Teri asked me to go on an outing with her recently to pick up some special items for our soon-to-be born nephew Owen. Two baby quilts. At a ‘quilt auction’.
Quilts…woman stuff. To be made/looked at/admired/bought…by other women. Or so I thought. Turns out this is a sizable local event that brings in some decent money for the Amish and Mennonite communities, with buyers coming from local to multi-state areas to purchase these quality items.
Little did I know I would be one of them…
Teri and I seated ourselves along the perimeter in our sling-chairs that are way more comfortable than the metal folding chairs everyone else sat in within bunched up rows. It gave us ‘elbow room’. However…my elbow seemed to be a ‘tapping point’ for some dude who sat himself down on a pull-cart next to me, and who--out of the blue, would continually tap my elbow to tell me something about quilts—old and new.
‘Johnnie-Ray’ was his name (first & middle names only used, Southern style). Before sitting down next to me he had been pacing behind us—kind of excited. Turns out he had a personal interest in the quilts; he had brought in 15 of them to be sold. When he informed me of this (and that he had 28 total), I looked at him…he didn’t look like the type.
Then he told me the story…
Johnnie-Ray was a logger—60 years old and the smallest logger they made! Probably 5’6” and 150 pounds soaking wet, he said he used ‘technique and leverage’ with proper tools to get logs cut and moved, not sheer bulk.
It was his job that got him in contact with 28 quilts…and someone named ‘Miss Jessie’.
Miss Jessie was a 97 year old lady who died last year. Having outlived three husbands, she lived WAY out in the country all alone…and was lonely. Johnnie-Ray? He met her 12 years ago (when she was 86) while on the job. He mentioned he was on a ‘trial run’ with a new driver for his logging truck and it was his policy to ‘ride out with him’ the first day to verify their driving skills. An unskilled driver with a load of logs and an attitude of, “Hey, I can do it!” was a danger to other drivers in case he didn’t anticipate ‘stopping time’ with a heavy load, and to road signs if he made too sharp a turn with a long truck bed.
Johnnie-Ray said that after hiring his new driver they headed out into the country to work a new area. Along the way the drive shaft started making funny noises. With no place stop, they had to drive four more miles (with Johnnie-Ray starting to sweat) to find a place to turn off. Funny noises are NOT good! Well, they pulled over into the first back-woods driveway they came to and proceeded to fix the problem. Took hours. In the meantime? A little ol’ Lady named ‘Miss Jessie’ came out of a little ol’ house to see what was going on.
And to visit…
Johnnie-Ray said that after Miss Jessie assured them that it was OK to fix their logging truck in her driveway. She also said that ‘she was lonely out here all alone,’ and asked if she could ‘go get her chair’ and visit with them while they were fixing the truck. She did. Johnnie-Ray said that due to her hospitality, he was impressed and, “the Good Lord put it on my heart to offer to go to the grocery store for her” once the truck was fixed. She accepted, and that was the start of an eleven year friendship between Johnnie-Ray and Miss Jessie…a friendship that lasted until she died last year at the age of 97—the last five years with him coming to visit her in her nursing home.
He said that even though Miss Jessie lived 25 miles from him, he didn’t mind doing this. His own wife had died five years earlier so he was a bit lonely too, and besides, “Shoot, it ain’t no trouble a’tall” (at all). So for the next eleven years Johnnie-Ray got groceries for Miss Jessie twice a week and took her to her doctor’s appointments. For the six years she still lived in her house she would invite him into her home—sitting a meal for him and telling about the good ol’ days.
For someone in their 90’s, that is a lot of telling…
That was the special thing about Miss Jessie -- she had such a heart and attitude toward life that she made those days pleasant to listen to. Having little, she shared what she had and took life one day at a time…grateful she had someone to visit with. One of the things she shared? Stories about 28 quilts that she had made during her lifetime--starting at age sixteen. Each had a history. Each had a story. (There is a difference.)
Johnnie-Ray? He said that he didn’t have a clue about quilts when the stories started. No more than any man he said. But over the years with Miss Jessie that changed as he learned about patterns, and material, and quilting styles…and history.
And about loved ones.
For those who might recall, do you remember your mother or grandmother sitting quietly with you talking about…life? For those with old quilts in their past, what represents more life—and love—than the stories that can go with that old quilt? Hours of work in the making, yes, but more than that—the hundreds of cloth pieces and patches represented a more frugal time of re-purposing old dresses, old suits, old table cloths, old (whatever)—each with their own story. And with the recounting of the story, that grandmother with the quiet air about her suddenly seemed a bit younger as her eyes—and heart—lit up with the telling of countless memories…
…each one somehow represented in that quilt.