The quilts are very alive

My grandmother lived through the Great Depression. We loved hearing her remember the hard times, but always surrounded with reverence in the love that her father gave to his 5 children. My great-grandfather lost his wife (my great-grandmother) two weeks after the birth of his youngest son due to scarlet fever. The great-grandfather was left with 5 children to raise with ages ranging from 2 weeks to 7 years. My grandmother was the second oldest and the only daughter. I can still hear her tell us how they were quarantined at the time of their mother’s funeral due to scarlet fever at their home and watched from their living room window as their mother’s coffin passed in the funeral procession on the way to the cemetery.

My great-grandfather never remarried. My grandmother, who was the only daughter, did much of the housework. If children ever dared to complain about school, she gently reminded us how lucky they were to go to school. She cried when, when she was a sophomore in high school, her father needed her at home and she could no longer attend school.

Times were tough during the Great Depression, so skimping, saving, and repurposing as much as possible was a way of life. Today, people still love to save money and reduce waste through clever DIY projects, but in those days “do it yourself” was not a trend; it was a necessity.

In those tough times, if women wanted to support their families, they had to be creative, especially when it came to clothing.

During the 1930s, flour sacks featured colorful patterns for women to make dresses. Innovative and desperate, the women often emptied the sacks and used the fabric to make clothes. When flour makers saw women turn their flour sacks into clothes, diapers, dish towels, and more, they began packing their flour in pretty patterns. And they weren’t just kids. The women also made dresses with the bags. Whether in the kitchen or helping my grandfather outside, my grandmother wore these dresses that she sewed from food sacks!

When the clothes finally wore out, after going from older brother to younger brother, my grandmother cut out the recoverable pieces and turned them into quilts. There are stories and memories in every square. My mother can still look at some of the quilt pieces and see her mother in that particular dress or recognize pieces on the quilts of the clothes she wore as a child.

There are many ways to keep ancestors alive. Pictures speak volumes, stories, especially when recorded with the voice of an ancestor, are treasures, videos are priceless and in many other ways. However, the one that speaks to me every night is the quilt that covers my bed with warmth and memories in each lovingly stitched square. Great-grandchildren are told incredible bedtime stories as they too snuggle up at their great-grandmother’s play.

My grandmother passed away in 2012, appropriately on the first day of spring. It was a beautiful bright day in Ghent Minnesota as we gathered around his grave. The view at the funeral home was adorned with Grandma’s handmade jars of canned fruits and vegetables on a table covered with one of her prized quilts. A tribute to his life of giving and sharing.

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