Swinger Cousins Memoirs
One woman’s journey
Quote: Ruth—Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die
There I will be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me
And more as well
If even death parts me from you!”’
(Read Ruth 1:1-22)
I met Edna when I was seventeen years old and the first thing I did was break one of her monogram etched crystal glasses. Earl, her son and my boyfriend, had made dinner for me in the wonderful old family farmhouse that had housed three generations of Swingers. I was washing the dishes when the water faucet surged and knocked the glass out of my hand. I was mortified. When Edna and Welza came home and I was introduced to them, I had to tell her about the broken crystal glass. Welza blamed it on the water pressure and Edna said, “Things are to be used and if they get broken, so what.”
That pragmatic and forgiving attitude set the stage for a 43+-year relationship, one that has endured longer than the relationship with my own mother; a relationship that has seen enormous changes that neither of us could ever have anticipated.
Although I never considered Edna to be my mother and did not want to call her “Mother Swinger” as she requested, I do recognize that she served as my surrogate mother and still does to this day. In many ways Edna taught me things that my mother did not, due to a variety of reasons.
Edna taught me to rear children. She taught me how to give my baby her first bath, wash her diapers, dress her, rock her, talk to her, and feed her. After all I was just a kid myself and Edna was very patient about teaching me these tasks. She taught me that iced tea will make your milk flow (after the fact) and that holding your baby tightly comforts them. Throughout the years Edna’s example of caring for the family and being sensible about taking things in stride helped me to be a better mother. Edna recognized the toll that rearing children takes on a mother and was always willing to help out.
She taught me how to expand my cooking and include foods that were not all fried. I tried to teach her to clean up as she went along and keep cabinet doors closed, but I failed miserably. I learned how to make noodles from scratch, bake bread, and make piecrust prettier than Edna’s because she did not have the patience to make a pretty crust. Edna introduced me to green vegetables that were not cooked to death like green beans and steamed asparagus, broccoli with a nice cheese sauce. Welzie taught me to pick wild asparagus and every April we had great fun hunting for asparagus. I learned to freeze sweet corn that is still the best you’ve ever eaten, can enough tomatoes and green beans to last a year, put up peaches and strawberries, and make pickles. I still call Edna occasionally to ask for a recipe or remind me how to make something.
Edna was not a perfectionist and believed that no one is going to be remembered because they kept the house dusted all the time or leaves their bed unmade occasionally. She believed spending time with your children was more important than cleaning all day. However, teaching your children to clean was a good way to kill two birds with one stone. I liked that attitude.
Edna taught me to communicate with my children. She set the example by writing to us every week when Earl and I were first married and living in St. Louis. One letter that is memorable was the one where she stated “You are very brave to go to the doctor by yourself”. Going from being a high school graduate one day searching to figure out what I would do with my life to being pregnant and married the next, living in St. Louis away from my parents, and adjusting to a life of unknowns ahead, these letters represented a lifeline for me.
Edna instilled a sense of family allegiance. Edna loved Welzie, her parents, her siblings, her children and grandchildren, first and foremost. However, she kept in touch with her great aunts, distant cousins, nieces and nephews, and Welzie’s large, extended family as well as her close friend Frances Reeder and her family. To this day, she is closely tied to every family member that is still living and to the Reeder children. I credit Edna with teaching me the importance of family and the reason that I am committed to speaking with and seeing my daughters almost every day no matter how scattered we’ve become geographically.
Next to her family, Edna loves her church. I fell in love with Broadwater Church of the Brethren the first time Earl took me there. Coming from a Southern Baptist background, I embraced this group of believers who were progressive thinkers, less ‘hellfire and brimstone’ and more lovingly accepting of all people. Edna and Welzie were strong supporters of the church and were leaders and used their talent for singing regularly. Ramie Gass was their pastor who came once a month to minister to this small group of believers. He was a godly man and loved by all.
It was with great sadness that Earl and I sat with Edna and Welzie and Hubert Swinger one night and had to wait for the traveling pastor and his wife to arrive at the farmhouse where they were staying for this visit to inform them that their only daughter and unborn child had been hit and killed by a train. I was struck with horror by the vacuum of time that Brother Ramie and Jewel were unknowingly driving through the night in total innocence while we knew something that would shatter their lives. I dreaded the moment that incomprehensible truth would be told to this kind family. I saw, firsthand, the devotion, reverence, and faith in God’s all encompassing love and strength that Edna, Welzie, and Hubert had for this family as they had to deliver the worst news anyone could ever receive. That unconditional love and faith in God was a characteristic that Edna and Welzie both exhibited.
It is clear that Welzie was the love of Edna’s life and still is to this day. Welzie was a warm and loving individual who had the ability to temper Edna’s forceful personality that could sometimes be characterized by bossiness and an abruptness that belied Edna’s good heart. Welzie recognized that Edna’s intentions were always pure but her ‘no nonsense’, ‘take charge’ demeanor did not always convey the warmth and caring that Welzie’s personality did. Welzie had the patience of Job and was slow to move and act; characteristics that Edna admired but had little tolerance for herself.
Welzie was very special to me. He embraced me into the family with little fanfare and was always kind and encouraging. He took me to get my driver’s license and I got so nervous that I had to ask him to find a gas station so I could go to the bathroom. Finally sensing my distress, he stopped the car and told me to go over behind the trees and then said “Wait, here is some toilet paper that I always carry for just such emergencies”. When I got to the driver’s license office and went into the air-conditioned room, I calmed down and passed my test. On the way home Welzie said, “Do not be embarrassed about what happened, no one ever has to know if you do not want anyone to.” Of course, I eventually told the story and we all got a good laugh.
Welzie and I used to go to auctions and he helped me buy an old bedroom set for Lee Anne. We dragged that bedroom set home and I painted it “pepto bismol” pink which I thought was just beautiful at the time. Welzie loved what I had done to our treasure and Lee Anne still has that set although she stripped off the lovely pink paint and restored it to its natural wood.
Sometimes we would go to the cattle auctions and we would sit for hours watching the livestock. Welzie enjoyed his cattle and could spend hours watching them at home in the barnyard. Welzie loved to shop for bargains and we would drive to Sikeston, Malden, Poplar Bluff, and Kennett just to save a dime.
January 14, 1969 was Lee Anne’s third birthday that we had all celebrated on the Sunday prior and Welzie enjoyed the party thoroughly since he loved that little girl deeply. I will never forget the frantic phone call that Earl and I got from Edna telling us to call an ambulance and come over to the farmhouse. We did not know if it was Welzie or Grandma Saltzman who was staying with them that week who needed the ambulance but we called for help and raced over. I stood with Edna as she watched out the front door window at the ambulance taking Welzie away and I know it was the saddest day of her life. I will never forget that night or what she said, “What will I ever do without him”?
My Mom and Dad took care of Lee Anne during the days we had Welzie’s wake and funeral. Little did I know that later that same year I would lose my mother too. 1969 was a tough year for us but we hung together and made it. Edna would be with me through many tragedies over the years. I lost my father and my sister, we lost Grandma Saltzman and Edna and I sat with Granddad Swinger so he would not be alone when he passed. I will never forget that experience because Granddad had gotten very cantankerous and was not always nice to Edna in the latter years. Regardless, Edna’s philosophy was ‘You do not go wrong by doing the right thing’ or ‘two wrongs do not make a right’. Her strength and steadfastness has been an inspiration to me.
Although Edna was not an emotional woman, she was empathetic and she and I cried over a new refrigerator that Earl had flung out of the back of the pickup truck on the way home from the dealer. It was my first new refrigerator and only Edna understood the significance since we had both had our share of hand-me-downs and second hand family furniture. In her usual sensible manner she said, “Just go out and buy a new one.” Of course, we did not because the refrigerator still worked but I had to live with that long scratch down the front for years.
I had the privilege of knowing Grandma Saltzman who was a wonderful, sweet, woman who had raised a daughter that was the antithesis of her. Grandma Saltzman used to tell me stories about how strong willed Edna was, even as a child. She said Edna used to do things like climb up in the coal bin and hide to get out of work and that Edna would rather work outside with her dad than do housework. Grandma Saltzman was a remarkable woman herself, always optimistic and warm. She used to ride the Greyhound bus to Michigan and Columbia, MO to visit family and friends regularly. She used to cook lunch for me and we would sit and chat for hours. Grandma Saltzman and Edna taught me to quilt. It did not take very well because I was too young and impatient but years later I have developed a love for quilting and remember to use a short needle and take small, even stitches as I was taught. As I work with my art I think of these two wonderful women and the impact they had on my life.
I give Edna credit for helping us bring up Lee Anne and Heidi, getting them through the teen years, through college with both getting their degrees, both into successful careers, Heidi married and with two children herself that Edna is now contributing to their nurturing. Lee Anne and Heidi are extraordinary women and I believe that is due, in part, to Edna being an amazing and remarkable woman who set the standard for us all.
By Sue Swinger-Ellbogen
Five Miles South of Essex
Dedicated to Edna Swinger, my mother-in-law, my mentor, and my friend who has richly provided me with years of storytelling
Edna dashes from the boxy, two-story white frame house five miles south of Essex that has been in the family for three generations. With her housecoat flapping in the wind she lets the screen door slam shut behind her. She walks purposefully towards the barn, head down and bracing each step to keep standing upright as she walks into the windstorm. Passing through the side yard she eyes the clothes billowing straight from the clothesline getting dirty from all the dust and debris being tossed about but ignores them as she trudges forward. It crosses her mind that her peculiar art form of pinning each garment separately, perfectly even, and in groups of like clothing just as her mother-in-law taught her is all for naught. The laundry will have to be done over tomorrow even though Wednesday is not wash day. Bee lining across the driveway to the fence that circles the barnyard she takes a minute to make sure the trough is full of water then bypasses the gate and follows the fence to the barn. Looking upward she holds her hand across her forehead and squints to examine the sky watching the black clouds rolling furiously like water boiling in a pot.
She worries about her husband who is in the back forty plowing corn. It is going to be difficult for him to get to the cellar before the storm hits. She reaches the front of the old rundown barn and struggles to slide the warped cyprus door open. Shoulder against the side of the door, mouth twisted into a grimace Edna struggles to move the door an inch wrenching a muscle that she knows will be screaming at her in the morning. The ripened old door is swollen tight in the framework and will not budge. As strong as any field hand Edna has to concede that she cannot open the stubborn door. The sounds of the nervous whinny of the horse and the bawling of the calves come through the walls. Impatient to get inside the barn and loose the animals so they will not be trapped Edna wrings her hands as she assesses the situation.
Edna and her husband Welzie experience this kind of weather almost every spring living on a farm in the Midwest. The erratic storms usually pass them by with minimal damage but not always. One year, in the middle of the night, a killer tornado came through and took out the barn that stood between the house and the existing barn. Peering out the window Welzie thinks he can see a light which he knows is on the second barn that is usually hidden by the bigger barn in between. At the first light of day the family hurries outside. Sure enough the huge barn and all the livestock are gone with the remains looking like piles of giant matchsticks scattered haphazardly.
Neighbors come from miles around to see the damage and exclaim about how lucky Edna and Welzie are that the tornado was kind enough to go between the family farm house and the second barn touching nothing except the great barn in the middle.
Hugging the walls of the barn with her graying hair slapping her face so hard it feels like little razors she edges her way along the side to an empty corn crib where she remembers seeing a loose plank that she had nagged Welzie to repair. If he has procrastinated, as is his usual habit, the plank should still be dangling. This one time he will relish being right not to rush out and fix things when Edna gets bossy with him. Drawing her thoughts back to the task at hand she figures she might be able to slip through if she can just find something to pry the other end of the board loose. Her gaze lands on a metal rod that has been tossed in a pile under a giant red oak tree beside the barn along with other rusting tractor parts, dirty oil cans, and pieces of discarded equipment. Grasping the rod with one hand and yanking it free from the pile of rubbish she knows this is another task left undone by Welzie—but no matter. Edna sets out to locate the errant board. Holding her flying hair back from her face she turns to the wall of the musty, dank corn crib.
Edna works the rod like a crowbar and keeps jabbing at the plank and knocks the nail loose enough to twist the board to one side and provide an opening. She uses the rod to prop the board open while she ducks her head, turns sideways, and squeezes through to the inside of the barn. Her newly injured shoulder spasms and makes Edna cry out in pain. Simultaneously a clap of thunder causes her to jump back against the wall and scrape her arm on the edge of a nail that is exposed. The pain is slight compared to her shoulder but the nail draws a trickle of blood. She wipes at the blood impatiently as she peers back out at the threatening sky. The feel of the atmosphere and yellow haze of the sky beyond the black clouds indicate that conditions are right for a tornado. She must get the animals freed and find her own way to the root cellar.
Unbidden thoughts at the back of Edna’s mind keep surfacing as she works. They are silly thoughts of her husband—hoping that he will drive up to the homestead on the tractor so they can go to the cellar together. Selfish thoughts really that Edna shrugs off. Lifting the heavy door straight up from the cellar opening as the wind tries to keep it closed is part of the concern, but not all. Being alone underground in the damp, chilly cellar with the mice and spiders that make their home there is what is really on Edna’s mind. Even though there are candles and matches in a mason jar she has placed there for just such an emergency, she will still have to feel around in the dark to find them. She shudders at the thought.
It is clear that Welzie is the love of Edna’s life. Welzie is a warm and loving individual who has the ability to temper Edna’s forceful personality that can sometimes be characterized by bossiness and an abruptness that belies Edna’s good heart. Welzie recognizes that Edna’s intentions are always pure but her ‘no nonsense and take charge’ demeanor does not always convey the warmth and caring that Welzie’s personality does. Welzie has the patience of Job and is slow to move and act; characteristics that Edna admires but has little tolerance for herself.
Her eyes adjust to the dim, filtered light in the familiar old barn. She opens the stalls and moves aside to let the horse and the cows go about freely. The Jersey milk cow serenely chews on the hay strewed in the corridor between the milk stalls and the corn cribs. Both the Jersey calf and the orphaned Hereford calf that Edna rescued from a young heifer who would not nurse her baby refuse to be comforted. Together they stand close to the Jersey who has adopted the Hereford calf and each bawls relentlessly. The tall, black and white American Saddle horse named Tony is skittish and paws the dirt floor and tosses his head up and down uneasily. Tony is cantankerous in the best of conditions and will not hesitate to take a bite out of an unsuspecting victim if they stand too close to his food. The chickens are quiet as they roost in the barn loft with their baby chicks under their wings to wait out the storm. There is an occasional clucking sound coming from upstairs. The brave rooster is no where to be found.
Abruptly everything goes silent; Edna jerks her head up as she feels the pressure in the barn increase. The animals become uncharacteristically quiet and she knows the storm is about to hit; there will be no time to go to the root cellar. She takes a quick look around the roomy old barn trying to decide where the safest haven will be.
Slowly moving back towards the biggest corn crib at the southwest corner of the barn she coaxes the horse to follow her by holding out an apple she had tucked in her housecoat pocket. She croons out to the milk cow, “Here Jerse, here, follow me.” Slowing turning her head, the old-timer casts soulful eyes after the woman she knows so well. This woman has helped deliver her babies and religiously milks her twice a day to relieve the pain of a swollen udder. The Jersey gracefully turns and follows her to the back of the barn with both her calf and the orphan following.
The quiet ceases abruptly as the horrific sound like that of a freight train rushes at them. Edna hangs on to the neck of the Jersey and keeps patting the horse talking quietly as boards start ripping off the outside of the barn. The old cyprus barn has stood for 70 years and is prepared to creak and groan, expand and tighten with the storm. The structure is sound with only the loosest boards taking to the air. Straw is sucked out of the barn loft; the chickens are squawking loudly as the tornado tugs at their nests. Some of the little chicks are drawn free and succumb to the fierce pull of the twister and go flying out the square opening of the barn loft. Edna sadly wishes she had thought to climb up and draw the door down over the opening.
Suddenly she hears a hammering sound coming from above. Cocking her head to one side and glancing upward she is trying to figure out what is making the sound and realizes hail is pounding furiously on the tin roof. She sighs knowing her well tended garden will be beat down and the vines stripped clean. All those weeks of back-breaking work tilling the soil, setting out plants and planting seedlings are wasted. Tomato plants alone had to be covered with plastic jugs at the end of each day to keep from getting too cold during the night then off again in the morning so the sun would not cook them. It is early enough to plant more pole beans and greens and still expect to get a good crop in before the end of summer but the corn, tomatoes and lettuce will be gone. She hopes Welzie has been able to take cover.
Edna strains to see her watch wanting to note the time knowing the storm will not linger long but will pick up and move on down the road to find more property to ravage. With the predictable path that tornadoes take the Fraileys and the Myers could be in danger as well as the Broadwater Church of the Brethren. It is not likely she can get to the house in time to call and warn the neighbors. She does not worry about the church; no one should be there in the middle of the week.
Oddly Edna thinks about the wonderful blackberry patch near the woods behind the church. The blackberry vines have never been trimmed back and are difficult to get close enough to pick a small pail of berries for a cobbler, but Edna manages. There is a glut of wild asparagus around the church that no one cuts so Welzie takes the liberty of harvesting them every April. Edna prays the church will not be damaged; the small congregation can ill afford to put on a new roof or repair the siding.
The animals start to settle down as the banging on the roof changes to the recognizable sound of raindrops. The creaks in the old barn are familiar to the animals as the wide cyprus planks relax and breathe as usual. She stays with the animals until the rain lets up and then slips back out the same opening to see her husband pulling into the yard on his tractor. Edna bustles across the yard with a slight hitch to her determined stride as each step jostles her hurt shoulder. She and Welzie give a brief nod to each other as if to say, ‘I’m glad you’re okay’ before they start to survey the damage and get their life back in order.
By Sue Swinger-Ellbogen
A Job Well Done
A toast to a important woman in my life
Can you imagine a young girl born in 1913 before electricity or indoor plumbing was commonly used in her part of the country?
Can you imagine this same young girl riding in a horse-drawn buggy to church every Sunday?
Can you imagine this young girl having to board with someone in a neighboring town so she could attend high school?
Can you imagine her selling eggs to a local grocer and rolling the eggs from her basket to the produce counter without breaking an egg?
Can you imagine this young woman leaving her home in rural Missouri to travel upstate to take a job as a governess for a small child?
Can you imagine this young woman going back to the farm to marry her high school sweetheart on her twenty-third birthday on May 23, 1936?
Can you imagine her life on the farm for the next thirty-three years; working hard in the garden and helping in the fields, singing at church, playing the piano, quilting, rearing three children, and being a pillar of the community?
Can you imagine her sadness when she suddenly lost her beloved husband after thirty-three years?
Can you imagine this woman going on to be productive and supportive of her grandchildren and great grandchildren, active in her church and quilting club for forty-two more years before going to her Maker at the age of 98?
I can imagine that God welcomed Edna Louise Saltzman Swinger into his arms at 9:30 am on October 16, 2011 by saying “a job well done”.
by Sue Swinger-Ellbogen
My Black Heart
I flung the last quilt block aside, somewhat irrationally irritated at the innocent piece of fabric. It was a scorching day and I rubbed my neck gingerly as it was nettled with prickly heat rash. October in southeast Missouri is a beastly time of the year with autumn so near yet cool weather still weeks away. I peered out the window at the leaves on the two huge pin oaks in the front yard and the sugar maple whose leaves were starting to change colors ever so slightly; you could smell fall in the air. It was still hotter than blue blazes. The air conditioner labored to pull the humidity out of the room but did little else to cool the temperature.
Laying out the quilt blocks on the tall, antique oak bed with the fluffy feather duvet I shifted the blocks continuously until my eye was satisfied with the design. The finished quilt blocks never look quite like one imagines they will—I know that. At least not at first; months later they will look much better. I’ve learned that putting the blocks or a finished top aside for a while makes a big difference. The work at hand just never looks as perfect as envisioned but getting away from it for a while seems to season or complete and transform the work into art and make it amazingly creative. I hope that years from now my quilts will be even more beautiful. I never fancied myself as being very good at anything artistic but it feels very satisfying to make something with my hands and produce something so visually pleasing.
A quilter’s heart is never content; the goal is to finish one project so you can start another one. The joy of designing, selecting and matching fabric blends, piecing the top, and assembling the final creation is like having a ten course meal. It looks delightful all out on the table and tastes so wonderful when you start, but by the time you get to dessert it can be a chore to finish those last delicious bites.
My name is Kathryn Mays and I am fifty-six years old. I caught myself sighing as I exhaled deeply and pull myself up short to ponder why the melancholy mood. Approaching a new decade, ruefully referred to as another chapter in my life, always brings about a period of introspection and general musing. I have learned not to regret what did not happen, having wasted a good two years at the beginning of my fifth decade on that topic, instead I try to focus on what could happen next. My mother and father and older sister all died young so I have not had a role model for maneuvering through these unknown waters. I just have to muddle through on my own.
Nevertheless, I shake off the mood and remind myself that sighing is a sign of acting old whether you are old or not. I am making it just fine and with just a few battle scars have gained much wisdom that I hope to pass on to my daughters. It’s funny how often those old adages that I remember my mother saying, things like ‘you have to take the bitter with the sweet’ or ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, sayings that irritated me when my mother said them, are emanating out of my mouth; I have to chuckle when I think how like my mother I have become.
I got inspired to try my hand at quilting when my youngest daughter who had been married for four years revealed that she and her husband were going to have a baby, my first grandchild. Like most first-time grandparents my husband and I thought we were the only ones to ever have something this special happen to them. We were literally over the moon as we shopped and planned for all the things we knew our baby just had to have.
Although it had been years since I had done any handwork I just had to make something unique for our new baby. It would be fair to say that I got into a frenzy designing and creating special works of art for this exciting event. I started with a cross stitched shawl that included precious Beatrix Potter animals. The classic Peter Rabbit along with Benjamin Bunny who has a big, floppy hat making him look like a girl bunny; Hunca Munca, the sweet mama mouse; Jemima Puddleduck, a big goose with a bonnet and shawl; Miss Moppet, who I imagine is the mother of the three little kittens who lost their mittens; and Tom Kitten, a stately tom cat, all adorned the soft, loosely woven shawl. The animals are all stitched in bright, primary colors. Once named, the baby’s initials will be stitched in the corner in pink since the kids already know they’re having a girl.
My second project was a crib quilt with Mother Goose characters all embroidered in pastel colors. The center of the quilt featured a big Mother Goose in a pink pinafore with blue sleeves and a yellow hat sitting in the middle of a basket that has a red bow on the handle. Her wings are snow white with grey edging. She is holding a teddy bear and has a mouse peeking out of her pocket. Around the quilt is Mary and her lamb, the plate that ran away with the spoon, the laughing dog, the cow that jumped over the moon, the cat and the fiddle, hickory dickory dock clock, Humpty Dumpty, and the three men in the tub.
As I worked I started thinking about other quilts—the ones that Gram made by hand—and how no one else in the family does quilting except the two of us. Gram is my daughters’ grandmother on their father’s side and she is eighty-eight years old. That is when I had the idea to make a quilt top by myself and asked Gram to help me hand-quilt it. This way I would be carrying on a tradition as well as making a nice baby quilt that would be from a Nonna (as I am to be called) and a great-grandma.
It has been many years since I had pieced a quilt and I never was very good at it. As a young woman, I was only mildly interested in learning to quilt or piece a top, really just passing the time when I was pregnant with my first daughter. So I never really developed any expertise but quilting is one of those things like riding a bicycle that you never forget once you’ve done it. You pick it back up and quickly return to your previous skill level—for me that wasn’t saying much.
However, I had about seven months to get the quilt finished and I needed something to get my mind and hands busy as I worried about my own baby having a baby. I decided to make a crazy quilt with pastel colors and randomly shaped pieces making up the blocks. A crazy quilt has various kinds of fabrics with lace and embroidered work embellishing the blocks. Oddly enough this Victorian style of quilting appealed to me as being unusual and different from the traditional quilts Gram made like log cabin, flower garden, or flying geese patterns. I searched for just the right fabrics and colors and took great pains to cut out the patchwork pieces. I learned quickly that I needed to slow down and measure carefully and cut the fabric accurately. Otherwise even a crazy quilt will look lopsided and sloppy.
As I struggled to cut straight lines and make tiny stitches I pondered about the new baby. What will she look like—will she have her father’s personality or her mom’s? Will she be like her Aunt Lee Anne, who was shy as a little girl often hiding behind my legs when someone new came near. Or will she be like her mama who is the baby of the family and very gregarious. I pray she will be healthy.
I bought quilting books that specialized in crazy quilts and read them from cover to cover. I thrilled to learn new embroidery stitches and techniques with ribbon, buttons, and bows and passed away time in the evenings after work and on the weekends stitching and sewing feverishly keeping my hands and mind busy.
Gram had to help me line up the top, batting, and backing and baste together. She jumped the gun and hand-quilted it without giving me time to work on it with her. I rationalized that it did not matter, I had hand-pieced the top so the work was a joint effort. I was excited about the project and thrilled with the outcome.
Living in a small community with many friends and a large, extended family, my daughter, Heidi, had several showers and received many wonderful gifts in anticipation of the new baby. The quilt and the shawl were big hits at one of the baby showers although I was a little disappointed that several other family members (his family) and friends had made baby quilts too. It took a little shine off my personal endeavors; I thought mine would be the only hand-made quilt. Even my daughter’s stepmother made a quilt; I have to admit it was lovely. It was embarrassing for me to think that I was so petty as to need that much attention.
It was that revelation, being so prideful about my baby gift and not wanting to share the limelight with others, that I am reminded that pride has always been my downfall. I was raised to believe that too much pride is a sin and that people should do things out of the goodness of their heart.
I must have a black heart because I always feel proud of everything I do. Someone told me once that that if you feel pride over some good deed then you are getting the glory, not God. Being raised Southern Baptist I had a good grasp of the basic tenets in the Bible. Listening to enough ‘hellfire and brimstone’ preachers and ‘some glad day’ gospel singers leaves an indelible imprint. Especially if you have been sitting on those hard benches from the time you are old enough to sit alone and play in your mama’s pocketbook. My little sister Brenda and I sat in a church pew all the way through the fidgety years where you like to lean over and hang your head down between your legs and look under the bench at other people’s legs to pass the time. It does not stop there.
You are on those benches Sunday morning for worship, Sunday night for BTU (Baptist Training Union) and Wednesday night for Bible Study. After the fidgety years, you start to really hear the preacher and the singers and want to be a missionary like Lottie Moon. This is when you start to have nightmares about the state of your soul so you sit in the front to make sure you grasp everything and pray that God knows how hard you are trying.
Later sitting in the back row during the teen years where you try hard to look bored and pass notes to your friends, you are still getting the message and mulling over the state of your soul and how you reconcile your thoughts and feelings with the Sunday School teachers’ lessons. There are some things that can never be taken from you no matter how far you stray. You know right from wrong (based on the Southern Baptist teachings) so there is no excuse for being slothful, adulterous, lascivious, disrespectful, gluttonous, or prideful. So I had come to the conclusion that if I am to do anything good in this life that will be rewarded when I get to heaven, then it is best if I do things unknowingly in order to prevent myself from getting too prideful.
That’s why making these quilts appealed to me. It gave me time to reminisce about my childhood. Those days did not seem like the ‘good old days’ as some say. My family was poor; my daddy was an sharecropper and my mama was a bookkeeper in town. My parents did not have a high school education so their determination that their children should do better was admirable. They did not have any idea about how to rear children and build self-esteem and confidence. They just worked to get through the day and put food on the table. Suppers that consisted of a lot of beans; white, navy, pinto, and brown with potatoes; fried, stewed, or mashed. There was some kind of meat, usually fried chicken, on Sunday only. Basic needs taken care of, my parents wanted their kids to have a high school education and love the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s about as far as they could see when it came to parenting.
I think about it with years of experience behind me, having reared my own children, and now awaiting the arrival of a grandchild. My parents are long gone but I am thankful for my upbringing. I wish my parents were around so I could let them know how much I appreciate them now that I had grown up enough to understand the sacrifices they made for each one of the children. Honoring your mother and father went out the window as I stepped out into the world and felt too sophisticated to hang on to some old-time beliefs.
One thing about a good, old-fashioned Southern Baptist upbringing is that it does not go away but hides in your heart until you get through thinking you know it all. Cutting and sewing and snipping threads and embroidering ribbon flowers, butterflies, bees, and bugs reminded me that my life has been like this very crazy quilt. All kinds of pieces and shapes are going in many directions with a multitude of threads in all colors and designs with the display ending up, to this point, as a beautiful depiction of my life.
At many places along the way I would not have thought my life was so beautiful but time and age makes me look at things differently. My faith seems to rise back up from some deep place within me as I think about the upcoming birth of our grandchild; I whisper a little prayer for the baby that ends up with this quilt that her life will be not only healthy and productive, but beautiful and honorable.
My hope is that these pieces of fabric and designs will serve as an art form to give someone visual delight as they study the intricacies of the colors, fabrics, and embellishments. I find myself humming some of those old gospel songs like ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and ‘Just As I Am’. I pray that the quilt will bring comfort and joy to someone who gets nostalgic over old-fashioned things or has fond memories of someone in their past.
Meditating, humming, and praying feels good and seems to nourish my soul so I find myself discovering things to pray about and people to pray for. People I do not know and likely will never know. Praying that the quilt will provide consolation for a young mom with a crying baby and strength for a daddy who is walking the floor trying to soothe his little one or that a sick person or elder will feel warmth and love emanating from the little lap quilt. I pray that the quilt with bring tranquility to a troubled home.
Prayers flow for whatever pops into my mind no matter how ridiculous or silly the thought seems as the needle steadily punches up and down through the fabric and the layers of batting. Recognizing that I will not know where my quilts end up or what needs, hopes, or desires will be out there long after I am dead and gone, I will never know if my prayers are answered or not. It seems like a good thing to do and something that I can do selflessly and expect nothing in return. Pride still lingers and rears its ugly head. I suppose this will be a lifelong challenge.
Created 2001 before Alison Duckworth’s birth
By Sue Swinger-Ellbogen
December was a somewhat quiet month in 2014 in the middle of a four month downward spiral for Lee Anne.
Having her Aunt Ann visit for a week was a highlight for both Lee Anne and Aunt Ann and those fond memories resonate forever.
One weekend when Heidi’s family came to Chicago Alison, Dodge and Lee Anne never got out of their pajamas but stayed in bed all weekend watching movies creating a memorable weekend.
We went to a holiday party at Mike and Cheryl’s with Ralph and Leslie to bring in Christmas cheer with our dear friends remembering the wonderful weekends and New Years Eves spent at their lake homes in Michigan.
Lee Anne and I were able to spend one last weekend at the Hoadley’s lake house in Michigan before they sold it after 15 years.
Lola, Lee Anne and I drove to St. Louis to spend the night with Lydia and Chris and had a delightful dinner with them.
While in Missouri we had lunch with a dear, lifelong friend, Diane Mitchell.
The next morning we had brunch with Lydia, Chris, Todd, Nathan, Guy and Reggie, dear friends of Lee Anne and Ellen.
Lee Anne reconnected with a childhood friend, Lisa Crites, who was so helpful to us during the entire year being a breast cancer survivor herself.
Lee Anne’s cousin Carl came to the hospital (and did not pass out) to see her and started the Swinger Strong pink band campaign.
Suzan and TJ surprised us every week or two with suggestions for improving quality of life and keeping our hopes strong.
Kathy sent essential oils that Lee Anne enjoyed.
We placed the beautiful Tree of Life ornament from Terri Lynn on the dresser for Lee Anne to see when she opened her eyes each morning.
We kept Pam’s pink ribbon candle aglow.
The ruby red slippers from the Brody’s were a delightful hit.
Cards and letters and endless bouquets of flowers from colleagues and friends came almost daily.
Debbie and Heather and Nannette called and dropped by frequently.
Ellen flew in to be with Lee Anne for treatments and it touched me to see her massaging Lee Anne’s feet.
My former colleagues, John and Patricia, called every couple of months to give me encouragement and support.
Rich brought coffee every day and took splendid care of Lola so Lee Anne need never worry about her baby.
Jamie flew in for every main event and stayed with us throughout surgeries and tough times. Lee Anne was comforted knowing that I had Jamie with me during this difficult time.
Debbie and Gary brought sugar cookies and made us feel secure with their close proximity.
Mike flew in from Dallas to have only a short visit with Lee Anne and Heather before Lee Anne’s energy flagged.
Terri Lynn flew in for a surprise visit orchestrated by Debbie Ingram that thoroughly delighted Lee Anne.
Cousin Marlene came for a weekend earlier in the year never realizing it would be her last face-to-face visit.
Her sister Leslie came to be our lifeline, strength, and encouragement during the last two weeks.
Earl and Rose Anne struggled to get to Chicago having their vacation interrupted and spent two months with Lee Anne.
Earl and I worked together clinging to hope during the final weeks of our precious girl’s life.
Everyone said I Love You and meant it.
We were saying goodbye to Lee Anne as kindly as we knew how knowing we would spend the rest of our life wishing we had said more.
None of us would wish her back to live through more suffering and pain but how I wish we could say one more thing.
By Sue Swinger-Ellbogen
February 23, 2015