By Anita Garner
After childhood years spent hanging around with prolific quilters, I remain untalented in that department, but I’m an appreciator. When Leslie Ray and I were little, quilts were a big part of our lives. We touring Gospel Gypsies slept on pallets on the floor made of piles of old quilts. When Daddy pastored, congregations furnished the parsonage with everything we needed. Colorful quilts arrived, many of them made from scraps of cloth that had already seen several lives.
Those were my favorites. Each square came with stories attached. Stories were vital for young children without roots. I remember specific quilt squares. I remember tears in the eyes of a woman piecing together a tribute to someone recently departed.
The quilts in our life weren’t fancy patterns. They were patchwork, a piece of a skirt a little girl wore to school, a snippet of one of her brothers’ shirts, flour sack remnants. Some quilts were thicker than others, stuffed with batting inside for warmth, and while they did the job during cold winter nights, the insides eventually separated and formed clumps. Nobody cared. Nobody treated the clumpy quilts different because of their shape.
We traveled the Deep South in the 50’s with old quilts in every condition. When they were finally no more than shreds, Daddy and Leslie Ray wrapped them around the amplifier and guitars and microphones and other equipment in the trunk.
When we stayed a while in parsonages, we kids went along to Quiltings. A Quilting was a regularly scheduled gathering of a group of women in the home of whichever one had a quilting frame. The frames were big wooden things suspended up near the ceiling and lowered by a rope pulley.
Quilts-in-progress came down when the ladies arrived and chairs were situated all around, where a roomful of women making tiny stitches connected colorful pieces of cloth. Their hands moved in age-old rhythms while they engaged in conversation.
In addition to plain old everyday necessary quilts, a quilting group took turns working on each other’s special items. A quilt for a new baby. Graduation. Engagement. Hope chest. Wedding. Shut-ins.
We kids were allowed to stretch out on the floor under the quilting frame and because we were out of sight, the ladies forgot little children were listening. After any Quilting, my brother and I left with more information than we should have.
When it was time for refreshments, we made our presence known. In every Southern home, whatever the economic resources or lack of them, some cook had a specialty that showed up when the quilting sisters came over.
A few years back, I mentioned to friend, Barbara, that I no longer have even a remnant of a family quilt. She, a San Francisco jazz singer with many other talents, took my sad story to heart and made me this lovely piece. She handed it over saying, “Now you have a quilt.”