Friday, February 19, 2010

Forebears and four bears

Recycling quilts into these bears has helped preserve family history.

After a six-month hiatus to focus on my mother’s medical challenges, I am back to dealing with boxes of memories. April 1, 2009, she downsized from a four-bedroom home to a studio apartment in a retirement community. Since then my husband and I have packed our modest home with family photos, mementos and various items from her house that either she or I just could not let go.

I was making progress sorting, organizing and sometimes eliminating until Mother encountered health issues. She is doing better, but our new normal is that her involvement with medical providers may continue to occupy chunks of her life and mine. That said, waiting until things “settle down” is not an option for dealing with the numerous remaining boxes and bags that I stacked in corners and tucked in various nooks and crannies. Yesterday I began a new strategy, devoting just 15 minutes a day to unloading boxes and making decisions. Obviously not much is accomplished, but 15 minutes is better than doing nothing. And I expect that those few minutes will eventually get the job done.

Anyway, yesterday’s quarter hour unearthed photo albums my late father had filled during his semesters at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, MS, in the 1930s. I spent most of my 15 minutes looking at youthful images of my father, my mother, their siblings and friends from the days before my mom and dad wed. How had I missed seeing these albums when my father was alive and I could ask him about them? Or did he try to share them, and I just wasn’t interested? Weepiness threatened.

My mood lightened when I delved into a bag and found two bears that my sister-in-law Lila had crafted for my mother many years ago. The bears stayed on a guestroom bed. Lila made them from quilts my mother’s mother had quilted. I never met my maternal grandmother. She died at age 58 before I was born. The bold colors she chose had survived decades of use, but the quilts themselves had almost disintegrated. Mother recalls that her mother made the quilts from scraps left over from sewing clothes for Mother and her four sisters.

“We bought material for making dresses, skirts and pants to wear in the field,” she said. “Sometimes we used material from fertilizer sacks. Fertilizer came in sacks made out of pretty cotton prints. We also got flour in 100 pound sacks, but those were plain white, and we never used those for anything but making dish towels.”

I am happy that Lila could salvage this tangible little bit of family history. In the photo my mother’s bears are in the center and on the right. For the photo above, I added two bears of my own that Lila made about the same time she made Mother’s bears. Raw material for the dark one on the left was a quilt my late father-in-law received during World War II. He was from Chicago, and women from Midwestern states had made quilts to give to young men entering military service.

Perhaps these bears will be a gateway for regaling my grandchildren with stories of my forebears (arghhh! pun intended). My immediate discovery for the day, however, was that a stuffed bear can be an effective mood-altering substance. My 15 minutes ended with a smile.


  1. this post could sound a bit like my life a few (well actually more than a few) years ago. Within a few years of eachother both sets of parents were gone and my husband and I were privy to the job of going through remnants of their lives. What a job going down memory lane. We actually learned much about our family histories and also what we wantedto do differently. We have tried to mark and catorgorize many things so our kids won't just toss out things they feel are unknown.
    We have quilts from mother in law that have bits and pieces of hubby's years at home. They are falling apart but I wouldn't trade them for anything.
    Thanks for the thought provoking post and for visiting my blog. Your comments are really appreciated.

  2. Thanks, Sue. And you are so right about wanting to make sure that our offspring know what things are important to family history. Hopefully I can overcome my tendency to procrastinate!

  3. What a great idea - the quilt bears! And what stories go with them. You might want to sew a tag on the bottom of each bear with just a snippet of memories, so that a few generations down the road, no one has to guess their importance.

  4. Thanks for the tag suggestion. I am taking that advice!