pink peony

pink peony
old-fashioned peony

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I had the most delightful surprise visitor yesterday! I was buried at my desk, working on tedious data entry, when the doorbell rang, and there stood my friend, Donna walker, clutching a tattered quilt and grinning from ear to ear. She had just been given a precious surprise gift and could not wait to share it with a fellow quilt lover.

Donna grew up in the tiny communities of Almartha and Souder. I live smack-dab between the two, and she is my go-to source for all historical questions concerning our area. We sat down together, spreading the quilt between us, and she gave me a history lesson.

Donna's new old quilt had just been given to her by the women who are charged with settling the estate of the late Irene Beach Young. Irene (August 6, 1916 -- March 2, 2012) was raised in this community, too. She was technically born at Souder, but her family attended church at Almartha and was closely connected to the families there. Donna was more than 11 years younger than Irene, but their ties to their childhood home had kept their friendship strong through the years.

The reason Donna received the quilt is that those wonderful women settling Irene's estate recognized Donna's grandmother's name on the quilt. They knew it would mean something to her. Isn't that nice? It would have been such a shame for this treasure to wind up in an auction, being bought by someone who had no idea of its provenance.

There are 20 appliqued, embroidered butterfly blocks on the quilt, and each bears the name of a young woman who lived here. Donna believes it was made for Irene's mother -- or perhaps for Irene when she married her first husband. Donna instantly knew 18 of the women; I feel sure she will solve the mystery of the identity of the other two. As we talked, a picture began to unfold in my mind -- a colorful, vivid picture of a lively ommunity.

There was the woman whose large family was known for its boisterous, fun-loving nature. Everyone loved to visit Granville and Mabel Prock's home! Another block was made by a girl who eventually married a man who was a successful entrepreneur; they lived in the city, but this woman never forgot her country roots and loved to come back to visit. On one block I recognized the name of the mother of one of my dearest childhood friends. Guavana Eslick Sims still loves to tell about growing up at Souder and Almartha, and of the old swinging bridge over Spring Creek. She enjoyed getting her future husband, John R., on that old bridge and then would jump up and down and nearly topple him over the edge! Another block featured the name of a woman from one of the oldest families in our community. They lived with very modest means, but still managed to host popular "tacky parties." Donna said she remembered her dad, Lyle Murphy, going to one of their tacky parties dressed in his long johns!

Making friendship quilts was something women could do for one another, at a time when buying store-bought gifts was impossible. A square of fabric, some other bits of prints, and a little embroidery thread could be turned into a personaloized keepsake; when the blocks were gathered together and sewn into a quilt top and then hand-quilted, the result was a memory-filled expression of love.

Donna suspects her grandmother, being one of the older women on Irene's quilt, was probably the one who organized its making. She remembers her grandmother was often the "instigator" of such friendship-quilt projects. Carrie Murphy, who with her husband, Ora, had the general store at Almartha, would enlist her young granddaughter to take the makings for a block to neighbors. Donna didn't particularly like that job; it often meant a long walk on a hot summer's or cold winter's day. But because she loved her grandmother, she wouldn't complain but would try to find a friend to go along. That made it a lot more fun!

The quilt is made from old prints, appliqued onto muslin background squares with each butterfly outlined with buttonhole stitching. The sashing and binding are solid pink. Donna smiled from ear to ear as she said she would be sleeping under her new old quilt last night. 

After Donna took her keepsake home, I wondered about the records we are leaving today. How are we writing our history? What will our great-grandchildren have to touch, wrap up in, to see and hear our stories and to know the way we live? It's difficult to cuddle up with a computer....

1 comment:

  1. So interesting, Janet, to hear the stories behind the makers of this quilt. And lucky you, getting to see Donna Walker!