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A Stitch from Time: Aunt Susie’s Quilts

July 18, 2020

Another Way for week of July 17, 2020

Two sample quilt pieces Aunt Susie sent me for my project at work, 1975.

A Stitch from Time: Aunt Susie’s Quilts

Within minutes of our arriving at Aunt Susie’s retirement apartment with our daughters in tow (her great nieces), if she sensed the least bit of kid-boredom looming, she put them to “work.” They would cut out, count, or straighten quilt patches in little piles. They loved it, thought it was a game and didn’t realize they were helping with Aunt Susie’s work. She made at least 130 quilts in her long life.

Aunt Susie was a bustling woman who thrived on quilting. I discovered a letter she wrote about her quilts the other week as I’m doing research for a memoir on my work life. (You’ll have to wait for the book to see what role Aunt Susie played).

Aunt Susie’s letter from 1975.

The story in her letter opens like this: “It’s Sunday morning and I’m upstairs working on quilts so I’ll answer your letter I received yesterday. I usually get up at 5 or 5:30 a.m. and go upstairs and quilt or cut patches or do piecing until I hear the tea kettle sing. Then I know Dan is up, has the bed made, and breakfast is on the table.”

This snippet gave me new appreciation for my Uncle Dan and two things that surprised me: that she quilted on Sunday morning (in our Mennonite homes, most Sunday work was forbidden), and that Dan made her breakfast and their bed. She adds that this domestic-side development came with retirement when Dan had no other chores or work away from home.

Aunt Susie and Uncle Dan probably in their upper 70s here.

Fixing breakfast for his wife does not fit my picture of somewhat dour Uncle Dan, although he was known to crack a joke or two. I do remember them coming to our house with their home decorating business to paint or wallpaper the dining room, a bedroom, the living room. They also invited us to pick yellow and dark red sweet cherries at their small two-story home in Emma, Indiana. Their huge backyard was a paradise of plants, flowers and trees. The house still stands next to an old general store and café there (and can be seen in the photo at the store’s website, linked).

Susie and Dan operated an ongoing garage sale in a large detached garage, selling things on consignment for others “which takes a lot of our time so I hardly ever get back to quilts until the doors close in the evening and I can relax after supper and piece quilts.” Quilting was not work for Susie: “I quilt for relaxation, money [at times she was paid for her work], relief [to give away to the needy], but most of all because I enjoy it. It is so rewarding to see the finished product and know I put in the best I had of my work and time.”

My purpose in writing this is to encourage everyone to reflect on the relatives and friends who impacted your life in positive ways. Susie’s response to my query about “what pointers would you give to beginning quilters” rings true for all of life, even though it is specific to quilting: “Do your best. Your quilt [or other work] will live a long time and tells many people many things about yourself.”

One of three twin sized quilts Susie pieced for us. I recognize some of the fabrics from our dresses.

As I stroke the three twin-sized quilts that Susie pieced and gave to me (I hired a quilter to finish them for us), I hope my three girls will hold memories not only of Aunt Susie but our other relatives who were special in their lives. Susie created beauty, shared of herself, was not afraid to travel to Chicago frequently (by train) where she volunteered at Gospel League Home for indigent women (an arm of Pacific Garden Mission). She also loved teaching Summer Bible School for many weeks each summer, traveling to various locations.

Dan stayed home and kept the kettles going. Some of the family pitied Dan for having to be a “bachelor” for many weeks. It was surely lonely at times. But Susie followed what she felt was God’s call to serve others. As she neared death, quite blind and fingers gnarled from the arthritis begat by all her quilting, she would speak of having chats with Jesus—at that point she was sure he was “under the bed.” I’m sure she felt that close to Christ and it gives me joy to know that she’s still having chats with Jesus in her heavenly home.

***

I’d love to hear your memories of a special aunt, uncle, cousin, grandparent! These are such important people in our lives.

Do you enjoy any aspect of quilt making? Do you still see appreciation for quilts or are they a relic of bygone days?

Quilters or coloring book enthusiasts? Don’t miss the drawing below!

Enter my end-of-summer drawing for a beautiful free adult coloring book, “Beloved Mennonite and Amish Quilts.” Deadline to enter: August 7, 2020. Two books will be given away. I will also put your name on a mailing list to receive information about my work memoir when published.

I helped choose quilts and wrote descriptions for this fun and interesting coloring book in 2016.

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To enter, Email me at anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or send to Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834, or leave a comment here on the blog.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

11 Comments
  1. Your post stirred a lot of similar images in my mind. As you know, quilting and cooking were a huge part of my childhood experience, and we share similar scenes.

    Your Uncle Dan is a lot like men in retirement mode. My husband in his busy career never had time or interest in cooking. Now he makes me breakfast or lunch, a good thing as I’m getting tired of cooking, especially in hot summer.

    • We do share similar childhood memories. I had completely forgotten though about how Uncle Dan took over breakfast and bedmaking for Susie. I’m sure I was surprised when I first read that letter from Susie.

      You’ve got a good thing going there too with Cliff making breakfast or lunch. Someday, we’ll pop in but not anytime soon! Ha. My Blountstown Fla. classmates postponed our 50th reunion until 2021 and will hook up with the class right behind us for a shared reunion, so I’d love to come down there in April. But we shall see! Have a great weekend if not too hot.

  2. I love reading your columns. But I have to say that I think this one of Aunt Susie and her quilts is one of my favorites. I love the memories you shared of your Aunt Susie, her quilting, and your special connection.
    My Grandma Cline was a quilter. I remember visiting her in Goshen (Ind) and looking through all of her many pieces and projects in the works. Up stairs, in the cupboards that were under the sloped edges of the roofline is where she kept them. I loved how she kept the pieces together by stringing like pieces together on a threaded needle.
    I have one of her quilts in my office/craft room. What’s funny, I just had it in my hands about an hour ago, as I was in the process of cleaning the room and moving things around. I hung it on the wall for many years when I first got it, until I realized that the stress of hanging was starting to deteriorate some of the old fabrics.

    • Trisha, I love that you love this! Did I know you had a grandmother in Goshen? Those memories of just how she used to do are precious, aren’t they, when they come suddenly to mind. I’m glad this connected. I was fixing one of Susie’s quilts on one of our twin bunks today too… getting ready for, yes, grands coming to visit. So happy but still keeping my fingers crossed. Best to you.

      • Grandma died in 1984 and Grandpa in 2000. Cecil and Mildred Cline. They’re both buried at Violett Cemetery. The last time I was in Goshen to visit Grandpa was in 1995. And YIKES – he was still driving! I saw him a few times after that at my uncles in Arizona.
        I still have an aunt and uncle in Elkart – and a few cousins around, but not sure where they are.
        I enjoyed seeing your FB picture with you and the grands!

  3. Now I remember you telling me some of this stuff earlier and I’ll try not to reask it! You are very sweet to keep me posted. Thanks, we’re enjoying … and keeping very busy with the grands … with my husband still needing to do physical therapy 2x most days (at home). No time to write or get bored!

  4. Margaret Kauffman permalink

    I am a quilter also and live at Greencroft now but my memory of your Aunt Susie is when we taught Bible School together in Kentucky one summer.

    • Oh, thanks for sharing this memory. I got to teach with her in Kentucky, Chicago, and Petosky, Michigan. She was so faithful and enjoyed the experiences. I’m sure I’ve met you, your name is very familiar. Which church do you go to? Do you know my mother, Bertha Miller?

      • Margaret Kauffman permalink

        Yes, I do know your mother in Juniper Place but haven’t seen her for so long. Beside your Aunt Susie, I knew Arlene and Adeline too. When I came to Greencroft I attended Clinton Frame Church, where I grew up but I spent many years in Montana (and also twelve years in Harrisonburg!)

  5. Deborah Hazelton permalink

    Your Aunt’s quilts are so pretty. Just love how she used pieces from your clothing. A wonderful item to pass down through the family.I wish I had learned how to quilt. No one in my family made quilts. Most in my family made doilies and I still use them. I also love to color. Thanks for the chance to win.

    • Thank you for commenting here and the doilies are something to cherish also (and don’t take up as much room as quilts!) I will certainly put your name in the jar for the drawing!

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