Don't let the difficulties of the present moments overshadow the reality of God's promises. God's promises still stand. And God's promises are stronger than our failures.

Monday, October 6, 2008

You Asked For It

In a recent post I gave away a book, American Patchwork: True Stories From Quilters. In that book is a story I wrote about my mother titled "Use It Up." Several of you have asked if I would post the story, and after getting permission from the editor of the book (Sonja Hakala) I am doing that today. I am in no way a professional writer and the story in this form is pre-editing. It's the copy I have on my computer where I first wrote it. I hope you enjoy it.

Use It Up

Growing up during the depression meant learning some hard lessons. You lived the “use it up” principle in ways that younger folks don’t understand and often think bizarre. Those lessons were so ingrained that you practiced them with no conscious thought…little things like saving the margarine wrapper to “butter” a cookie sheet, freezing bananas that had turned black and then pushing them off on an unsuspecting child as a homemade Popsicle, and saving every worn out garment, no matter the fabric, to make quilts.

My mother, Wilma Jewel Light Addison, grew up in that era and in a place that epitomized it. Along with the small frugalities of everyday life she developed courage and determination worthy of the bravest soldier. Life in the Ozark Mountains was worse than hard. Shoes were saved for winter, books for hungry minds were few and far between, rags were used during “that time of the month”. They were hand washed and hung on the line so every one who passed by knew it was your time….I guess that’s where we got the girlspeak term “on the rag.” But worse than all that were the times her father came home drunk and in order to save her from the beatings they all endured, her 5 older brothers took her into the woods where she spent the night alone.

She only finished the tenth grade in the small school in Lurton, Arkansas before marrying my father, Arthur Edward Addison, a young man she met from the nearby CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) Camp. She was 16 and he was 21. He had finished the 6th grade when it was time to go to work to help feed his family. At the CCC Camp he cleared land and helped to build roads and bridges; for this hard labor he was paid $2 a month, and $21 was sent to his parents. Mom and Dad had a baby right away and tried to farm in those beautiful but rock filled mountains. Then World War II began and Daddy had to go. Mama moved to California to live with her mother and work in the fruit packinghouses, saving enough money while Daddy was fighting to buy a small farm near Dover, Arkansas.

While she was in California many days and nights were spent making quilts both for every day use and to pass the time. One of her brothers smoked cigarettes – during that time tobacco came in small muslin drawstring sacks that fit in your pocket. Mother and Grandma saved those sacks, “unsewed” the seams, dyed the fabric and made two quilts from them. I still have one of them….a gentle reminder of that “use it up” way of life.

The years passed, three more children came, and the lessons learned were really put to the test. Feeding four children, and her in-laws much of the time, meant saving every possible way. Quilts were a necessity and though the patterns were varied the reality of having to use every scrap of fabric meant beauty had to be put aside. They were often large strips of fabric cut from old wool (and eventually double knit polyester) garments bought at thrift stores, sandwiched using old ragged blankets as the batting, then tied with leftover bits of yarn. Even through hard use and repeated washings those double knit quilts survive today!

Finally the children were grown and times were a little easier. As a young woman I remember wondering how in the world my Mother could sew for hours. I kept thinking how great it would be to have a little time to just sit and do nothing (I guess all new mothers think the same thing at one time or another!). But she simply couldn’t sit and be idle. Until the summer she turned 78 she still canned everything Daddy brought in from the garden, worked part time handing out samples in the local grocery stores, and saved every scrap of fabric to make quilts. Her patterns became more elaborate but she continued to practice old habits…a template was cut for every shape and each piece was cut individually. By then I was quilting too and tried diligently to make things easier for her. I bought her a rotary cutter and mat and showed her how to use them. She just smiled and shook her head. Most of her quilts were hand pieced and all of them were hand quilted and she continued to use every scrap, even when the colors clashed so badly they hurt your eyes.

The year she was 78 I began to notice that the quality of her quilting was deteriorating…at first gradually and then more rapidly. She was just a couple of months short of her 79th birthday when she began to have seizures. Typical of her stoicism she told no one…just gritted her teeth and chalked up her “rigors” to her age. I began to notice her memory losses and even some confusion. Then one day she told me she stopped to put gas in her car (she pumped her own to save money) and discovered she had left her credit card at WalMart. My mother never used a credit card. That night she had another seizure, one that was bad enough that Daddy noticed it and called my sister. A CT Scan showed a brain tumor.

The surgery was long but the prognosis was worse. Two months. If you’ve never heard anyone say those words then you don’t realize that time really does stand still, your heart really does skip a beat, words really don’t always make sense. My family and I took her home, and settled in to take care of her until the end. Physically she recovered rather quickly, but mentally her deterioration was, though sometimes subtle, quite rapid really. But the lessons she learned early in life never left her. She couldn’t and wouldn’t sit idle. She had to have help walking, but she still went from one room to another. In the sunroom she would sit and watch the birds she loved so much. In the kitchen she would look at the paper…even when she could no longer read. On the patio she would stand holding onto a post and watch the clouds, listen to the outdoor sounds, smell the flowers. And in the living room she would sit on the couch, watch television, and pick up her piecing, quietly sewing as she watched. She could no longer cut out pieces so I cut them for her. And she couldn’t do anything elaborate. But she could sew together squares so I cut hundreds of squares. She would make 9 patches looking each time at the sample one I made for her. Sadly, at the end even that became frustrating for her as she got so confused that for minutes at a time she would just stare at the needle wondering what to do with it.

Those doctors didn’t know her, didn’t know the courage and persistence she had learned as a child and a woman. She lived for one year after their diagnosis and she pieced quilts until two weeks before she died….until the day she went to bed and didn’t get back up. She had been married for over 61 years to that young man from the CCC Camp, who grieved so hard during her illness that he died 4 months before her. Hours before she died, when she had been in a coma for two weeks, she talked to him one more time, saying “I’ve had my stuff ready for days…where have you been?” I’ve no doubt her “stuff” included the quilt pieces she carried with her wherever they traveled.

What about the nine patches she made at the end you ask? They’re there…in my sewing room and in my sister’s waiting until we can still our weeping hearts long enough to put them together into the quilts they will become. Some of them will have to have the seams reinforced, but only the very last ones she sewed. Others are ready, waiting to become a touchable reminder that life lessons might be hard, but beauty lurks there if you savor the small pieces and stitch them together to make that life a work of art.

42 comments:

Twisted Fencepost said...

My what a beautiful story! And you tell it so well.
So sad that your Dad passed first.
My Mother gave up when my Dad passed. She lived 4 weeks to the day.

Michelle said...

What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing it.

Michelle

Amelia said...

I have tears in my eyes after reading this wonderful story of your Mother. Having lost both my parents too - there are times I would love to talk to them like old times...will have to wait until I can join them in Heaven.

Amelia

osagebluffquilter said...

I loved reading your Mother's story. I had to laugh when i read the part aabout the frozen bananas. I some in the freezer now. Maybe I will try themon the little boys.
Why don't you frame a couple of those 9 square blocks. Maybe make a label in the bottom corner. They would make great christmas gifts for kids, nieces, sisters. etc.
Osagebluffquilter

Salem Stitcher said...

Oh, that is beautiful. I am sitting her just crying my eyes out.

em's scrapbag said...

What a beautiful and touching tribute to a remarkable woman. Thanks so much for sharring.

sister sheri said...

Oh... dearest sister! Thank you for sharing! How beautiful... how beautiful... so have you touched those squares lately? There's nothing like a quilt... nothing like a mother's love... or a daughter's memory of her.

Crazy for Primitive Quilts and Gardens said...

Marlene, I am so sad for the end of that wonderful woman's life. Thank you so much for sharing the story. Maybe someday you can show us a block or two.....

Milah said...

This is a wonderful tribute to you mother. I'm glad you got to share it.

Teresa said...

What a beautiful story - and all the more beautiful as it is real. I too have tears and would have loved to have met your mom. My mom is very similar. Now she spends her days keeping my dad company at a nursing home. I keep her supplied in embroidery projects and books. She takes such loving care of him, day in and day out. She is my hero.

rlbates said...

Thank you.

Raquel said...

Beautiful story, thanks so much for sharing! Much love, Raquel XO

tipper said...

This post-is my favorite of all the ones I've read here. So touching. Today's society could learn a lot from those of your mothers caliber.

Janera said...

What a sweet tribute to your mother! You are blessed to know the stories of her life and to be able to share them with others and to take a strong sense of self from them.

Good writing!

Wendy said...

What a beautiful story of your Mother, thanks so much for sharing. It is so touching that she sewed up until she couldn't get out of bed. It probably kept her going.

Karen said...

What a beautiful story and so well written. Your memories of your mother came out so vividly. Have you shown a picture of the quilt made with the fabric from the cloth pouches?

Dawn said...

Weeping hearts & touchable reminders...

You have so eloquently written such a beautiful, personal jounery of love.

Thank you.

ivoryspring said...

Marlene,

Thanks for sharing about your mother - what a touching post! I remembered you telling me that your Mom liked cardinals when I got my copy of The Quilter last night and saw my cardinals in there.

I loved reading every bit of your post because it gives a glimpse to the younger generation what others before us have gone through.

Blessings.

Southern Lady said...

Marlene, your story of your mother and her life was so touching and beautifully written.

What a wonderful legacy she left you and your sister ... not only her talent for quilting, but also her virtues of perserverance, courage, and faith.

Thank you so much for sharing your memories of her with us.

Sincerely,

Janie

Dandelion Quilts said...

What a touching tribute to your mother, Marlene. It honestly brought tears to my eyes. Someday you gals will be able to put together those 9 patches. I just know it. You must miss them so.

Amy a.k.a. dragonryder4 said...

Marlene,what a wonderful story and a wonderful women. I am sitting here bawling. Hugs dear
Amy

Memaw's memories said...

What a beautiful tribute to your mother. You have such beautiful memories of her.

Love Bears All Things said...

I just stopped over here by way of Lori-Mountain Girl at Heart. This is beautiful and brought back many memories of my own Momma and ways that were "not so long ago". My grandfather sold all that they had and went to California during the war. My mother was 16. Everyone went to work. I think about those quilts, how and why they were made. We are so precise and particular about the ones we make but those have a special beauty all their own. Thank you for writing this and for sharing it here.
Mama Bear

Molly said...

Lovely story! I remember my mother always saving butter wrappers to grease baking pans. I do it myself still. Hard to change habits learned as a child! You're so lucky to have her hand stitched quilts to remember her by....

Jacquie said...

What a beautiful tribute to your mother. People of that era were such hard-working people. We have so much to learn from them.

I have some polyester quilts that my husband's grandmother made. I love those old heavy, sturdy quilts!!

Oma aka Meme said...

this is precious and thank you for sharing- precious memories - I remember a song called that -I think

I look forward to hearing more of your memories that you have and tell so well
huggles from Meme

Sharon said...

Thank you for sharing your story of your mother with us. It brought tears to my eyes. And you write so well - what a wonderful tribute to your mother.

jillquilts said...

What a very touching story! I'm very sorry for the loss of your mom. Thank you for sharing your story. And I have tears here, too.

Lena . . . said...

What a wonderful story about your mother, and so eloquently written. I stumbled upon your blog just this morning and have read several of your entries. I can’t believe how parallel our lives are. I’m 61, took an early retirement and finally got my wish to stay home like you did. I also worked in a dime store when I turned 15 – behind the soda fountain. I remember so well the candy counter with all the bins of various kinds of candy and the popping corn on Saturday mornings. My mother was also a young wife during the depression and a quilter out of necessity. I still have many of the quilts she made from old clothing with some of the squares being just thin threads from having been so well worn. And the polyester quilts – they still look like new!! My daughter loves them, but can’t believe we actually wore clothing made from that kind of fabric! (chuckle – if she only knew.) I also worked in the educational field on the college level. I truly miss working with the students – I loved them to death – but I certainly don’t miss all the politics that took place on the campus.

Anyway, just thought I would introduce myself. I’m from Minnesota, born and bred in the cold Northland. I used to write under The Adventures of Ole and Lena, but due to some blogland hassles that got ugly I changed to Tales from Frostbite Falls. I hope you stop over sometime to visit Ole and me and have some good Norwegian coffee.

PS: I’m a quilter also, just wish I had more time to work at it. I thought life was supposed to get simpler and quieter as you got older. All mine does is get busier!!

MARCIE said...

A wonderful tribute to your mother. We could all learn a lesson here.

Arija said...

Only just found your blog by chance or greater design.
Sure there's a tear stil twinkling in the corner of my eye.
All through my childhood and as a young woman we skimped and scraped and never a butter paper or anything else was wasted.. still isn't though now we have much more than we will ever use.
Old habits do die hard, I have never been able to throw out food or not to utilise or give away what my garden produces. Worn out garments were cut down for smaller children, you know the drill I'm sure.
Thank you so much for bringing back my wonderful mother for me at least for a little while, and congratulations on having had one who instilled love and fortitude in her children.

Connie W said...

What a beautiful and touching expression of your love for your mother.

deb said...

OK Im crying......thank you for the story....

Kelly said...

Hi Marlene, this is a wonderful story about your mom! My father in law, 88 was in the CCC's too...and my grandmother and great-grandmother made quilts and I have a few of them. They all were so resourceful and wise compared to so many of us in this day and age...we can learn a lot from them!
Blessings,
Kelly

Anonymous said...

Hi, Marlene....it's a beautiful story you shared with us. Thank you for getting permission to put it in your blog and for telling the story. It's a wonderful tribute to your Mom.

Heather said...

What a beautiful post! I can imagine what a labor of love her quilt will be.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

A book all on its own, my friend. Well penned. Well lived. Thanks for sharing.

peace~elaine

Janet said...

A wonderful and touching story. You told it very well.

Tracy P. said...

What beautiful, honoring words!

joslynps said...

This is beautiful...

Julia said...

Through my tears I want to say...A wonderful tribute to your mother. We could all learn a lesson here.

sMC said...

wonderful, even tho sad to have such memories. hugs from downunder