A Late Late Post
Two month ago, I did a Book Theme, with my quilt groups.
But I never got around to posting about the early March gathering, because Coronavirus suddenly took all my focus. But now I look at these sweet photos and remember our day.
These are the dear friends, that I gathered with. We laughed and shared stories about favorite books.
We wondered about the most common books you can find in a home? Some said cookbook. Others said the Bible.
We talked about books that are filled with art, or poems or music!
We talked about books written in different languages and books, like this one from China. It reads from from right to left... back to front!
Learning to Read
We talked about kids learning to read and the fun of reading to children.
Some remembered old classics like Tom Sawyer and Alice in Wonderland.
Odd and Tiny Books
Some liked the tiniest books best. Most were surprised to find books made from wood.
Books That Keep Memories
No one in my groups said they had ever written a book. But many kept diaries and made scrapbooks. I can't believe I still have an autograph book from first grade.
Books Filled with Friends and Family
Most everyone had at least one photo book or album. No one remembered having a book like my grandmother's. I loved sharing "Daw's" special book, which was completed by her friends... who described themselves.
What Do We Put in Books?
We brainstormed things that you might find in a book... besides a bookmark. Money, was the favorite answer.
Cutting and Coloring!
Anyone my age and older remembered paper dolls, but most had never seen a book of them.
Some said they love coloring books... but a few were not happy to see an antique nursery rhyme book, with crayon marks on the pages. Pat announced, "Children shouldn't write in books!" I answered defensively, "I didn't color in that book! Not guilty!"
As I looked back at the photos from March, I recalled the last time I did a book theme, around the quilt. I found photos from 2016 in May. I failed to post about this gathering as well.
In the spring of 2016, I was distracted by another issue that kept me from gathering with my Quilt Groups, for many months. Shortly after these photos were taken, I was diagnosed with cancer and put my volunteering on hold.
Some of the Gang in 2020
When I left this group after our get-together on March 3, I didn't realize what was ahead.
We all knew about Covid, but on March 3, there had been less than 10 U.S. deaths. I didn't know that Texas would be joining other states with Stay at Home restrictions, in just a couple weeks.
I'm missing these folks and hoping that all are well. I have no guesses about when we'll actually be able to gather around the Quilt again.
Boats and Ships, Again!
I've used a boat theme at least 5 times, in the past 10 years.
It's always a fun time. Everyone has memories or thoughts about boats.
In both senior groups, the old sailing ship got the most attention. In the morning at the center, Ms. M turned it over and over, looking at the curved sails, made of cut horns.
Everyone wondered if the little ship would sink if we put it in a pond.
Ms. M said she'd never been on a boat. But she described standing on the riverbank with her brother and jumping up and down, waving to the boats that passed by.
Boats for Work
We compared boats for pleasure and boats for work. Ms. W remembered a stormy cruise, where everyone on board got sick but her.
The little boat from Thailand, reminded Mrs. D of the boats she saw in Guam, when her husband was in the service. She described buying food from the floating shops.
Some could remember toy boats, on ponds, in puddles... in bathtubs.
Many remembered making boats from newspaper. I remembered watching my own homemade, popsicle-stick boat collapse... as the water softened the Elmer's glue.
Movies, Books and Songs
We brainstormed movies and books, with a focus on boats or ships.
I played some recorded music that related to our theme. "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" put everyone in a thoughtful mood. When I asked for a boat themed song suggestion, there was a pause. Then Mrs. W's voice began in almost a whisper. I didn't recognize the old spiritual, but most of the others did and began to join in.
We sat around the quilt, ignoring all the boats and books. For quite some time, I listened as the group went from one song to the next. The group swayed and many closed their eyes, as they hummed and sang.
My usually loud and playful group, had a sweetly subdued tone. As one hymn blended into the next I recognized the words that linked the music. Sea... anchors... sailing... piloting... I watched their eyes smile, each time a new song was introduced. I've never seen this group, so soft and peaceful.
Eventually the focus went back to the table. Ms. H was drawn to the green canoe. She picked it up and told a story about working for the Red Cross and using a canoe for rescue. There was a waterfall and an alligator in her story... oh my! As talking continued, Mrs. W's grandson arrived to take her to the doctor. The group greeted the young man and wanted to know if he had any boat memories to share. He smiled shyly and said he couldn't think of any.
Suddenly, Ms M. reached over and handed the grandson a handwritten bible verse. This is what she does. I always tuck mine in a pocket, but he stopped and studied the words. Then he lowered his head and spoke softly, "Thank you. It's been a hard week." One by one the folks at the table stood and gave him a hug. He wiped his eyes and thanked them. What an amazing, gentle group.
My memory care group in the afternoon was very different, but they were also full of sweet surprises. The sleepy, after-lunch group, was nodding off around the table when I arrived. I hoped the boats would liven things up.
I spread the quilt and unloaded one boat at a time. I held up the red rowboat, with its one oar. They all seemed to recognize the type of boat, but no one could come up with the name. Frances shook her head and laughed. "You'd go in circles if you just had one paddle!" I could see her mind working, in her eyes.
I told the group that this little fisherman and boat, was made by a man in Guatemala
"Where is Guatemala?" Someone asked. I fumbled to find a map on my phone, but Mr. George took over. He had been so quiet before. I worried that he didn't want to be there. But he seemed to come to life. "That's in Central America!" He announced with confidence.
We got off on a tangent about the Mississippi River, when I held up the plastic raft.
"Rafts always makes me think of a famous author." I began. "He was a writer, but he also once piloted a steamboat on the Mississippi." Maureen waved a hand. It took a moment and then she announced with delight, "Mark Twain!" I cheered and held up the book. Maureen reminded me, that she had been a librarian for many years.
For nearly 90 minutes, my group around the quilt shared and laughed and sang and surprised me with their stories. What a sharp and giving bunch! I thanked them all and told them how I would be thinking about their stories for days. Mr. George suggested, "Next time bring a tape recorder and you'll be able to remember forever."
I packed up as the group headed out, but Chickie wanted to stay a while longer. At one point she leaned towards me and smiled with an outreached hand. "Thank you so much for coming and sharing." I held her hand and assured her that I was the one who needed to do the thanking. Then she explained gently, "You help us remember and you help us think in a different way." I was touched... and then I was amused. She laughed and pointed to my gigantic tote bag. "What does your husband think of all that stuff of yours?"
I drove home smiling. I know my afternoon group will not remember what we did. Most won't even remember me. But they reminded me to enjoy the memories, for the moment.
As I unpacked my stuff at home, I couldn't stop thinking about all the wonderful people I'd spent time with. Some aren't much older than me, but many are the same age as my parents. And that made me think...
The next day, I called my 91 year old dad and asked him if he had any memories about boats.
Of course he couldn't think off the top of his head. Few can. But after a bit, we were laughing over memories of Central Park in 1964, when my brother's model boat floated out of reach.
Staten Island Ferry
We talked about my dad's daily trips to work, on the Staten Island ferry. They were building the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge that year.
"And what about Uncle Bob's boat, at Table Rock Lake? That's when I learned to waterski!"
I told Dad about my Quilt Groups and we talked about the idea of me visiting him in Missouri and bringing the quilt. He lives in an assisted living center now. Could this work?
I was stunned when he thought that it might be a good idea. We'll see!
I have about 30 themes I've used around the quilt. Sometimes I just have to let QUILTS be the theme.
Tiny Quilts... Unfinished Quilts
I covered the table with this and that and let the folks examine.
I needed no planning. The colors and designs got everyone talking.
This unfinished piece is always a favorite. Questions fly! Which square is your favorite? How many squares are there? Which one is the most different? Why was it never finished? Is it perfect? What does perfect even mean?
Why are there so many children's books about quilts? Well... then why do kids love quilts?
These books have gotten some love over the years. I've always enjoyed watching both adults and children absorbing the wonderful illustrations in these books. The words in a few of them, are as cozy and comforting as a quilt.
There was some nice book sharing, in my morning and afternoon gatherings.
I loved watching this pair, pointing out the quilts in the illustrations.
Depends on if you put the quilt on a table or the grass!
Ramona spotted a photograph of an old quilt, made of worn out fabric scraps.
It reminded her of a quilt her mother made. We decided quilts can display the best kind of recycling!
Some were drawn to the quilts with complicated designs. Some preferred the quilt from Mexico, made simply with squares.
"Look! You can see the hand stitching! This is my favorite!"
Music and Wooden Quilts
I played a few recordings of songs, related to quilts. I had to dig pretty hard to find "Quilt Songs". I passed out lots of wooden shapes while the music played.
It was nice to have something to do with our hands while we listened to the lyrics, about quilts. One song made us all stop and listen. A man's voice sang about his mother's dedication to quilting... he described her focus and patience...
"Do any of you remember your mother quilting?" I asked my morning group. I was totally surprised when no one said yes. Two said their mothers were too busy working to make quilts.
The Traveling Quilt
I told my afternoon group, that I used to do volunteer quilt gatherings when I traveled. I showed them the "new quilt" that's in progress... made with all the squares that adults and kids have decorated, on my visits to schools and centers in different states and countries.
The odd and colorful thing has been buried in my closet for quite a while now. I haven't lugged my quilt and props on a trip in 3 years. As I saw the folks sitting around, pointing to the fun fabrics and smiling over the messages, it made me realize I've gotten lazy.
What Did I Learn?
The enthusiasm of others can be so motivating.
But maybe getting the okay, is a little part of the Quilt Adventure that I love. I think I'll try to push myself and think about taking my quilt on the road again.
On Tuesday, I took only a few things out to the Women's Shelter, for Quilt Time With the Kids. The Quilt has helped me gather with children at the Shelter for over 15 years, now.
I told the kids the animals were looking for homes, if anyone cared to adopt. These were not gifts... gifts are usually new.
We went clockwise around the circle and each child picked. Then we went the opposite direction and the kids picked another. There were extras for latecomers. Then I put out bells and metal stars and gold cord. The kids decorated their pets. Older kids helped the younger ones. Some of the older kids wanted my help... just because it's fun to get help. Then we picked up the Jingle Babies and I blasted "Jingle Bells" from the portable speaker. We sang and jumped and jingled around the room a while.
Like I said, it's sometimes hard for me, to be totally calm.
20+ years Ago
The kids at the Shelter had wanted to know about my kids. As I drove home I thought about 1996, when my kids were young and Beanie Babies were a big deal. Christmas was simple and life was good. My kids and their friends knew the names of every Beanie Baby that was sold...
My kids didn't know much about shelters and abuse. But a few years later, they began volunteering at the Women's Shelter. I remember the conversations, driving home in the car, after spending time at the Shelter. They learned a lot from those visits.
I gave Wrinkles a bell and a place of honor downstairs. We won't have kids in the house for Christmas this year, but we have lots of fun reminders!
Trees in December
For my December theme with the Seniors, I chose trees.
We talked about the obvious... favorite trees and what's good about trees.
We don't have much fall in Texas and many of my Quilt Seniors haven't ever left the state.
People in Trees
We talked about climbing trees.
Some remembered climbing as kids. No one remembered climbing a tree as an adult... except me.
We talked about the tallest trees.
Redwoods and tall palms... that need adults to climb them, to clip their fronds.
We talked about how beautiful trees can be, even when they're not alive anymore.
We decided the best non-living tree is a decorated Christmas tree! But it's also the most aggravating tree, when it falls over!
We talked about the best shapes for trees. You have to love a gumdrop tree!
We decided branches can be the most beautiful part of a tree, even without lights.
Besides dead trees, there are other trees that aren't alive.
Fake Christmas trees... and tree sculptures!
Since it was December, we talked a lot about Christmas trees and lights.
We wondered if the shoes hanging from this tree, were considered decorations.
We were quite sure the Mardi Gras beads were considered a decoration. They were hanging from a palm tree in New Orleans.
Live Things in Trees
I shared my favorite tree photo.
I took the photo years ago at Brazos Bend State Park at dawn. The birds in this tree were incredibly loud!
Hanging from Trees
We talked about all the things that hang from trees... like children and birdhouses.
Stained glass windows hanging from a tree, can look pretty fun. But not as much fun as a swing.
Holes and Words
We talked about mysterious holes in trees. Sometimes there are hidden treasures.
We talked about damage to trees, by beavers or nails or pocket knives...
Trees in Art
And we talked about trees in art.
Many remembered drawing trees as children. Stick people, houses, suns and trees. Pretty much everyone mastered drawing those few things, as a child.
I had a few branches scattered on the table. We propped them up and created some trees, while we talked.
We added some leaves and pinecones and some candy canes, since it was December. It was sort of simple and silly and just about right.
What Did I Learn?
I love simple themes.
It's been a few years since I used a train theme around the quilt.
I've collected a few new things to share, so I gathered my stuff and headed off on Tuesday.
The first group was in good form. They browsed through books and magazines and examined a few toy trains on the table.
The "Ann Arbor" boxcar was a recent Ebay find. It was a hit. We remembered all the places we'd seen model trains... surrounding Christmas trees... shop windows.
A few remembered playing with trains and a couple remembered riding on them. Ramona could remember the outfit she wore as a child... and she wasn't happy about that dress!
Sounds of Trains
I played a recording of a passing train and everyone got quiet, listening and absorbing. For some who happen to live near tracks, it was a common sound.
I left my morning group thinking about train sounds... whistles, clanging, hissing, screeching...
Stopped by a Train
I drove a mile before I suddenly found myself stopped by a train.
I couldn't have been happier. I was envious of the car in front, with the perfect view. I watched the train head over the Brazos River and thought about a story from another year. Mr. Robert once told me he'd crossed a rail bridge going to school, when a train suddenly approached. He was forced to jump, but landed safely on the muddy, cushioned river bank.
A Train Sugar Land
I had a quick lunch at home and headed the opposite direction for my afternoon group in Sugar Land.
Once again, I had tracks to cross and I got stopped. Again, I was more than happy to wait and watch... and listen. The rhythm of the cars rolling down the tracks was like music.
My dear friends were all seated around the table when I arrived. Their Alzheimer's keeps most from recognizing me, but they could clearly recognize the objects scattered on the table. Most could identify the railroad spike and it led to a discussion of train track adventures with penny smashing and "tightrope walking".
Donna picked up the boxcar with "Ann Arbor" written on the side. I was impressed when she told me she had once lived in Ann Arbor, as a U of M student. I was even more impressed when I asked if she remembered "The Gandy Dancer Restaurant" in the old Ann Arbor train station. She didn't, but she knew that the term gandy dancer was associated with railroad workers.
Sounds of the Train
At one point I pulled out my wooden train whistle and gave it a nice long, puffing blast. Luckily our visiting dog did not howl, but his mother had a strong reaction. She smiled big and used some music terminology (that I can't recall) to describe the sound.
When I blew through each hole separately, the pup's mama again used her expertise to comment on the harmonizing notes. And when I played a recording of Woody's Guthrie's "Do Re Mi" with his train-mimicking harmonica, she began join in with rhythmic sounds from her mouth. Turns out Ms. W once played with the Houston Symphony.
Kids and Trains
Some of the toys and books made us think about kids and trains. We all agreed that kids have always seemed fascinated by them. Are they still today?
We hoped that kids would continue to wonder about those giant, noisy things. I told them I had been stopped by a train just an hour earlier. We agreed that we kind of like it that people are forced to wait on trains now and then. Kids probably don't mind.
Folding the Quilt
We finished up and a few began to help fold the quilt. Some were meticulous, as if they had folded a million quilts. One set of hands reached from a wheelchair and folded as best she could from her spot. Another set of hands fumbled to fold... as if she'd forgotten how.
Our folding task, was a reminder of how differently Alzheimer's affects the folks who gather around the quilt. Sometimes you would never know my afternoon group is in an Alzheimer's facility. Our discussions are so full of detail and I have no concerns about what stories are accurate or real. It all feels real to us.
What I Learned: I love sitting around the quilt and being in the moment, enjoying the people just as they are. In both groups, I only know them by their own stories and the personalities I see. Their relatives and old friends may know them better, but I know them as they are, at our table. I like that. But now and then, I love it when I am given hints of who they were long before I knew them... a biology major, a band director, a nurse and a house keeper. It's good to be reminded.
Another Telephone Theme
Every couple of years, I have to do the Phone Theme. It's just too fun, because everyone can relate. Although, everyone did not grow up with a telephone.
In fact, in my morning group there wasn't a single person who had a phone in their house, when they were very young.
First Phone Memories
Ramona remembered the first time she tried answering a phone. She was a young adult, working as a housekeeper, when the phone rang in the empty house. She laughed as she recalled the memory of fumbling with the receiver. Others began to share.
"I don't remember one until much later. Then it was on the wall and I was too short. I had to use a stool to reach it."
Gabbing on the Phone
My morning group had fun fiddling with the old phones and pretending to chat with each other. These two cracked me up with their conversation, using a cell phone and an old rotary. "So, when ya coming over?" "Well, I don't know. That all depends." They carried on, with good humor.
In the afternoon Sadie and Lois pretended to chat briefly. When they hung up, Francis laughed, "That was the world's shortest phone conversation between two women!"
My Small Group
My morning group was small, so the conversation was more relaxed. We ended up with some wonderful talking tangents.
We talked about how many kids were in our families, growing up. Quite a few had more than 10 kids. We determined it was just as well that none of their homes had phones. There would have all fought over using it!
We talked about happy phone memories... avoiding the opposite. A new friend to our group lit up, "Oh I talked with my grandson recently. He was calling from Guam! We talked on FaceTime and I could see his face while we talked!" Mr. Robert didn't know much about FaceTiming, but he knew lots about Guam... and Pearl Harbor from when he served in WWII. It was a sweet connection between the two.
After my morning group, I killed some time at an antique store before heading to my Memory Care group in the afternoon.
In a cluttered corner, my wandering eyes suddenly landed on two vintage postcards. The images looked so much like the two old photos of my dear mom, that I had shared that morning. I bought the cards to add to my prop collection, for the afternoon group.
And a Bank!
But before I got out of the store, I spotted a bank shaped like a telephone booth!
The bank and the old phone booth photos, got everyone talking. There was a discussion about Superman and even a quick mention of a scary phone booth scene, in Hitchcock's The Birds. No one remembered much about the old phone booth fad, from the 1950's. And no one guessed the US record of 22 people, in a phone booth!
Kids and Phones
We talked about how kids used to love pretending to talk on the phone. Many would mimic their parents when they played with a toy phone. I remember twirling my hair, or doodling on scratch paper, the way my mom did. A toy phone didn't need to have wheels and moving eyes to be entertaining. Two cans and a string made a pretty good phone!
What I Learned:
Even though we always bury the quilt under books and props, the quilt never is completely ignored. Our phone stories were sweet today, but Robert's quilt memory was the sweetest.
When my morning group ended, the folks headed to the dining room for lunch, but Robert lingered at the table. He sometimes helps me fold the quilt, from his chair. This time he did something he doesn't usually do. He began to sing. I listened as he smoothed the fabric with his hands. "Search me Lord, you know when I'm right..." He continued singing until the quilt was packed away.
When he finished, I spoke. "That was nice. What made you sing that song?" He began to describe his childhood home, where he helped his mother quilt, on cold winter nights. He described the fireplace and how they found ways to keep warm. Singing was something they did around the quilt, that warmed them.
Mr. Robert wasn't full of drama. He wasn't weepy with nostalgia. He just shared his simple memory. But, I had to take a breath to keep my emotions from gushing. Then I thanked him so much for giving me something wonderful to take with me that day. He nodded, "Yes Ma'am. I just try to be thankful and keep moving forward."
I left happy and later I searched the internet for the song. I found a few recordings, but no one sang it the way Mr. Robert did!
Just For Fun
Marionettes, Hand Puppets, Finger Puppets...
It was fun getting back to the Center and gathering with my morning group! They know how to have fun, with any theme!
I asked if any in the group had ever owned a puppet as a child. No one could remember playing with puppets... maybe that's why they had so much fun. They were making up for lost time.
A few began using puppet voices right off the bat. Love this playful bunch!
There were some amusing conversations between puppets. Mostly everyone just seemed happy to gather around the quilt, after a summer off.
Mr. Robert saw the Santa Claus finger puppet and remembered playing Santa Claus with his kids. The dog puppets led to lots of talk about favorite pets. The knitted puppets got a few off on a tangent, about crafts.
I pulled the flamingo out last. I turned on some music and this furry-bird did some dancing before everyone took off for lunch! It was a simple gathering. So fun to see these folks after a whole summer.
I carried the same collection with me, to meet up with my Memory Care group in the afternoon. The serious looking group was already seated around the table when I arrived.
I introduced myself to the new folks and spread the quilt on the table. The proper looking group, looked like they were ready for a serious quilting bee. I reminded the folks (as always) that we wouldn't be sewing. "I just put out the quilt, to make our gathering space cozy."
I decided to avoid confusion and not cover the quilt with tons of toy puppets... yet. I put just a few on the table and asked, "What are these?"
All seemed drawn to the hand puppets and we talked about how they were made and how they were used. We talked about how shy children can become more talkative, with a puppets on their hands. This group was ready to observe and talk. They weren't exactly jumping in to play!
The group liked my little Knight puppet, with his velvet skirt. I had some curious history about the famous rod puppets that have entertained for centuries in Sicily. But they wanted to talk about the puppet on the table. "How does he work?"
I figured no one really wanted to hear about how puppets were used in Greece or China, either. I had some fun facts. I had recently learned so much about the use of puppets in operas and vaudeville... Puppets weren't initially used to entertain kids.
But, like my morning group, the folks sitting around the table wanted to examine things. They didn't really want to hear me talk. They loved looking at the Chinese shadow puppet. They liked the colors and the slick feel of dragon.
We did talk about puppet shows and some of the memorable characters, like Pinocchio and Punch and Judy. I remembered my older brother putting on shows with his handmade marionettes.
As I brought out more puppets, we talked about which were the easiest to work and which were the easiest to make.
Carol remembered making puppets from socks. I had totally forgotten about sock puppets. I'd also forgotten about how my dad's feet became puppets when he came home from work. I told the story of my 2-year-old brother, begging my dad to take off his shoes, so he could talk to "Feeties".
Which is Best?
We tried on hand puppets and compared. Our fingers could make some puppets clap and nod. Our hands worked the mouths of some puppets. We all agreed that the puppets with moving mouths, were the most fun.
Puppets from Radio and TV
The folks who were closer to my age, remembered Shari Lewis and her sweet Lamb Chop. Ramona began singing, "It's Howdy Doody Time!" when I showed the picture of Buffalo Bob and his little friend, from 1947.
I was sorry no one remembered Kukla, Fran and Ollie, along with me. But I was thrilled when a few lit up to see the photo of Edgar Bergen and his "dummy" Charlie McCarthy. I actually don't have childhood memories of that duo, but I did wear my Charlie McCarthy ring, which amused everyone.
Most kids are too focused on the puppet, to worry about my lips moving. Older kids look at my face right away, but will play along if I wink.
Some had questions about a few of the older puppets. They looked like they had stories to tell. When they asked who knitted the finger puppets, I shared photos of the good humored children, who sold them in Peru.
They wanted to know which puppet was my favorite when I was a child. I told them I remembered hiding behind the couch, to let my puppets entertain my family.
I so wish that my puppets could have triggered some of their memories, but they seemed satisfied to hear mine.
What Did I Learn?
Our puppet gathering was a fun one, but none seemed personally connected with the theme. With broader themes like Trees or School, everyone has a story. I love it when I see a face light up with a memory. I love hearing the stories that flow with more relatable themes.
But... once again, I got to use some stuff from my closets and storage. Yay! Now that these old puppets have been put to use, I need to think about finding them some good homes !
Last Day of Summer
Yesterday morning, I headed to the Women's Shelter with the Quilt and a pile of puppets. I knew school was starting the next day and the kids might be wound up.
Sister and Brother
Her 8-year-old brother studied the quilt and smiled at my name tag. "It's the same!" He said. That made my day! For some reason, kids and adults never seem to notice the quilt image on my tag.
"I'll bet the quilt has been to 81 places!" he said. He asked if each square was for a different place. What made him even think of that? It wasn't until clean up time, that the underside of the quilt was revealed. As the kids helped me fold up the quilt, the wise brother saw the words printed on the muslin and asked, "Look! Those are all the places, right?"
The group wondered what else was in the quilted bag. The puppet reached in with his mouth and pulled out a smaller sleeping bag. Pickles had his own little giraffe friend and he was sleeping inside. The kids named her Penelope.
What Puppets Have Strings?
Eventually the young girl wanted strings, too. The kids caught on faster than expected, lifting and lowering and wiggling their limp arms, when I pulled their strings. Even the 3 year old was able to imagine my invisible scissors cutting his strings. They loved it best when I lifted all their strings together... and cut them all in one quick SNAP! I lucked out. None of the puppet kids conked heads, when they fell to the ground.
I introduced two marionettes after that. Tennis Shoe Boy and Pink Flamingo were a big hit. The kids learned quickly that one of the biggest problems with marionettes was... tangled strings!
They named the flamingo, Flori. We put on some old ragtime music and he danced up to each child. Some danced with him. Others watched and smiled. All wanted to hug him. Oh, if only I could have taken a video of their gentle hugs. I usually expect at least one, playful bop or punch. Not one.
The kids stayed calm, even when I handed out finger puppets. I told the kids to close their eyes and hold out a hand and I would drop a tiny puppet in their palm. I tried to work swiftly to avoid the expected whining. I didn't hear, But I wanted that one!
The kids stayed focused, working to get their fingers into their puppets. No conflict! Then Pickles suddenly started greeting each puppet. Some of the kids attempted special voices and some were too shy. Then I said they could find someone to switch with. Again that was tempting arguments, but I lucked out. We switched a few times.
Dancing Puppet Man
We debated over whether this wooden guy was a puppet. As soon as he started kicking and dancing on the bouncy board, the kids insisted he was a dancing puppet!
The kids sang along with me, "Jump, Mr. Puppet Man! Jump on the board now.... Dancing, dancing, dancing, dancing..." Then the kids stood up and and jumped and danced along with the song. At the end of the song, they collapsed on the quilt, along with Mr. Puppet Man. Lots of giggles and only one bump. No tears.
My Old Puppets
The jumping and collapsing could have made the group wilder, but they sat back down and seemed ready to see more puppets. I warned them that the ones I had left, were old and sort of creepy... from my childhood. They didn't recognize any of the storybook characters, but one little girl pointed to Wendy. "I have a dress with material like that!" Surprisingly none of the kids cringed at the eerie Big Bad Wolf, or the faded, torn fabric.
I asked if any of the kids knew of a puppet character from TV. (I was thinking of Sesame Street puppets) Suddenly, the wise 8-year-old answered, "Rumpelstiltskin?" Where did that answer come from?
First of all, I can't imagine kids today knowing that character! And what are the chances that I would happen to have that very character puppet in the bottom of the bag? There is no way he could have seen my hidden puppet. I brought him out, along with the donkey and "maiden". How odd!
Then I told the kids I was thinking of a green puppet character, they might have seen on TV. They all recognized Kermit. The 8-year-old wise brother, lit up and spoke to the frog. "Kermit! How is Miss Piggy doing these days?" It was as if I had trained this young boy to be a role model for the others!
The kids were delighted when Kermit's mouth sort of smiled at the group. They were not so delighted with my Kermit voice. The older kids teased. "No that's not Kermit's voice!" "Make it lower!" "No, that's not it!" I need to work on a proper Kermit voice!
All the Puppets!
Then it was time to let the kids be the puppeteers. I did what I never do. I just let the kids pick a puppet... any puppet. Of course, I poured on the praise first. "You kids have been amazing, taking turns and listening and sharing..." Maybe that helped, a little.
But mostly, this was just a magical mix of kids. The older ones were calm, while the younger kids picked first. Then suddenly, every child held a puppet or two and the music began.
As some lively Dixieland jazz filled the room, the puppets partied. Some puppets danced on the Quilt. Some puppets chatted with each other.
My favorite moment was when the sweet 3-year-old, (with an adorable name that I will never forget, but I cannot share) asked if he could hold Pickles. Usually I keep my special puppet in the bag. But how could I say no?
I watched him put Pickles on his hand, then struggle to understand. "He won't talk." he told another child. "He's not saying anything." The other children were gentle when they explained, "He doesn't really talk." I told the sweet little puppeteer that I would make him talk again, after we cleaned up. I love a little innocence on the quilt.
Suddenly, we were running out of time. I used the not so clever bribery of stickers and asked all the kids to gently lay the puppets in the middle of the quilt.
I didn't get a photo of the Puppet Mountain they created, but they made a nice one... quickly. I lifted the mountain into my largest tote bag and the kids helped fold the quilt... without a single child suddenly deciding to dive into the soft center. That often happens.
What Did I Learn?
I've been coming for 15 years and I know to plan for short attention spans and to expect a little conflict here and there. Their lives are complicated. So what made this gathering feel so different?
It helped that it was morning and the kids were fresh. My usual after school slot, is not ideal. But mostly, it was just a lucky combination of kids, with good chemistry. The colorful props, helped get their attention, but they came to me with big, open hearts. They made it easy.
Sometimes I leave, wondering about the sad stories behind the children at the Shelter. But yesterday, I left hopeful about these kids and their futures. If they can enjoy and share so easily, with whatever family stresses they have had... then, I have high hopes for each and every one of these Little Puppeteers, for the future!
May Picnic Theme
Today, our table was covered with picnic cloths and baskets... picnic themed books and even a tiny picnic table. But inside the baskets, there were things, totally unrelated to our theme.
My morning crowd loves games, so I came with plenty of Picnic Bingo cards. Everyone took a handful of marker-squares from the small basket and got ready to win some prizes, from the large basket.
Lately, I've been sorting and clearing closets in my house. I've accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. I turned my stuff into prizes!
What fun to see these folks getting excited about the little goodies, that I've for some reason never used. As I headed off, my load was much lighter!
I simplified for my afternoon group. We did a little Bingo, but we skipped the prizes. We feasted on our own simple picnic of crackers and cookies, while we played.
These sweet folks were gathered around the table where I first began these gatherings, almost 10 years ago. My mom was one of the many residents, dealing with Alzheimer's. She taught me to just enjoy the moment. She helped remind me that there's no need to fuss over things like game rules.
So I joined these dear friends, searching the picnic images on the Bingo cards. We chatted and piled up squares and sometimes we noticed when there was a "Bingo!" and we cheered.
Enjoying the Table
We cleared the Bingo clutter and enjoyed some peaceful conversing. "What's the story about this man and woman, eating on the bench?" We all had ideas!
The books got some attention. Some studied the books quietly. I so wondered what their thoughts were, as they flipped the pages and sometimes smiled.
Some discussed the images with each other. I loved hearing these 2, talking about a picnic in the bed of a truck. That got the group talking about good and bad places for picnics. Most agreed that a beach picnic often sounds better than it is.
A Real Picnic
I left both my groups feeling content. Talk of picnics, always pleases me. A few days later, I was in St. Louis, the city where my mom grew up. She always knew the best picnic spots.
On Mother's Day I had time before I flew home, to stop and have my own little picnic in one of my favorite parks. Mom would have loved that. She inspired my love of picnics. Mom also inspired me to begin gathering with folks around the quilt, years ago. Thanks Mom!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.