight; Clay Stafford; Darnell Arnoult; and Maggie Vaughn, Poet Laureate of Tennessee. She is a member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance and the Williamson County Council for the Written Word. Joyce is originally from Kansas City, Missouri, and has lived in the Middle Tennessee area since 1973. She has been writing full time for fifteen years.
Joyce A. O. Lee
Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2009