Friday, January 20, 2012

Keepers of the Family

It seems to affect only one or two individuals in each generation of a particular family--this urge to trace, find, ponder, assemble and share the data and recollections of those who have lived in earlier times.
There is the passing interest manifested by my spouse and relatives who nod politely when I announce that I've located g-great grandfather in the 1870 census;  there are those who politely don't suggest I could spend my time in more productive ways.
Then there are the cousins or the nieces and nephews who respond with an excitement similar to my own, and a barrage of e-mails, pdfs, worksheets and scanned vintage photos fly back and forth.

The seeds of my passion for family history were sown early.  I listened to the stories of my Grampa Mac and his sister, whenever she came to visit. My ears were pricked when my Mother mentioned the personalities and peculiarities of families and individuals in our small town.
I was perhaps 13 or 14 years old when my Father one day lugged home a stack of yellowed and curling Town Reports which a local lady had been about to throw away.  I was out of school that week with a bad cold, had read my library books from cover to cover.
I claimed the pile of old booklets, retreating with them to my lair on the living room sofa, adding them to the muddle of pillows, blankets and sodden handkerchiefs with which I had surrounded my snuffling self.
I was not interested in the proposed school budgets of former years, nor the totting up of snow removal expenses.  It was the pages of Vital Statistics which captured my attention.

My parents were born in that rural Vermont hamlet, grew up there, married and stayed life-long.
Between them, they knew something of any family listed for many decades.
"Where did _____live?" I demanded of my Father.
In his capacity as Road Commissioner he was acquainted with every cross road in the township.
Pondering a moment he would reply, "There was an old house down near Hough's Crossing [or Conkey Hill---or up by the Smith School] 'it burned down one winter and the family moved to Shoreham."
My Mother's store of information was slightly different: "Yes," she would muse when queried, "I taught their oldest boy in school"--or referring to yet another citizen---"He sang bass in the choir for years, and then stopped coming to church.  His sisters were old maids and always crocheted doiles and made cupcakes for the Ladies Aide Christmas Sale."
The decades of Vital Statistics enthralled me for the remainder of the week as I squinted at the fading print between episodes of nose-blowing and sips of ginger ale.
I worked out the relationships between famililar surnames, connected older folks to some of my contemporaries.
"Where is Harry's wife now?" I demanded of Mother when I came across the marriage details
of a close neighbor.
'Oh," said Mother thoughtfully, "I remember her.  Grace had been married before, had a son.  She was used to city ways and being a farmer's wife didn't suit her for long."
She was less forth-coming when I jabbed a finger at an entry in the BIRTHS column, wondering why a baby had only a mother's name entered and no father.
"I don't think she was married, there were some problems in that family," she replied with prim delicacy.

My Mother's aunts, uncles and cousins made many journeys across Lake Champlain from the family stronghold in upstate New York. Sunday afternoons were filled with singing and story-telling. Fat letters arrived several times a month.  My Mother read them, re-read them, sat down with note paper and pen, filling sheet after sheet with her beautiful script. 
My Father's family, though also nearby, were less well known.
His sisters didn't drive, his brothers were busy.  On Christmas Day and Easter and on the odd Sunday afternoon, we piled into the car and drove to Grandma D.'s house at the edge of the village and sat in a row on her creaking sofa. She smiled at us, but had little to say. Her bachelor oldest son, Uncle Ernie, entertained us, showing us how his huge tomcat would step onto an old scale and sit patiently to be weighed, or calling attention to  his parakeets as they chittered in their wire cage. Conversation dwindled and I wondered about the vague stiffness that seemed to take over.
Later, many years later, I would ponder whether my parent's marriage had been, in fact, the cause of the unease between my Dad and his Mother and siblings.  He had, after all, had the termerity to marry a Protestant who refused to bring up their children in the Catholic fold!

In 1980 I was newly returned to my hometown after some years away.  A woman my age had visited the Town Clerk's office seeking information about her French Canadian family, who were also my Father's family. The town clerk had passed Sandra's inquiries to my Mother, who handed them on to me.
We carried on correspondance for a year or two, sharing such information as we had.
It would be nearly 20 years later, when, far from Vermont and a bit homesick, I pulled out Sandra's mimeographed sheets of vital statistics and began again to search for my Father's family.
I had been working on my maternal genealogy and on J.'s paternal line for several years, connecting with distant cousins, utilizing the resources of
Staring at Sandra's notes it suddenly 'clicked' that the oldest child of my great-grandparents was born not in Canada or in Vermont but in an upstate New York town near the Canadian Border.

Bear in mind that French names are not easily understood or spelled by the average census enumerator, especially when the subject he is interviewing has little familiarity with the English tongue and may be marginally literate in his native language.
Still, I typed in the standard spelling of our surname, gave the New York township as location and moments later was staring in some disbelief at a listing of familiar names in an 1870 household.
"I've found them!" I bellowed, leaping from my chair. I galloped to the bedroom, waving my notebook jubilantly.
"Found who?" growled J. who was on the verge of sleep.
Through I became acquainted with a second or third cousin, Pat M. who is the guiding force in her regional genealogical society.  I was astonished to find that she had orchestrated a family sharing session at a cousin's Vermont home weeks after my 1998 removal to Wyoming--and that my parents, sister and nephew had attended!
At last--someone whose enthusiasm matched mine and whose research skills and
generosity were/are outstanding.
Cousin Aggie prodded her Mom, Aunt Lizzie, a bit and Aunt Lizzie, my Dad's only living sibling came up trumps with pages of jottings--references, names, delightful remebrances that brought my Father's family vividly to life.
That was in 2007.  It has taken me this many years of digging through the Vermont Vital Statistics which became available online, checking, comparing, deciphering phonetic spellings and impossible handwriting.
My notes have covered untidy notebook pages, filled boxes and desk drawers.
This week I finished typing my findings, double checking my sources, refining time-lines.
Today I printed all my documents, tucked them into a colorful pocketed folder, added a page of dedication and acknowlegements for the assistance I've been given.
On Monday the packet will be mailed to Aunt Lizzie, age 92, with a hand-written letter which I hope will in some small way convey my thanks for her part in this labor of love.

photo courtesy of Elizabeth Desjadon Archer
and Agnes Archer Barnes
My Father's parents, Stephen and Demarise, with their oldest child, Ernest,
circa 1901.

Photo from Pat Cameron McGrath, taken at the family gathering she organized in 1998.
My Dad, Larry [left] holds portraits of his maternal grandparents. His older sister Helen displays the portrait of their paternal grandmother, while brother Warren holds their paternal grandfather.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January Observances

J. spent most of his Monday birthday tinkering on this excavator.
Our weather has been moody--rather grey and blustery.
The birthday celebrant in our household gets to choose a favorite meal.
J.'s dessert never varies: pineapple upside down cake with whipped cream.
This was preceded by roast beef cooked with onion and garden carrots in the crock pot, baked potatoes, and a layered salad of lettuce, green peas, cucumber, tomato and shredded cheese.
The family next door arrived with a gift card for our favorite Cafe on the Square--and a huge custom made cookie which I thought came from the cafe bakery, but was in fact created by Matt.

G.'s b-day today--I always feel she gets cheated a bit--the leftover cake sort of thing.
She is battling a cold, so didn't want a special meal until she can enjoy it more.
She is posing here with her new quilt.
I retrieved it from the quilter today and rushed to apply the binding.

The quilt is more of a success than I anticipated.
The machine quilter does a decent job, she used a nice grade of fabric for the backing.
I prefer a cotton batting and to choose my own "lining"--but the price is good, so I think I will have some utilitarian 'scrap quilts' finished there.
I'm not enthused to think that every quilt I make from now on would have this stitching pattern--its the only one the quilt lady offers.
With this project completed I can focus on the joys of my fabric stash until time to garden again.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Scatting Off

Larry Desjadon [left] at about 12 years old, playing soldiers with a neighbor, Leland B.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Desjadon Archer and Agnes Archer Barnes

Larry stood in the snow-covered dooryard and gazed up at the January sky. He had noted that already the days were lengthening and he calculated that there was more than an hour remaining before sundown.
He had finished his chores; the woodboxes were filled against the night's cold; he had helped Father feed the cows.  He figured there was time for a walk before supper.
He pushed aside the nagging memory of his parents' request that he tell one of them when he was headed away from the farm. 
"Scatting," the family said, disapprovingly, "Larry's gone scatting up the road--or--into the woods--off in the pasture."
He was 13, after all, not a child, and he had a fine sense of direction.
He was warmly dressed today in brother Warren's outgrown woolen leggings, a thick wool jacket over his plaid flannel shirt, heavy socks and tall sturdy leather boots. A big cap with 'earlappers', a knitted scarf and mittens completed his outdoor gear.
Still, if he poked his head in the back door and announced to Mother that he planned to walk a way up Daigneault Hill, she might order him inside, feeling that the late afternoon was too cold; if he appealed to Father, there might be more chores to do.
Setlling his cap  firmly over his ears, Larry strode confidently out of the driveway and onto the packed snow of the dirt road.
Clarence Munger's place was only a quarter of a mile along the road. Mr. Munger was a trapper and hide dealer. Larry enjoyed talking with him and admiring the pelts which Mr. Munger had curing on his specially shaped boards.
There was no sign of Clarence Munger working in his dooryard or around his small shop when Larry passed by, so he kept on up the hill, his heavy shoes squeaking with each step on the snow.
He passed the old Catholic Cemetery, sparing only a glance for the snow-capped stones inside the fenced area. Daigneault Hill arched steeply ahead of him, but after a moment's consideration he turned left onto the narrow Beauvais Road. It was a short 'cross-road' and only a single set of tire tracks was imprinted
in the snow.
Mr. and Mrs. Beauvais were pleasant folks.  Their son Francis was an only child and welcomed the company of Larry and his younger sister Lizzie as playmates.
When he had chuffed his way up the road, Larry was delighted to see that Francis was outside, bundled in a heavy jacket and with his face nearly obscured by a knitted toque and muffler. A path had been shoveled around the front of the house and the tumbled snow was heaped along the edge of the woodshed. As Larry watched, Francis scrambled to the top of the snowbank and flailed with a broom at the huge icicles hanging from the low eaves.
"Hi, Francis," Larry called. "Would you like some help?"
Francis turned to flap a mittened paw in response and promptly slid down the snowbank, plowing the loose snow with his overshoes.
"I 'm trying to reach the biggest icicles," he explained. "When it warms up they're going to melt and drip down my neck every time I come out!"
Larry strode manfully into the yard, relieved Francis of the broom and began whacking the massive pendants of ice. The two children laughed and ducked as the large cold spears shattered at their feet.
The back door opened suddenly and Mrs. Beauvais appeared on the porch, winding her apron up around her arms as the cold air struck her.
"Mercy!," she said.  "It's a wonder you haven't knocked a chunk of ice down on your heads! Francis, its time for you to fill the woodbox for the night.  Larry, you've got a bit of a walk to get home before dark; time you got on your way!"
Larry said his goodbyes and headed back onto the road.  He noted that the sun was slanting toward the west and there were cold blue shadows under the trees.

The walk was easier going down hill and he was back on Daigneault Hill and past the quiet cemetery in no time.  As he drew near Mr. Munger's place he glanced off the road into the trees. A shallow track led through the woods to a small pond he often visited in summertime. He hadn't walked there since winter had set in and on a whim he stepped off the traveled road and began crunching through the snow that lay clean and white beneath the bare-branched maples and oaks of the little woods.
The pond when he reached it was smoothly frozen under a dusting of windblown snow.  A fallen branch quickly whisked clear a path across the pond--a perfect expanse for a slide.
Larry took a running start and slid from one side of the pond to the other.  He reversed and whizzed back, his scarf flying and his cheeks red with cold.
The sky behind the trees was stained coral and orange with the setting sun when he realized he'd best be heading for home.
One more slide and then he'd go.
He flung himself into the skid, legs braced and whooping with the fun of it.
At the end of the run he hit a hummock of grass, frozen in place at the very edge of the pond.
His feet flew out from under him and he flailed backwards, going down.  The back of his head hit the ice with a dull thunk.

Larry opened his eyes to an expanse of lavender-grey sky.  The sky seemed to tilt, shifting oddly above him.
He closed his eyes for a moment, wondered just what he was doing flat on his back.
He opened his eyes again, carefully sat up and looked around.
His insides felt hollow and he was cold.  The trees around the pond leaned in at crazy angles and when he got stiffly to his feet and stepped onto the bank  the ground lurched frighteningly beneath him.
He staggered to a small maple and clung to it while he got his bearings. His head pounded.
The necessity of getting out of the woods, making for home in the gathering dark, propelled him down the track, wobbling unsteadily.  He heard a car passing on the road beyond the woods, thought muzzily that it would be lovely to have a ride home.

From the kitchen window of the farmhouse, Mother glanced out at the darkening sky. It was a beautiful sunset, announcing another night of freezing cold. Her eyes scanned the dooryard expecting to see Larry ambling in.  There was no sign of him and with an anxious foreboding she pulled her old grey cardigan close and stepped onto the porch.
Her voice, calling his name, rang unanswered in the cold, still air.
Turning back to the kitchen she sighed.  It was not a good time for Larry to have gone scatting off somewhere by himself.
'Lizzie," she called, "Put on your coat and boots and see if Larry is in the barn with Father."
Lizzie was back within moments, her small face worried.
"Father says he hasn't seen Larry since he helped feed the cows."
Mother sighed, pushing a lock of grey hair away from her face, then stirred the applesauce that bubbled fragrantly in its kettle.
She added a stick of wood to the fire, clattering the stove lid.
There was the muffled purr of a car engine outside, then the sound of Ernie's feet clumping through the shed entry.  Her mind made up, Mother turned to her oldest son as he stood on the doormat, wiping the cold mist from his thick spectacles.
"Ernie," she said, striving for calm, "Larry's been missing for nearly two hours. We don't know where he went, but I think you'd better drive up Daigneault Hill and look for him. If he's not on his way down the road, go on up to the Beauvais place.  He might have walked up there to visit Francis."
Ernie sighed, for he had had a long work day.  He pushed his glasses back on and spoke with a heartiness he didn't feel.
"Don't worry, Mother. You know how Larry is--always scatting off somewhere.  That's probably where he's gone."
Ernie guided the old car up the frozen road, driving slowly in the deepening dusk.  He didn't meet Larry on the road, and following his Mother's instructions, took the crossroad turning.
Thomas Beauvais came to the door in his sock feet. The smell of supper drifted past him onto the porch where Ernie stood to make his inquiry.
"Anyone seen Larry?" Tom called over his shoulder.
Mrs. Beauvais appeared behind him, a dish towel dangling from one hand.
" Larry was here," she acknowledged, " I called Francis in and told Larry he'd better get home before dark. That was more than an hour ago!"
Ernest jiggled from one booted foot to the other, trying to think, knowing that the open door was letting cold into the house.
At last he said, "Well, I'll head back. Maybe Larry went farther up the hill road and I'll meet him coming down--or maybe he took a short-cut through the woods and is already home."

Larry, meanwhile, had traversed the wooded track, bumbling his way from tree to tree, his knees wobbling.
He lurched out onto the hill road and took a few uncertain steps in the direction of home.
His every heartbeat seemed to thump in his ears.  He was shaking with cold. He was so overwhelmingly tired that he longed to lie down and sleep.
Perhaps that was the thing to do--rest for a few minutes on the side of the road til he felt stronger, then make his way home. He wavered along uncertainly until he reached the sharp bend in the road just above Mr. Munger's house. Then, feeling suddenly unable to go on, he slid down against a convenient snowbank and rested his aching head against his knees.
He couldn't have said afterwards if he actually fell asleep there in the snow. Suddenly a hand grasped his shoulder and Ernie's voice was loud and anxious in his ear. The car stood growling in the road,  headlights making a dim yellow puddle of light on the snow.

Mother had the back door open before Ernie shut off the car's engine. She watched as her oldest son opened the passenger door and half-lifted his younger brother, steering him toward the house with a firm hand under his elbow.
"I haven't gotten much out of him," stated Ernie. "Mrs. Beauvais said he'd been gone from there a long time.
He was sitting in the snowbank just beyond Clarence Munger's driveway."

Mother hauled the old padded rocking chair close to the kitchen range, motioning for Ernie to deposit Larry there.  She peeled off his coat, unwound the muffler, took note of his pained yelp when she removed his cap. "Tired," he said, pathetically, his teeth chattering.
Mother spoke quietly, as was her way, but her voice was urgent.
"Lizzie, bring down the wool blanket from Larry's bed and a pair of wool socks from his dresser."
She knelt and unceremoniously unlaced the heavy shoes and worked Larry's feet out of them.
Within seconds she had a basin of gently steaming water in front of him and his icy feet lowered into the comforting warmth.  She draped the wool blanket around the back of the chair wrapping the ends around Larry's shivering form.
The sound of more stomping feet in the entry announced the arrival of Father and Warren, chores finished.
Father pulled off his cap and mittens, glanced at the huddle around the stove and made an anxious inquiry in French.  Warming his hands over the stove he bent over his youngest son's bundled form. Supporting Larry's forehead in one weathered palm, he ran the other hand carefully over the swollen and painful lump on the back of his skull. Larry rubbed his aching head against Father's hand which smelled familiarly of cows and hay and cold.
"Where have you been , Larry?" Father's voice was soft but with a worried edge.
Larry made a huge effort to collect his memory.  "Pond," he managed.  "Fell on the ice. Tired."
The words drifting above him were in French--the language his parents used between themselves.
Changing to English Father said, "Ernie, will you go up-street to the telephone central office and ask the operator to call Dr. Thompson. Tell him Larry has hit his head very hard."
Larry struggled to sit up. "Don't want the doctor," he said testily. "Why can't I go to sleep?"
He burrowed into the blanket, vaguely aware that his feet had been removed from the hot water and clean socks slipped on. He watched through half-closed eyes as Ernie got back into his heavy coat and boots.
Brother Warren who was uneasy around sick people slid toward the living-room and the radio.
Lizzie said nothing, but pulled a stool close to the rocking chair and patted Larry's blanket-swathed legs.

Ernie was back in moments with the word that Doctor Thompson had just sat down to his supper but would be out before taking on the patients who waited on his evening office hours.
Mother set out supper, a subdued and hasty meal.
By the time she and Lizzie had cleared the table, Dr. Thompson was knocking at the door.
He strode in, bringing the scent of the cold night air with him, along with the strange medicinal tang which clung to his black bag.  He examined the bump on Larry's head, produced a small flashlight and shone it in his eyes.
"Count to 100 by 10's," he commanded, brusquely. "Then tell me where you've been and what happened."
Larry was warmed through now and had stopped shaking. He gathered his wits and rather haltingly conveyed the details of his late afternoon wanderings.
"Mild concussion," announced Dr. Thompson speaking over Larry's head to the hovering family.
"Didn't know who or what or where he was, I'd say. Lucky thing that he got out to the road instead of straying deeper into the woods."
He shook tablets from a glass vial into a small envelope, licked and sealed the flap, took a pen from his pocket and scribbled.
"Don't let him sleep more than half an hour at a time until after midnight. You'll need to rouse him, make sure he knows where he is and makes sense. No supper, but he can have tea and toast or crackers at bedtime.
The tablets are for tomorrow.  He's going to have a very sore head."
Dr. Thompson snapped his bag shut and took his coat from the back of the chair where he had draped it.
Rounding on Larry he stated sternly, "Young man, you've given your family a scare!  You're lucky to be home where its warm and not freezing to death out in those woods!"
Larry nodded, thinking vaguely that he would be in for some scolding from Mother and Father as soon as they thought he could stand it.
For now, the heat of the wood stove, the warmth of the woolen blanket, the familiarity of the shabby rocking chair, were a bulwark against the frightening memory of a tilting dark sky and his shaky legs.

He watched sleepily as Mother and Lizzie fetched a pillow and a soft old quilt, making up a bed for him on the living room sofa.  He saw Ernie take Mother's arm, heard him say, "You and Father go in and get some rest.  Warren and I will sit up with Larry til midnight.  We'll listen to the radio and play a hand or two of cards to keep us awake. If Larry takes a bad turn I'll call you."
Larry dozed in the chair by the fire, waking to tell Lizzie goodnight when she came to hug him, already in her flannel nightgown and Beacon bathrobe.  He watched Father wind the clock, heard the clunk of firewood as Warren replenished the chunk stove in the room beyond.
He roused again to sip the tea that Mother brought.  The hot liquid settled happily in his stomach.
Mother warmed his pajamas over the oven door and seemed encouraged when he told her stoutly that he could manage to get ready for bed without help.
Ernie escorted him to the nest on the sofa, eased him down on the pillow. Larry wiggled onto his side, careful of the 'goose egg' on the back of his head.  Across the room Warren and Ernie bent close to their cards in the glow of lamplight. 
Larry pulled the quilt around his ears and slept, at last.

Larry's younger sister, Aunt Lizzie, wrote down the bones of this story for me. In a later re-telling it seemed that possibly a neighbor found Larry in the snowbank and drove him home.
I have, of course, taken some fictional license in supplying narrative details.
Lizzie never forgot the anxiety of that evening or the doctor's solemn words that her brother hadn't known 'who or what" he was and 'might have strayed away."
My father, Larry, never relinquished his love of "scatting off"--driving the back roads of his hometown, parking the car and hiking to a favorite trout stream.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Kentucky Winter

Daffodils were one of the first things I noticed when we viewed this property nearly two years ago and decided to buy the little farm.  That was at the beginning of March and the yellow trumpets were just starting to unfold.  When we returned March 20th, we were met with sprawls of daffs [called March lilies here] spreading across green fields and along roadside ditches.

These stalwart buds were photographed yesterday in the south-facing patch beside the carport.

Today a morning rain persisted half-heartedly through a day that became ever more grey and dismal.
I went out late in the afternoon to empty litter boxes and gather my kindling twigs. The rain was turning to fat squashy snowflakes. 
I have a sinus/head cold [misery!] and was unpleasantly chilled by the time I returned to the house, my wellies leaving damp muddy tracks on the basement stairs as I carried in my twigs.
D. drove up tonight for a visit--chortling that school has been called off for tomorrow.
Admittedly Kentucky roads are narrow and winding, and when they are sheltered by a ridge hulking up to the north, any ice that forms on the roadway is slow to melt.
Still, the near panic with which an inch or two of snow is greeted here is amusing to this family, having spent most of our winters in New England or Wyoming.
I have kept the sliding door shut today, not wanting the damp chill to seep in nor the cats to go in and out with muddy paws.  They have been disgruntled.

M. and G. arrived mid-morning with M's latest culinary triumph--easily the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever had.
Several of them went down very nicely with a mug of tea.
He added dried cherries to Betty Crockers classic recipe.

Willis exercises his privileges as a cat who lives outside but is allowed to saunter in and stay for awhile.
Sometimes he takes over a prominent spot such as the sofa or curls tidily on the hearth rug. He's been known to roost on the shelves above the fridge, hiding cosily behind several large crocks.
I am monitoring his indoor visits quite warily at present.
J. knew that Willis had spent the evening indoors on Friday, but couldn't locate him to put him
outside at bedtime.
Where the canny feline hid, we can't imagine, but there he was was next morning, smugly eating
kibble in the kitchen.
I spent most of my time in the basement room for several days working to finish a quilt, using my laptop in the livingroom for a few brief minutes online.
When I entered this room on Tuesday it had a suspicious 'whiff.'
A cat had 'peed' in the middle of the guest bed!
The puddle had dried, but the odor was unmistakeable.
"But you didn't see Willis do it, " argued G. defending him.
NO--but the only other time we've had misplaced cat pee, Willis had also spent the night in the house.
On that occasion J. woke suddenly and unpleasantly just after daybreak as Willis let fly --down his back.
Enough said!
I have washed a considerable amount of bedding this week--hanging it out to air dry as much as possible, then bundling it into the dryer to finish.

I remade the bed with sheets that smelled of January winds, spreading a quilted coverlet and topping the bed with a favorite smaller quilt--one of the first ones I had machine-quilted at the shop where I eventually became an employee.
I love the muted floral fabrics--very becoming to Mrs. Beasley the Cat.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tumbling Down the Rabbit Hole

The first week of the new year began with a colder run of weather; Nothing dire, frosty nights and some chilly mornings and a bit of overcast.
Our small flurry of holiday keeping was past, the left-overs dealt with, and we resumed our rather desultory routine of retirees in winter.
I felt tired from a bout of insomnia, too cross and creaky to begin any of the projects which churned through my brain when I'd rather have been peacefully sleeping.
I ventured outside long enough to deal with cat litter boxes and to gather twigs along the edge of the woods.
I prefer them to the kindling which J. splits, liking the ritual of gathering and bundling, the cheering snap and crackle as they catch the flames.
I built a fire in the basement stove, drew a rocking chair and hassock close, and settled, mug of tea at hand, to sort my piles of quilting magazines.
Sorting anything with text and pictures leads to more reading than organizing.
Soon my imagination was stirred with projects I'd love to take on.

The sun came out midweek and J. kept up with replenishing the wood pile and tinkering the latest machine.
I left off my sorting mid-way and got on with the usual tasks necessary to a household: meals, laundry, tidying. I gave the kitchen a bit of an overhaul, wiping down the pale gleaming wood of the maple cabinets, cleaning smudges from the stove and fridge. 
I washed the kitchen and dining area windows inside--and wonder how I shall manage to clean the outsides!
I made new curtains from a heavy cotton the color of old linen and hung them at the glass sliding doors.
I knelt on the cold damp grass alongside the row of kale and snipped enough to add to the roast beef supper which M. prepared.
I used my laptop to read my favorite blogs, but felt witless when it came to comments.
Each evening I scuttled downstairs to the warmth of the fire there and sewed.

During the short chilly days of November I pawed out an old project. Most of the fabrics were purchased in the late 1980's--before the advent of the beautiful and varied fabrics meant specifically for quilters.
I had cut some of the pieces for this quilt, had even stitched a few on an old machine I used during the winter our first Wyoming house was in progress.
The machine stitched poorly and when I looked at my efforts some years after I consigned the mangled bits to the trash can!
The specific directions had disappeared, but the blocks were basic.
For some reason I don't now understand, I decided in November I should finish this quilt before going on to more impressive projects.
With the stacks of patchwork prepared I began laying out the pattern on the diagonal--which means one must visualize the emerging thing in at least three dimensions.
It quickly outgrew my work table, so I dragged it up and down the stairs, spreading it
on our king-sized bed.
I was assisted by a changeable assortment of cats who shuffled blocks, prodded at pinned sections and trailed me on the staircase until I wondered if I would end up in a heap at the bottom entangled in cloth, pins and cats!
I finished the quilt, cursing mildly at the poor quality of one of the white fabrics I bought locally when the original ran out.
G. decided she liked the quilt--which is good, as it doesn't become my bedroom.
She went with me today to deliver it to an area woman who does machine quilting.
This lady does not offer options. She uses a vintage industrial model Singer machine, has one type of batting. She supplies basic plain 'lining'--as they call it here.  Her style of quilting is a series of neat loops.
Her charge is more than reasonable.
I had two other quilt projects 'in progress' when we signed the contract to sell our Wyoming home. They have remained unfinished here in Kentucky while we renovated, gardened,  put up produce from the garden.
Lately as I've gone along with J. on his errands, I've been reading quilt patterns while I wait in the car.
Last night I brought out some of my considerable stash of fine quilting fabrics, unfolding them to admire the colors, imagining how they could be 'made up' in various ways.
It is certain that we no longer live in a climate where I need to concern myself with extra covers for a number of beds. I'm not working in a quilt shop where I could display my quilts for sale.
But---I enjoy making quilts!  I have fabric enough to make more quilts than I have years left to make them!
The type of long-arm-machine quilting which I prefer is pricey.  The machine quilters at the Wyoming shop had developed a considerable degree of artistry and it is hard to settle for less.
It seems very late in the day for me to attempt to achieve any degree of hand quilting skill, of the sort that my Amish neighbors apparently learn in girlhood.
So, in my sleepless hours I've pondered  possible solutions to the dilema of too much beautiful fabric.
I have my eye on several smaller quilts--less than bed-sized--projects that might explore unfamiliar techniques.  Perhaps I could use cherished fabrics in these pieces, then give the excess to my nieces who are expert needlewomen.
I could piece large quilt tops and store them away--to be finished in the event of a 'windfall' or to be given to someone who could finish them.
Of the many quilts I've made in nearly three decades, most have been presented as gifts to special people, a few have been sold.  When I make 'scrap quilts' they are used on our beds and the cats sleep on them!
Several are carefully displayed out of reach of inquisitive paws and claws.
I am inspired by the creativity of others--not to copy, but seeing their work as a 'what if,'
a jumping off place.
Its no surprise that the blog friends I interact with are creative individuals as well, whether working with paint, thread, photography, word-smithing, or gardening, putting up preserves, turning out
wonderful baked goods.
Still others create with paper and embellishements, or turn found objects into works of art.
So often one sort of 'creating' leads to other mediums and the exploration of other skills.
For sure, those of us who craft and create are never bored.
Now, if someone can point the way to a good nights' sleep, perhaps I can stitch the quilts, write my stories, and paint the living room walls!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Rescue and Renewal

We had finished lunch on Saturday.  J. had retreated to his recliner, I was tidying the kitchen.
The sliding door was partially open to the afternoon sunshine, cats lounged on the step,
wandered in and out.
As I reached for a towel to dry my hands there was a commotion at the door.  Teasel streaked in from the yard, carrying something in her jaws--a creature which let out an anguished sound somewhere between a squack and a shrill screech.
"Oh, no," I exclaimed, "Teasel has a bird!  Or--maybe a squirrel?"
Teasel bolted pell mell down the basement steps with several other felines in interested pursuit.
J. snatched a pair of heavy gloves from the hearth and we rushed to the rescue.
Teasel was under a table in the basement, glowering in a slightly cross-eyed manner.
J. closed in and a bird hopped away from the cat.
"It's a bluebird," said J. who had the better view.
"If she had to catch a bird, why not an undesirable one--like a starling?" I lamented.
J. made a lunge, Teasel snatched her bird and raced up the stairs.
"Which way did she go?" shouted J.
I sighted several tails disappearing around the bedroom door so we waded in.
Teasel, carrying her bird, evaded J. and dashed into the living room.  The bird let out another terrified cry.
Somehow Teasel and the bluebird became separated behind the sofa. While J. made beligerant noises at the hovering cats, the bird hopped toward the fireplace and took cover in an old iron kettle which we keep at one side of the hearth.
J. scooped up the bird, held it gently as he inspected it for damage.
There was no blood, nothing appeared broken.
I snatched up the camera, but didn't get a decent photo, as sun was glaring off the sliding doors.
It didn't seem fair to detain the bluebird for prolonged posing.
J. stood on the step and tossed the bird into the bright air.
The little thing rose in a swoop, then soared higher, coming to rest in the top branches of a tree at the end of the dooryard.
We sighed with relief and herded the feline pride into the house.

When Willow kitten smashed the main branch from my angel wing begonia nearly two months ago, I trimmed the damaged end of the stalk and set it in a jar of water near the kitchen sink.
I began to doubt that it would root.
Last week, moving things to wipe the counter, I noticed the white threads of new roots.
Turning the jar in the light I found the tiny leaf which has opened under water.
Soon I will find a container, bring in the sack of potting earth to warm to house temperature before tenderly potting on this 'slip.'
The remainder of the plant, broken off nearly at the soil line, is under the grow lights in the cool part of the basement.  It too is reviving--unfolding fresh leaves of silver-spangled green.
I am encouraged!