Jottings: Apology to an heirloom
My friend Cathy recently emailed a photo with "Quilt!" on the subject line. She and husband Dennis are refurbishing a house in Wisconsin and I get occasional glimpses of it via text and email. This photo shows an arrangement of vintage treasures including a quilt remnant in a wood hoop I had gifted her, along with other mementos I couldn't accommodate in my present apartment. The quilt, as she knows, has a story — one that stirs feelings of regret on my part.
It began with my maternal grandmother deciding to make a quilt for each of her 14 grandchildren. I, being number 13, was far down on the list, still in my childhood, and not aware of this endeavor. This was in the 1930s when most Iowa farm women set up quilt frames in their homes every winter and produced usable quilts from scraps of fabric, both new and used.
Memories of my grandmother are sparse as we lived 25 miles from where she resided with her son and family. We visited every few weeks and saw her at family gatherings, but our only one-on-one times were in the summers when she spent a week at our farm home.
I was eight when she died and remember my mother returning home after a day with her five siblings sorting and dividing their mother's possessions. She showed me a box of fabric pieces sewn together into circles and, teary-eyed, told me this was to be the quilt my grandmother planned to make for me. The box, stored in the linen closet, was opened during spring and fall cleaning rituals and my mother would recall the hard-working life her mother had lived, close the box and say, "Someday we'll make these into a quilt for you."
That "someday" came in 1950 after I had married. By then blankets replaced quilts on most beds, quilting frames were relegated to woodsheds, and I'd forgotten about the quilt pieces. My mother, however, had not and was pleased that Aunt Clara still had her quilt frames. So, the winter after our October marriage, my mom and her two sisters revived their quilting skills and by spring I received the belated quilt gift of my grandmother from her three daughters.
The pattern of the quilt was "Dresden Plate" and while I liked it and duly wrote notes of thanks to my aunts and mother, I was not as appreciative as I should have been. The quilt was on our bed for many years, then moved to those of our children when we got a new king-size. It eventually became worn and faded from its years of use and launderings and was stored on an upper shelf of our linen closet.
In the mid-1970s our two children left home, taking with them furniture and household items we no longer needed and we found other things for them at auction sales. The sales led to our buying pieces to resell at our annual garage sale and eventually became an addiction that enticed us into the antique business in 1981.
By the mid-1980s, quilts had become hot items at auctions and were bringing high prices. Even those in worn condition brought contested bidding and I decided to retrieve mine to see if it might be saleable. When I discovered the quilt was no longer in the linen closet, I could only assume it had a new home with one of our children. This was affirmed later during a weekend visit by son John.
When I casually inquired if he might know the mystery of the quilt's whereabouts, he answered:
"You mean that old greenish quilt with flowers?"
"It's in my car."
"Yes, I keep it in the trunk for emergencies and it's handy for when I'm working on the car ... you know, changing oil and stuff."
"Please go get the quilt!"
"It's really raggedy and dirty..."
"GET THE QUILT!!"
It was a heartbreaking sight. Diminished in size, filthy and stained, I gingerly carried it to the laundry room for an overnight soak. After several washings and stain removals, I was able to salvage enough "Dresden Plate" sections to display one in a large wood hoop and make a couple pillows. They became part of the guest room decor and moved with me to my next three homes before I passed them on to Cathy. I knew that she, as a good friend and lover of antiquities, would give them a good home.
My thanks to Cathy — and my apology to the "Quilt."
Jo Ann Parsons is a member of the Jottings Group at Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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