The story Calico Connections continues this week. Last week we met Nellie Morris, a mother trying to keep her family fed and clothed as her husband Charles struggles to keep the family farm in Iowa, not an easy task in 1934. Little Doris arrives home from school bursting with excitement about 4-H starting quilting lessons.
Enjoy the next segment. Click here to return to Tuesday Tales for more tales from talented authors.
Ignoring Doris for the moment, I headed over to the sideboard. Grabbing a pot from below, I sat it next to the water pail and dipped out a few dippers of water, tipping the bucket to pour the last of it into the pot.
“Rex,” I called out. “Are you ready to go help Father and Gerald yet?”
“Yes, Mother, I’m coming,” Rex said, bounding into the kitchen, hair tousled and one overall strap hanging unhooked, as usual.
“Go pump a pail of water first and bring it back in here before you head on up to the barn.”
“Don’t be a smart alec,” I reprimanded. “A yes or a no will suffice, thank you very much.”
Rex slid on his jacket and shoved his hands in his mittens, then grabbed the water bucket.
“When you bring the water back in, take the bowl of potato peels out to the chickens on your way to the barn,” I said to his retreating back.
“Yes, Mother,” he replied carefully, not wanting to be corrected again.
Doris and I kept busy in the kitchen getting supper ready. Glancing at the rack of threadbare dish towels hanging on the wall next to the stove reminded me how much I wanted some new kitchen towels. But right now we didn’t have enough money to buy any flour or sugar, or any other provisions for that matter.
The simple offering tonight was biscuits, mashed potatoes and homemade gravy … again. I thought there were one or two more jars of peaches in the root cellar.
“Keep watch on the biscuits,” I told Doris. “I’ll be right back.” I threw a sweater on and headed out.
Climbing down the rock steps, I peered around the dimly lit, meagerly stocked underground storage area. Only a few jars were sitting on the bare shelves. Last summers harvest was almost gone. Yes, there were two jars of peaches sitting in the back, along with a random scattering of a few jars of cabbage, corn, beets, and apple butter. And potatoes. Luckily there were still a lot of potatoes.
I brushed the dust off of one of the jars of peaches and headed upstairs to start on the gravy.
I was pulling the pan of biscuits out of the stove when John and the two boys came dragging in, covered in a layer of dust and grime. They headed to wash up in the water left over from scrubbing the potatoes.
I examined Charles’ shirt as he washed up. Even if we did get some new feed sacks they were needed to replace Charles’ work shirt. There are only so many patches you can add to a garment. His elbows looked like a patchwork quilt.
“Smells good,” Charles mumbled towards no one in particular as he dried his hands. “I’m starved.”
“Want to go to town tomorrow?” he added. “I need to stop by the train depot and see Albert Rusco. He’s been so busy with the railroad being shorthanded that he needs to hire out some help on the farm. Maybe I can pitch in and pick up some extra change. While we’re in town we need to get some grain for the mule, too. Melvin has some in the general store and we can check the mail while we’re there.”
“I’d like to get out and go to town. I’ve been cooped up with this icy weather. I’ll visit with Georgia while you run over to the depot and we can gab about quilting patterns for a piece. Is there enough for a bag of flour too? We’re running low in the bin.”
The chair wobbled and creaked as John sat down at the table. “Sure ‘nuff. We can get some flour. Can’t get much else but there’s enough for grain and a sack of flour.”
“I’ll check the eggs in the morning and see if we have enough to take a basket with us. Maybe Georgia and Melvin will let us trade and take a little bit off the bill.”
Pulling biscuits out of the range and setting the sizzling frying pan on the trivet I caught myself humming a little tune. An afternoon out of the house and visiting in town, I thought. It was almost like a vacation. One little bright spot in my life; I wished there were more.
“Can we swing by Vivian’s tomorrow on the way home?” Sometimes it was so hectic here trying to keep up with these three young ‘uns that days would go by without me seeing hide nor hair of my oldest child, married and tucked away in her own home clear on the opposite side of town. Charles’ mouth was full and he didn’t answer. Seeing the frown flit across his face I decided not to press my luck right now and turned to grab a spatula, discreetly wiping an errant tear from the corner of my eye.
It’s SNEAK-PEEK SUNDAY!
The rules are simple. Six paragraphs and six paragraphs only; of any published work or WIP. No more. No less.
This is the first Sneak-Peek Sunday I’m participating in. Sunbonnet Sue’s for Doris is a picture book WIP about these 1934 quilt squares from Athelstan. This is only the second go round of revisions, so it may change a little as I work with the manuscript.
Here’s Part 1, come back next week for the next six paragraphs. Be sure to check out the other wonderful authors participating in Sneak-Peek Sunday.
SUNBONNET SUE’S FOR DORIS: Part 1
Doris and her brothers lived in Iowa,
In a teeny tiny town.
The little town was Athelstan
Way, way back – not now.
Doris was like most the girls
She liked her pretty things.
Watching Shirley Temple movies
Made her young heart sing.
They made a doll of Shirley Temple.
Doris wanted one so bad.
‘Give me one for Christmas please!’
Mom said ‘No!’ and she was sad.
Doris’ mama went to quilting guild
With worries on her mind.
‘I don’t have the money,’ she said
‘To buy a doll of any kind.’
‘I want to get her something special,
though a doll it will not be.’
The ladies put their minds together.
We’ll find something precious, you’ll see.
It’s Tuesday Tales time! This week we’re writing to the prompt – library.
The story Calico Connections continues this week. Last week we met Nellie Morris, a mother trying to keep her family fed and clothed as her husband Charles struggles to keep the family farm in Iowa, not an easy task in 1934. Little Doris arrives home from school bursting with excitement.
Enjoy the next segment.
Return to Tuesday Tales for more tales from talented authors.
Doris headed towards the sink, grabbing an extra apron hanging on the back of one of the mismatched wooden chairs. “Norma Gean told us that her mother is going to start teaching us stitchery lessons at 4-H. She brought a quilt square with her to school that Mrs. Kemery is showing her how to make …. and we’ll be able to make a quilt like you do … and Berneice and Darlene want to learn too … and Betty said her mom has extra fabric she thinks we can use … and can I go through your scrap bag tonight … and …” the words poured from her lips like an erupting geyser.
“Whoa child, slow down,” I said, barely able to get a word in. “A quilt is a big undertaking.”
“I know, Mother. We won’t have a quilt right away. We’ll learn to do some squares first. It should be easy as pie; we’ve all been watching at your quilt guild meetings.”
“Watching isn’t the same as doing,” I said. “It will take a lot of practice to get your stitches even.”
“I know Mother,” Doris replied, rolling her eyes as she turned to the bowl of potatoes soaking in the sink, thinking I wouldn’t see.
I saw. I decided to let it go. We’d been having enough quarrels lately, more than I cared for. Doris had been so impertinent these last few months. Maybe these stitchery lessons would be a way to bring us closer again and take the girls minds off of the boys. Lordy, that’s all that the girls seemed to do lately, is giggle about boys. If it wasn’t freckle-faced John Balch, it was lanky Lyle Sickels or Donald Carroll, who chattered a mile a minute. Stitching would be a welcome relief to occupy the young girls.
“We’ll go through my scrap bag after supper,” I offered. “What kind of fabrics are you looking for?”
“I don’t really know yet. Our first lesson is Thursday after school. If you have a piece of muslin, I could take that to learn some stitches on, like the piece Norma Gean had.”
“I don’t know if there is any muslin left. I think I used that up patching the quilt in our room.” I paused from mixing the biscuit dough. Sitting the green ceramic bowl down on the table, I wiped my hands on the corner of my apron and tucked a wisp of stray hair back in place. “I think there are plenty of feed sack scraps you can use. We’ll look later, after supper.”
“Or, if there’s some pieces I can cut circles out of,” Doris added. “Norma Gean had these circles. She said Mrs. Kemery cut them out for her; because she didn’t do a very good job when she tried to cut a circle. And then … then she stitched around the edges and pulled it together and it made this little round piece. And she says that you sew all the little circles together … and it makes a quilt too … or a dresser runner … or …”
“Yo-yo’s,” I broke in. “They’re called yo-yos. They can be a little difficult to make at first. Mrs. Kemery will probably show you how to make a template to make them, it makes it easier. There’s a few calico pieces in the scrap bag that will make some nice yo-yo’s for you.”
“What’s a template?”
“A template is a piece you cut out of paper and then use that to cut your fabric pieces from. It makes it a lot easier.”
“Like those pieces that you’re saving from the newspaper?”
“Exactly,” I answered, “those are a template or a pattern. I’m sure that Norma Gean’s mother will cover that in your classes.”
Doris paused, holding a half peeled potato in her hand. “Saturday, could Father drive me to the library in Bedford? Mrs. Kemery said there are some books there that show how to make different stitches.”
“Goodness child, that’s nigh on twenty miles away.”
“Berniece’s father drives them into Bedford all the time. They’re always going there. She said the library is really nice and it’s on the square just across from the courthouse.”
“I know where the square is and where the library is. The directions are not a problem. It’s the gas. We don’t have enough gas to be gallivantin’ all across the country.”
Tears welled up in Doris’ eyes, threatening to spill down her cheeks. A telltale quiver of the chin foretold that I had a long night ahead of me. I just did not have the energy to fight with the girl tonight. I had enough turmoil in my life as Charles and I tried to hold the family afloat with a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. What else could go wrong in our lives right now?
Welcome back to another Tuesday’s Tales. I’m sharing a clip from Calico Connections, a WIP (Unfortunately, one of many; Too many books, so little time!)
This week we’re writing to the prompt – bite.
Enjoy – and feel free to leave a comment.
Don’t forget to click the link below to go back to the main Tuesday Tale site for more stories by very talented authors.
Our lives are like quilts – bits and pieces,
joy and sorrow, stitched with love.
Nellie Morris, get a hold of yourself. The children should be home soon. I didn’t want them storming in the door, catching me crying at the kitchen table. I dried my tears with the corner of my apron.
The kitchen’s chilliness curled up from the floor and wrapped itself around my legs. I glared at the cast iron cook stove reigning supreme on the interior wall. How dare it allow the embers to die down while I was immersed in my own private pity-party!
I shivered and rose, heading to the wood pile in the corner. Grabbing a log, I opened the stove door and placed it on the few glowing embers scattered across the bottom. Sparks flew and a whoosh of smoky warmth rushed up in my face. I’d better put in a second piece of wood to get the water boiling for potatoes.
An enameled pan sat in the sink, full of soaking potatoes, beckoning me. I headed for the sink, reaching for my favorite paring knife sitting on the counter, waiting patiently for me to get to my chores. The family would want their supper, as meager as the fare would be.
Glancing out the kitchen window, I caught sight of Doris, slipping and sliding on the icy dirt road leading to the house. She was paces ahead of Rex, her younger brother. I didn’t see hide nor hair of Gerald. He should be with them, being the oldest.
Gracious, that girl’s going to be the death of me yet.
A few minutes later the kitchen door flew open, banging against the wall.
“Mother,” Doris shouted as she flew into the room, a rush of cold air following her in swirls.
“You don’t need to shout,” I said, “I’m right here. Shut the door behind you, you’re letting out the heat. And why aren’t you waiting for Rex?”
“But Mother ….” Doris started.
The door flew open with another bang and Rex appeared framed in the open door. Slamming the door shut, he dropped his books on the floor. Scarf, hat, mittens and jacket were off in a flash, scattered in all directions.
“Rex Nathaniel Morris, you know better than that. Hang your jacket and things on the coat pegs. Then take your books to your room and get your work clothes on. Where’s Gerald at? Father needs both of you in the barn this afternoon.”
My Charles near worked himself to exhaustion trying to keep the farm going. Most of the other families in the community had many children to help run the farm. We had only three. Doris and Rex were too young to help much. Gerald, being ten was some help but the load left on John’s shoulders was taking its toll.
Doris stood by the table, still holding her books, almost bouncing in place with excitement. “I have the best news, Mother,” she tried again.
I turned, drying my hands on my apron. “Doris Kathryn, take your jacket off and plan to stay awhile.”
Sitting her books on the table, Doris stuffed her mittens in her pockets, then shrugged her coat off and hung it on the row of pegs behind the door. I glanced at it and made a mental note that she would need another one for next winter.
“Here,” I said, placing the paring knife on the table. “Finish peeling the potatoes while I get the biscuits started. Now, what is it that you’re dying to tell me?”
It’s Tuesday Tales time! This is the first week I’m participating with this exciting, talented group of writers. Every week we get a word prompt to write from and once a month is a photo prompt. My first week out we got this fascinating photo. There are so many directions one could go with this.
Of course, when I saw this nostalgic downtown scene, I had to work in a story with one of my Athelstan women from the quilt squares. Photo prompts are limited to 300 words, so here’s the “shortened” version. A lot of details got cut to stay under the limit, but I was having so much fun with the story, I may expand it later.
Eliza Jane drifted along the dusty road towards town. Shimmering light waves obscured her vision, as when heat radiates up from hot asphalt roads. Yet, she wasn’t overheated. Eliza felt marvelous with nary an ache or pain from the rheumatism that had plagued her for years.
Her vision troubled her. She couldn’t see clearly. It was like a gauzy veil surrounded her world. ‘Probably cataracts,’ she murmured out loud.
Eliza enjoyed her daily walks into Athelstan. She was born here, goodness, so many years ago. Have 80 years passed? The thought startled her. It seemed like it was yesterday. The days blurred together. Now I’m talking to myself, like the doddering old ladies I used to laugh at.
She entered town and stopped at Burt’s Market. She peered through the front window.
Who was that strange, pasty-faced young man behind the counter? He wasn’t familiar. Where was Burt? He was always there; a beefy sentry standing guard over his mercantile.
It wasn’t the same since Georgia and her husband sold the general store to Burt. I always enjoyed sitting by the stove and chatting with the townsfolk who stopped in for mail, or to barter extra eggs or milk for goods.
Thinking of Georgia, did I even see my daughter today, she wondered. I don’t recall. I don’t remember when I saw her last. My memory is so befuddled. It’s as foggy as this misty view I have.
A rush of whirling air and chattering voices moved past, interrupting Eliza’s monologue.
“Nellie, Doris!” Eliza called out.
They entered the market, oblivious to her presence.
That’s odd, they ignored me.
She reached for the door knob, to follow. She couldn’t grasp it. Looking down, she saw her handless arm protruding through the frame as if the door didn’t exist.
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Zig Zag: A line or course that proceeds by sharp turns in alternating directions.
None of the pieces in this set of blocks from Athelstan, Iowa incorporate zig-zag stitches. Most of the blocks were entirely hand-stitched. A few blocks have some machine stitching on them: Betty and John Balch, and Leona and Darlene Booher.
However, Jean Marie Carroll’s block has a zig-zag design in the hat embellishment.
My favorite set of quilt blocks didn’t disappoint me; they carried me through the A to Z blog challenge, one letter at a time.
Frequent news stories report how treasures worth thousands and millions of dollars are discovered in yard sales and second hand stores. Finds at these venues don’t need to be valued that highly to be a treasure.
These thirty small pieces of muslin, appliquéd with vintage cotton and embroidered with the names of people long past are not in the ‘million-dollar-find’ category. But a ‘find’ it was and I’m still excited about it, many years later.
To the women and young children of Athelstan that left your mark stitched on muslin, I’ll do my best to honor your memories and your lives.
And yes, I’m still a frequent shopper at yard sales and thrift stores.
- I’m eXcited that I fortuitously found these squares at the yard sale.
- I’m eXcited that the A to Z blog challenge gives us this chance to persist with our blogs and grow as writers.
- I’m eXcited that I have this opportunity to share this treasured set of quilt squares with others.
- I’m eXcited that I got in touch with the TaylorCountyHistoricalMuseum where the quilt squares will go when I get a chance to get to Iowa. I’d rather see them somewhere where their history can stay intact, instead of having them in another yard sale some day.
- I’m eXcited that I’ve been able to discover as much information about some of these people that I’ve been able to find.
- I’m eXcited that these women and girls sat down for a few afternoons or evening in 1934 to leave this legacy for the future.
- I’m eXcited that this trace of Athelstan, Iowa exists, despite time marching on.
Dean Weese, two years old in 1934, has two squares in the set. One of the unsolved mysteries is why he has two squares. We’ll never know. We can’t ask his mother. Zelma Leona (Smith) Weese, a member of the Athelstan Quilt Guild, made his square. Zelma was born February 18, 1914 on a farm north of Athelstan. She lived her life in Athelstan, marrying and raising her family.
Madelyn Weese, daughter of Enoch and Minnie Tucker Weese, was seven years old in 1934. Her mother, Minnie, most probably made her square also. Many seven year olds, especially in the 1930’s, learned to sew and embroider. However, with the neatness of her stitch and the creative embellishments on the square, I believe her mother, Minnie, made the square.
‘V’ is for value, a word with many definitions. Some of the dictionaries had 15 and 16 definitions for value. There are two definitions that apply to this set of 1934 quilt squares.
Quilters often use value as meaning: ‘That property of a color by which it is distinguished as bright or dark; luminosity’. Value is a critical component in choosing compatible and complimentary fabrics in a quilt.
The value that I find applicable to these squares is the meaning of ‘relative worth, merit, or importance’. A descendant of Doris Morris evidently did not place much value on these quilt squares, placing them in a yard sale for an exorbitantly low price. I, however, place a high value on these quilt blocks. Not of a monetary value, but as a historical and sentimental value.
What do you value in your life?