I’ve Been All ‘Round Cape Girardeau, And Parts of Arkansas (I’ve Been All Around This World), Part Four: The Quilter

The Quilter

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     I woke up and got into contact with my friend, and we agreed to meet about ten. I killed time by going to my favorite bookstore down in the town, who’s yellowing trees and mostly small storefront sat under a thick humid haze. It was homecoming for a football team in the South, and even at nine people were gearing up. My own cousin attended this university, many years ago, and I had been there many times visiting my grandfather. I liked it’s campus better than the one in Mississippi, and it felt older. Ole Miss was filled with mostly newer buildings that looked old (although that’s not entirely their fault, I was told the Civil War set them back for unwanted restoration projects). Arkansas had old buildings that looked old.

     I hurried to my bookstore, under the hazy blue mist still hung over the city, so that I couldn’t even see the town a quarter mile away. This bookstore is indeed the perfect epitome of where one should go to buy used books. Narrow shelves were stacked to the ceiling, and walking to the back of the store it seems one goes on into its own (very literate) alternate dimension. It just doesn’t look that big from the outside. The same older man sat at the desk, and cardboard signs stuck in the shelves delineated what topic you were looking for. I always zoomed into the folklore section, in front, where I could find rare books that I found no where else, even Amazon. They were in the old, original covers, and had the slightly musky but pleasant book smell that old books should have. They were also priced about as much as they should be, and were rung up on a calculator and pencil. I purchased a few and would come back later.

     Fayetteville was starting to fill up- it was homecoming, and even by nine people were walking around in red and white, men in sweatshirts, t-shirts, and caps, and girls with faces painted. I walked down to the stadium, along an avenue with the names of graduates from the 60s and 70s, and snapped a few photos of the tents that had begun to spring up around the stadium, and. I had enough of football for the weekend.

     The campus made a nice walk, but I needed to hurry back so that I wasn’t late. I drove back to the village where my grandparents used to live, to the same house where my friend had always been.

     The Quilter was a very happy and energetic older lady, and she brought me in and we sat and chatted for a good long while. I showed her pictures of North Dakota, where she had not been, and she inquired after my family, who she knew. After a time, she mentioned that I probably wanted to see the quilt, which I very much did.

     When I last saw her, some years ago, she was still making it. Growing up in the South, the Quilter had a heavy accent and a great amount of personal experience in rural life. Some years ago her son, who became a teacher, had received stories from the African-American students in his class about how their parents or grandparents used to live. Using this as a template, my friend designed her story quilt.

     She went through each block with me, and I will write what I remember, the best I can do so. I recorded bits, but did not want to turn the camera on because it was more important for me to hear how she told the story naturally. My captions, very short and to the point, do not do anything close to hear her explain it, but nevertheless I hope they provide a small amount of insight and clarification.

 

 

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These were towns from the quilter’s life.

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(Going from left to right): Following the signs, the next two blocks depict traditional foods and common tools used in the South, respectfully. The time period is the late 1800s-early 1900s. The photographer was I believe a travelling entrepreneur, and the next block depicts a still (One more block, a bath, will be shown below). Next row: They are making lye soap, and following that is a boy playing a game, using a rim from a auto wheel. Washing by a pond comes next, and women shearing sheep (notice the sheered lamb) and spinning wool. A further block (see below) depicts women making quilt patches.

 

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Third Row: This of course is a barn and a smokehouse. The quilter said that normally hams wouldn’t be on the outside, but she needed to show that it wasn’t an outhouse. And there are the little piggies. She said they’re hoping they won’t be in there this year. The house is on rocks to keep it cool, something I was unused to in the north.

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Third Row (cntd): Outhouse, a family with a cat and baby, a well, and pumpkins. The quilt was also seasonal, and changed with the seasons, as will be seen.

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Fourth Row: We have a wedding party going to a church.

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I especially like this block, as it is also something new to me. This is jumping the broom, which was a traditionally-driven way of “formalizing” a marriage. In the pre-Civil War South, when ministers were scarce, the master would have a married couple jump over a broom and declare them married, which has continued since then.

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Fourth Row: A graveyard and a gravedigger. The names on the tombstones are all associated with the quilter’s herself. The next block over is a baptism in a river, complete with fish and a turtle.

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Row Five: The first block is a child at school and his teacher, and the child is wearing a dunce cap. The quilter said she didn’t like that much. After that are children with a swing.

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Row Five (cntd): A schoolhouse, and two children jumping rope. Next is a gospel choir and a fiddler.

 

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Row Six: Two lovers courting over a picnic, I was told teenagers or somewhere around that age. Followed by children flying kites. Next is fall, and the man is going hunting (notice the birds in the top corner) with his dog.

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Row Six (cntd): Forest animals, and then fishing (notice the boot) and swimming. Of course, back then one would swim in the nude.

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Row Seven: A cow and dairy products, followed by a farmer in a field. The cotton fields were something the quilter knew a lot about, having grown up near the Mississippi River.

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Row Seven (cntd): Finally, eating more watermelon, some more food in the South, and a block explaining the quilt’s origin.

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Another view for the blocks that were cut off. The end.

   When we had finished, she took me to lunch. We talked for awhile, and we hugged and said goodbye. I don’t know if I’ll see her again. Having older friends is nice and very important. My generation never really understands that, except superficially. The downside is that you never will know when will be the “last” time, so every visit is made like that. I learned that older people have an art to this, which I’ve gotten better at. You don’t say anything, you just say goodbye like you’re going to the post office. And that’s that. You’ll see them again or you won’t, or you’ll hopefully see them in an afterlife, if some such exists. But I always felt that when someone passes, the living tend to become a little more like them. Maybe it’s just because of the memory wanting to remain strong, but I do think in a way good people live beyond their life.

     Having written that, I write briefly of my drive home, which was uneventful. I left Fayetteville at one, and due to traffic, was not able to visit my grandparents’ grave, as I usually do. Around ten, I pulled into Sioux Falls. The hotel clerk was nice, and I checked in. I wanted something quick, so I went to a McDonald’s, managed to have both slow service and cold food, and ate it over a “Friends” rerun. That sounds sad, but I actually was pretty happy to do so. Teenage girls were in the lobby, and I think some sports event was going on. The next day I grabbed breakfast in the lobby, and an older lady with red hair chatted with me for awhile, before chatting with a guy who was apparently living in the hotel on a work trip. I packed up and left, and drove until I reached Fargo.

     My old professor, who sometime in 2009, when I was nineteen or twenty, had talked to me about Joseph Campbell when I went to his office, had briefly come out of retirement. He had started me on the path of folklore back then, and had just published a work of fiction. One of the reasons I decided to hurry home from Mississippi was that I wanted to hear him give a lecture again. He’s an excellent storyteller, and signed the book to “a fellow folklorist” which was an honor to me, as that’s what I had been trying to be all of this time. He said that one sort of just became a folklorist after a time. It’s never official, apparently, which is very fitting. I admit I cannot comment yet on the book- I’ve been trying to knock of Le Morte d’Arthur for awhile, and finding myself close, want it done (there are only so many times I can hear of Sir Tristram knocking someone off a horse and Sir Launcelot being the “goodliest” knight in the world). However, I was happy to see him again.

     I talked a bit with our state folklorist, and we plotted ways to help strengthen the traditional arts in North Dakota. Then I went home, and thus ended my trip.

 

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