My Great Grandma, The Artist

Although, she would probably beg to differ

Great grandma made me a quilt. A big quilt, so soft and warm and with so much detail I thought it must have taken her a million years to make. She took little scraps of fabric from clothes and other textile odds and ends that over the years had become very tired and very worn, just like her. She cut the pieces into small shapes, placed them into patterns of fine detail, making those rags somehow come alive once again. She would quilt mostly at night, when she couldn’t sleep. Her fingers were calloused from all the sewing, blisters turned into rough spots on her wrinkled hands, but she went on about her business until one night mama said well ain’t that just the most lovely thing we ever seen and we all shook our heads in agreement and great grandma decided my patchwork was finally done.

Great grandma loved to quilt. And crochet, too. She’d take her yarn in the wooden sticks with the crooked point and make them go crisscross in the shape of the letter X as she swayed back and forth in her rocking chair. She would make scarves, and little hats to keep baby's heads warm, and sweaters for cold winter days. She would sit by the window and tell us stories of when she was young in these hills, while the harvest moon shinned through like a big spotlight on her work. I thought crocheting was boring but I liked to take those sticks she would use and bang them on pots and pans to make music like I saw on T.V. Mama didn’t like that and would yell now you stop making so much racket right this instant — you’re gonna disturb the dead. So I would bang louder to try and see if the dead really would be disturbed and maybe come alive. They never did.

Sometimes great grandma would do her needle work. That’s when she’d pull the thread through the white handkerchiefs she’d buy when we’d go into town. When she was done with all that thread pulling, little pictures would appear. Sometimes she made pictures of red cardinals that looked so bright and so real I thought they might fly off the hankie and around our house. Sometimes she would make pictures of flowers, trillium and wild violets and bluets which weren’t blue at all — they were purple.

One time a neighbor at the end of the holler called great grandma an artist. She had made them gifts after the birth of their first child — needlework that had little pictures of a dog and the ABC’s, with the child’s name written across it; a small quilted blanket, with bright multi-shape patterns; and a tiny blue crocheted hat, to keep the baby’s little head warm. The neighbors took one look at the gifts great grandma gave and smiled and said well fancy that Miss Mary you sure are quite the artist.

Great grandma would have nothing of it. In her thick mountain accent she would go on and on about how artists have important names like Picasso or Rembrandt or da Vinci. None of them ever been named Mary, she’d say. And besides — her mouth would pucker as she drew extra attention to the point she was about to make — them artists always go to them fancy schools. Ain’t no fancy schools for artists ‘round these parts.

Great grandma was right. There was no fancy art schools around these parts. Just great grandmas and grandmas and mothers and daughters — and maybe fathers and sons too — sitting around making needlework and crocheted toboggans and warm quilts for newborn mountain babies on nights when they can’t sleep.