The Houston Rodeo Hoopla...
There's been so much rodeo talk in local news, I figured I might as well go along with it. But in truth, there is something sweet and nostalgic about cowboys and horses and it seems to delight The Quilt Group each year.
Hats and Bandanas
I promise I don't force these hats and bandanas on anyone. Why is it that everyone is always so willing to go along with this silliness? I think it's because we all grew up, longing to live a little bit of that life we saw in the Western films or TV. I know I did.
Breaking the Ice
Costumes and props break the ice, but we hardly need to with Libby and Harriet. Harriet laughed about her husband paying her NOT to sing...back in the day. Libby replied to Harriet's comment with a gentle bonk on the head with a soft stick horse!
What did cowboys do around the fire?
We imagined after a meal of chili or stew, a few cowboys might entertain themselves with some jokes or games. Someone suggested fighting?? We also decided there probably would have been some singing. It took only a suggestion and the whole group was swaying and singing Home on the Range. Libby reminded us that the cowboys probably told pretty good stories!
I brought this picture of my mom when she was a young girl, dressed up with her kitty. I retold a story of Mom's that used to make me cringe.
I'm not sure if it was my mom's first riding experience, but she was clearly untrained when she fell from the horse and held tightly to the reins as she was dragged.
The Group cringed right along with me when I told the part about the old farmer who owned the horse, asking my mom to cup her bleeding hands in front of her. "We'll fix that right up with some al-kee-hol!" I twanged the same way my mother used to when she pantomimed pouring the stinging liquid over her cuts.
I shared my own childhood dream.
A bandana and snow boots was the best I could do, back in my diaper days. But when I got a little older, I wanted a real cowboy suit. I told the Quilt Group that I remembered lying on the grass one summer evening and looking up at the first star to make a wish...for a full cowboy outfit. The whole group chimed in, remembering those words..."Star light, star bright..." It was as if they were trying to help me earn that wish! I think the picture on the right shows I didn't get the most top notch outfit. But, at least I look pleased in the photo.
One Story Leads to Another
And then more stories began to come from the group.
Rita's granddaughter recently got a temporary job working at the rodeo. Harriet remembered riding horses at a stable near Memorial Park. Libby got off on a subject of skillet cooking...as on an open fire. And Vivian said she was raised on a farm, so cows and horses weren't a bit unusual to her. And I so wish I had collected some good stories from my dear my mother-in-law, who owned these tiny spurs that belonged to her when she was a child.
What I learned:
Moments of nostalgia come and go. After I packed and headed towards the door, I noticed a few members of my group moving to other areas and activities. Sadly, one dear friend was fretting over finding her way home and another seemed suddenly confused by a missing sweater. How could these be the same folks who were laughing and singing moments ago? "Capture the moments when you find them." I reminded myself. I wish I could have lassoed them all up and kept them sitting around the campfire forever!
This is really a "Limberjack" dancing doll, made by an Appalachian craftsman in Virginia. Since he's pretty good at doing a jig on the wooden paddle board, I knew he would be put to good use with a St. Pat's Day theme.
No Spanish Needed
I had about 1o things I planned for the St. Pat's theme, but I always have to see who shows and then figure out how to proceed. Every group is different and the Jigging Leprechaun was the only "activity" that worked with all three groups.
My first stop was the Community Center, where once again my lack of Spanish skills determined which direction we would go. On this day, my group was all Spanish speaking, except for one. "Yo desayune'?" I fumbled...meaning. "Guess what I ate for breakfast?" They thought it was funny when I showed them a box of Lucky Charms cereal.
That was the extent of my Spanish speaking and I spent the next hour being overly animated with props. They took turns dancing the wooden guy on his board. They loved looking at a collection of Irish coins. One woman with extremely long fingernails and a good sense of humor stroked the strings of the harp (featured on all old Irish coins) Then I brought out a miniature harp and they loved taking turns with that. Lots of hands on...until I convince myself to learn Spanish! .
No Language Barriers...
...but my challenge with these folks (besides Alzheimer's) is that we meet after lunch. This means I struggle with the sluggishness that we all feel after big meals. (and Chef Angel serves huge lunches!)
So I used the little wooden guy right away to wake up this crowd. Despite the racket of the wooden feet pounding on the board during my demonstration, I still had one asleep. But when I turned on the I-Pod so we could hear some real Irish music, the group came to life, taking turns "dancing the doll" to the music. Even though the paddle was flat on the table, it was amazing how differently each approached the task. There were jokes about the Leprechaun having too much Irish whiskey.
At one point the music on the I-Pod changed from the sounds of an Irish jig to the voice of Pete Seeger singing Sweet Molly Malone. It was interesting how everyone stopped to listen and recognize. Then some voices began to sing along " ...mussels and cockles...alive, aliveo-o..." The mood changed.
After dancing and singing...
...there was a nice feeling at the table. We had laughed and been silly with the dancing doll. But then the mood softened with the singing. I told a story about my grandmother "Helen O'Dowd" as the group nibbled on a silly snack of Lucky Charms. And then others began to share.
One shared that her father had been Irish, but didn't care to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. We talked about how many of us have family members who struggled to come to America and may have had difficulties fitting in as Americans. And someone else told us about her family, mostly Dutch-Irish and the great emphasis on hard work. And I loved hearing these voices recalling and sharing. I had expected we might talk about green beer and shamrocks, but these thoughts were personal. And as always, I worry little about how true these stories even are. My own stories get warped with time. I loved the way these folks laughed and carried on with the doll, but even more, I enjoyed seeing them talk with one another...nodding, listening and adding their thoughts!
Last Stop for the Leprechaun
On Wednesday afternoon, the Quilt and Leprechaun headed with me to the Fort Bend Women's Shelter. Unlike my Silverado Group, these kids were wound up and ready to go when I got there. For privacy reasons, I don't share photos. However, their faces when they saw the Leprechaun, were as giddy as this old "Heidi" picture on the left. I taught them a song about a Leprechaun who jumps and jigs. And before long they were singing along. Then they were standing and jumping when the doll jumped and jigging when he jigged. They made their arms windmill like the wooden arms and they collapsed in an odd pose, just like the doll when it ended.
They took turns with the doll and the harp and they even played a crazy game of "hot gold" as they passed and tossed around a pretend bag of gold. It got a little wild. I was asking for trouble. Any minute this group would be out of control.
The bag leaked!
One solid toss and the bag opened a bit. No big trauma, the hole just revealed there was no gold, just a handful of golden Mardi Gras beads.
"OOOO! Can we each have one?" The kids asked.
The focus had changed, just like it did in the Silverado Group. From wild to calm. They waited for my answer. There weren't enough to go around, "But..." I thought quickly. "Let's pretend that we have lucky gold. We can each hold the gold and make a wish!"
For some reason they went along with this. And just as I'd been touched by the change in mood at Silverado, I quietly observed the softening of these children. I watched as each child took a turn, clutching the beads like a handful of rosaries. They closed their eyes and murmured as if in prayer and I wondered about their wishes.
"Should we tell!" One child asked eagerly when we were all done. The kids looked at each other and all shook their heads no. "Let's not tell." They all agreed.
What I Learned?
Laughter and fun can open us up to more thoughtful moments.
The Quilt took a Break
Actually the quilt took a break from my senior groups, because the facility was having remodeling issues. So on Tuesday, I grabbed the Quilt and my friend Lorrie. We drove to Fayetteville, TX.
A little airing out never hurts the quilt. (Actually I have to wash it constantly and that's why it's fading so much) But mostly this Quilt Adventure was about Lorrie and me...messing around with our cameras on a windy March day!
So, I didn't spread the quilt on any tables this week. No children sat on it and no older folks talked around it or spilled coffee on it. But I guess this is a first time the quilt got to hang from a clothesline! That's a new adventure for the quilt. And it took quite a beating in the wind!
To be honest, the Magic Quilt was just along for the ride. These are the quilts that we really brought to photograph. A couple were made by my mother-in- law, but some go further back. Their patchwork and stitching designs put the Magic Quilt to shame. I would never let kids dance around on these.
I spotted this clothesline years ago behind a vacant house in Fayetteville. I've always thought about going back to photograph it. Luckily Lorrie is an artist who sometimes shoots photos to paint. Her enthusiasm was all I needed. She brought the baskets and I brought the quilts. Luckily I also brought a tripod so we could do at least one silly pose. Lorrie and I really are neighbors and here we imagining what it might be like to have been neighbors in a different era!
What I learned...
I always learn a little something when I use the quilt with groups of children or seniors. But I learned that I can use the quilt, as an excuse to get out and explore.
Once out with the quilt and camera...we found a quaint chicken coop...
And a lovely horse. And some sweet, furry cows!
The quilt needed a break this week... and so did I! But, look at what refreshing things come your way, when you give yourself a little change!
Can't Go Wrong
I figured I couldn't go wrong, with a Hollywood Theme. It would be an easy one, since folks over 60 love recalling the days of Old Hollywood. We could talk about old stars and directors. I could even talk about the Oscars and how one of the movies up for Best Picture this past Sunday, had my daughter's name in the credits. (I would be honest and say it was nearly the last name, since she was just an intern)
But we got off to a rough start with my Quilt Group at the Community Center. My Spanish speakers were on one side of the table and a few English speakers sat opposite. No interpreters today? I pantomimed with one group and they laughed and taught me Spanish words for movie and popcorn and actor. My English speakers were ready to discuss Meryl Streep's acceptance speech. How could I please both groups?
What about my great stories?
I had planned on telling the story about my Grandmother Meyer being in a movie as child. How she was given a 5 dollar gold piece for pretending to be hit by a car.
I was also going to tell about my mother seeing Shirley Temple in a Hollywood shoe store when she was 6.
No stories today. My instincts told me that this would be an awkward gathering and I would probably just end a little early...and go home to start learning Spanish!
Costumes and Props unite the group!
But I was wrong! A few others arrived and our playful group began picking up feather boas and white gloves and movie star photos off the table.
We started talking about songs from old movies and suddenly learned we had a real singer in our group. "On a Clear Day, You can see forever..." a sweet voice boomed out of nowhere! Minutes later the group was applauding and one song lead to another. Our songs lead to a spontaneous contest to win a trip to Hollywood by tossing a plastic disc into the empty popcorn box. The noise attracted a curious man who was waiting on his wife in another room. He ended up telling us a story about his brother-in-law who worked on the movie "Giant". We ended later than usual. I was glad my instincts had been wrong.
I should have trusted my instincts when I walked inside the building. When I saw the ladders and hanging plastic outside of our meeting room, I should have just lugged my stuff back to the car and taken my mom for a walk in the garden, instead. But everyone loves Hollywood, I thought. Once in the room, we could escape the remodeling distraction and glide right into a cozy world of Fred Astaire and Clark Gable.
Putting' On The Ritz
It worked briefly. I plugged in the I-Pod for a little "Puttin' on the Ritz" background music. Lucy threw on a bit of fur and raved over James Dean. Martha tried on long white gloves and we remembered when people dressed up just to go to the movies.
But then I opened our door, because the room was stuffy. In a matter of minutes I lost the focus of the group. I couldn't compete with the stilt walking painters in the main room. Our open door lured one group member to wander off and invited other residents in. I helped usher out the friends who didn't want to sit down and join us. And I stepped out to encourage my wandering member back...and then I noticed my I-Pod was missing.
What's an I-Pod?
"It's that little radio thing that was playing our music." I tried to explain. Libby in her pink boa tried to help me look under books and spilled popcorn. I fretted that it had accidently walked off with someone and I inwardly scolded myself for being foolish enough to bring something expensive and easy to loose.
I even had two staff members help me. One looked through the trash. ( you just never know) and the other found it, neatly closed inside a scrapbook. I thanked them both as they rushed off attend to their many duties. I felt embarrassed that sometimes my "volunteering" ends up creating more work for the staff.
What I learned about Instincts:
I'm glad that my instincts in the morning were wrong. We had an awkward start, but we ended with lots of laughter and even hugs. In the afternoon I wished I had followed my instincts and held off doing my group in the midst of remodeling...that is until I got home and saw the pictures of Libby smiling with the film can and Lucy grinning with James Dean. Their faces don't reflect the stress of a missing I-Pod or the distracting stilt walkers. Okay, I'm glad we had our group ... I'm just not going to think about instincts anymore.
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.