John’s Aunt passed away last month, at 88 years old. She was a farm wife and mother, a quilter, genealogist, a community figure and keeper of tradition. She and her late husband had a great sense of humor and long lives, well lived.
The meal following her funeral was at her home. It seemed the most fitting place to congregate for food, memories, laughter and love.
It was my first trip to this newer house of hers, built next door to the ‘home place’. It was built with her in mind and wouldn’t have been built with her late husband’s blessing. He would have thought it wasteful and just unnecessary. I could see that it was probably delightful for her. The main floor and garage were her domain; the basement belonged to her farmer son and family to be near ‘just in case’.
Her area had a quilting room full of sunlight and sporting a closet large enough for her abundance of fabric. The room had space for supplies, machines and her quilting frame. It sat with a last, almost finished quilt designated for her farmer son – he would finish it himself. She had another room about the size of a large bath room; I would call her library room. It had shelving of binders and ledgers, a lamp and small desk. It smelled like a library cubby and served her genealogy pursuits. Higher ceilings, a harvest table, quilted projects, scores of family photos all welcomed you as surely as if she was there to do it in person.
As I wondered around visiting her home, I ran across a book in the quilting room. It was one that I had seen or maybe even picked up somewhere and I opened her copy and read a few pages. I was hooked and here’s where my story is headed.
The book is The Farmer’s Wife 1930s Sampler Quilt by Laurie Aaron Hird. The Farmer’s Wife was a magazine began in 1903 featuring a wide array of topics aimed at the American farm wife. Its early publishing rate was 100,000 + copies a month at a subscription rate of 5years for $1.00. It grew to over a million copies a month and eventually was sold to the Farm Journal, still familiar to us today.
I am imagining a hard and sometimes harrowing existence for farm families in the beginning of the 20th century. By the 1930s the depression was upon our land and hard work and perseverance wasn’t always enough to pull through. I’m a reader and a magazine is as good as a book. For wives with limited funds, limited modes of travel, limited social opportunities and endless claims on their ingenuity, supplies, hours-in-the-day and home and farm chores, I bet that magazine was absolutely precious.
This book, The Farmer’s Wife 1930s Sampler Quilt, is a collection of 99 letters from farm wives, published in the magazine under the column ‘Letters From Our Farm Women’. The author chose 99 classic quilt blocks with a woman’s name, or term like ‘Grandmother’, in their title, one to accompany each letter. The blocks were then assembled into a Sampler quilt in their honor. The book includes a CD of the block patterns to copy and build your own similar quilt. I will never know if our Aunt had pieced all the different blocks at one time or another. Maybe she just collected any interesting ‘quilt’ book. She had a treasure trove of finished quilts and pieced tops waiting for quilting, so it is probable she knew most of these classic patterns. Me? I’m no quilter. I might be a piecer. I am thinking about it. I have tied a comforter or two and I am not nearly the perfectionist an expert quilter would be. I saw a couple of ideas in her house that I will try. What I found in her house, in this book, are the letters.
My kind of reading! Real life lines shared with the world, about life on a daily basis during the hardest of times. I first read for curiosity, but after a few letters, I was reading for the striking similarities between the stories of 1930 something and the stories and thoughts of 2019. Oh My!
A lady from Wisconsin saved pennies, nickels and dimes till she could buy another book. She was saving for A Lantern in Her Hand. I’ve known this book intimately since 8th grade; have two copies, one of which is literally worn apart from rereading. Some were young just starting life. Some had never been on a farm, till they wed. Some left home for the city, to learn that they weren’t made for the city and going home really meant ‘coming home’. Some were past 80 years and remembering lovingly how they got that old.
One lady had finally saved enough to get a radio in her home. She felt connected to the big world with access to all she missed. She learned that what she really missed was the connection to her home and community. She was too enthralled to notice the loss of things she had taken for granted. Doesn’t that sound exactly like the internet/facebook today?
There were women who immigrated to become American and cherished all that included. There was loss of a son at age 16 and not knowing how to continue – I know that story.
The women talked of neighbors of generosity, children more important than chores. They talked of men welcomed home at the end of the day, kids who helped willingly, work shared and blessings counted.
Their words offered me comfort and comradeship across the years, continuity and a better outlook on things to come, long after I have lived my due.
If I could offer you, my reader, a nice gift of encouragement and be able to point out the sturdy foundation we have built our own lives upon, I would ask you to head to the library or Amazon or a local book store and buy your own copy of The Farmer’s Wife 1930s Sampler Quilt.
If you quilt, consider it a two-fer!