Sunday, January 23, 2011

Putting pieces together

Garage sales are like candy stores for a lot of people like me.  We ourselves have a garage full of multiple collections of the stages of our life, our grown kids' lives, crushed soda cans, Christmas stuff, and camping gear.  I could go on, but that would be just plain embarrassing.  Even so, my car has a garage sale GPS, and it downshifts gears, and brakes when passing someone's driveway spread with all the stuff that their own garage has regurgitated.

Bright shiny Saturdays are great days for cruising the streets with swivel heads.  Yesterday was a day of discovery, on many levels.  My husband John and I pulled up along the curb, and ambled casually toward the day's sale items.  I had spotted two quilts hanging on a chair, and that was the bait for me.  I greeted the couple hosting the garage sale.  They were about my oldest daughter's age.  Their garage was clean, and this stuff wasn't typical for their age.  None of the things that clutter my daughter's garage were there.  No baby stuff.  No old blankets or linens.  No college bookshelves.  No, this stuff wasn't theirs.

I picked up the quilts, and they were old.  I mean old.  The quilt tops had been hand pieced, by someone with an eye for color, and who had a basket of left-over fabrics from other sewing projects. There were patient appliques and hand embroidery.  The quilt stitches were even and firm, as if done by someone who took her time and was thinking about the importance of making something that would last through many many launderings.

"How much?" I asked the ridiculously young man who owned the house.
"How about a dollar each?  That okay?"
A dollar each?  Seriously?  The work in these two quilts, the age they both held--shouldn't they be almost priceless.  "Really...why so cheap?"
"Well, it's either a dollar, or let the dog sleep on them."
I choked back a reply, and indicated that I would take them.  And then I wanted to know about the quilter, and I guess that is the real story here, not the garage sale itself.

His grandmother died a few years ago, and left a houseful of quilts, plates, glassware, doilies and tablecloths--all the things that a woman of her generation might have accumulated over a lifetime.  He said that the best memories he had of her were when she would sit and make something, telling him stories of her life.  "She always had something she was working on..." he said, trailing off to answer someone else's question about a Trivia Pursuit game.

People think of quilts and immediately the word "pioneers" come to mind, as if somehow the two are inextricably united, and have sole domain.  His grandmother was probably a young woman during WWII, and knew how to dance up a storm with the men in uniform.  She probably worn nylon stockings with a seam up the back of the leg.  She probably loved the young Frank Sinatra, and wanted to skate like Sonia Henning.  Then his grandmother married one of those men in uniform, had babies, and became a part of "The Greatest Generation" without ever even thinking about it.  And, at night, once the kids were in bed, she listened to the radio or watched a very small black and white television, while she quilted.

I brought the quilts home, spread them out on my quilted bedspread and looked at them.  'This is quilting from the heart,' I thought.  No co-ordinated batik prints, no die-cut pieces, no color wheel adherence.  No, just a woman sitting at night by the radio, talking and laughing with her husband and kids, while she patiently and firmly put one piece to another.  I like to picture in my mind how she held the pieces at arms' length, the way I do why I put pieces together, and think about how they will look in the scheme of the quilt.

So the quilts are in my house now, joining other quilts I own, made, or have rescued from being in a dog's bed.  There is no great single uniting thought here, no deep summarizing 'a-ha' moment, just a bunch of images stitched together like a movie of someone's life.


  1. That's beautiful - thanks for writing it.

  2. You're collecting history. It's a shame the quilter's family didn't appreciate it.


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