The Children of Los Quenes
Last week I had a new challenge with the quilt.
The children and teachers in this tiny Chilean village of Los Quenes speak no English and I speak about 3 words of Spanish. But I brought lots of props...and my nephew and husband who do speak Spanish.
I'm not used to such shy children. I might have one or 2, but not a whole group of quiet kids. This little school is not used to visitors from outside their isolated village.
Even if I spoke fluent Spanish this would have been a challenge for me. I suddenly felt very silly as I grinned, "Hola! Hello!" The youngest at age 2, was probably too young to even understand that we spoke different languages.
Keeping a Safe Distance
The kids watched me wake "Pickles" the puppet from his sleeping bag. Usually I can get at least a few kids to help "sing him awake" with me.
But the kids kept their distance. Possibly they just didn't understand, but maybe my overdone facial expressions were a little intimidating.
The Wooden Guy
The dancing wooden man finally broke the ice. First the kids made him dance by tapping the paddle.
After a while some even got up and danced and jumped with him.
But the colorful scarves were the big hit. These thrift shop scarves even got the "big boys" off the wooden chairs and onto the quilt. They loved tossing and catching them and one boy could even juggle a bit.
Note the little boy in the upper left of the photo. He didn't need his own scarf because he had his own "binky towel". He's smiling here, but evidently he got nervous when the scarves were put away. He hid his green towel, afraid I would take it.
We played and laughed and I cheered the kids on.
I grew more comfortable communicating with my face and silly gestures. I felt like I hardly needed words.
The Kids Speak Up
But as the kids became more comfortable, they began to speak more to me.
I suddenly heard lots of little voices telling me to watch and asking me questions I didn't understand.
A Little Help!
Luckily I had some help from the back of the room. Andy and Don were able to jump in with some interpreting when I needed it. They also were rewarded with cold glasses of raspberry juice, made by the class as a thank you!
I so wish I had a picture of the little boy who carried the tiny tray holding the 3 full glasses as he stepped carefully towards us grinning, "Gracias!" The teacher told us the children had picked the raspberries that morning. Big brownie points to the sweet teacher who trusted the little boy to deliver our special treat.
A Show for Us!
A couple of the children wanted to put on a puppet show for us.
We 3 sat on the tiny wooden chairs and sipped our juice while they performed. Two little girls sang a song for us and we clapped along and applauded with enthusiasm at the end.
Time to Go
But soon it was time to say good bye. The kids came up and offered me hugs and asked when we would be coming back.
The little boys went up to Don and Andy and offered proper handshakes...some with the right hand and some with the left.
Ciao, Little School!
The kids followed us out into the yard and waved through the gate.
We could hear them shouting "Ciao!!" as we headed down the dirt road.
What I learned: I learned that my lack of Spanish skills is an even bigger setback when communicating with kids. They don't really understand that I have no idea what they're saying. However, there is something oddly refreshing about absorbing facial expressions, sounds and movement of children when you aren't distracted by their words. It's amazing how much you do pick up. And luckily the kids gradually adapted to my limitations. It was a fun challenge...but it really makes me want to learn Spanish!
I love old movies.
It's fun to talk about the days when Hollywood meant glamour...with those who actually remember it!
Alice lived in Niagara Falls when Marilyn Monroe was in town filming scenes for the movie Niagara. She shared stories about watching the filming from her window at work. Some of her friends, with less strict work hours got to be walk-ons in the movie.
Favorite Actors and Movies
There were a lot of common favorites.
Gone with the Wind had the most votes for favorite movie.
What did the kids think?
I had kids visiting my group at Silverado and they didn't want to talk about Clark Gable and film history.
They did however have a little fun with the gloves and feather boas. I wish I'd had a movie camera rolling!
A Movie in Common!
The kids were lost in their world of gloves and microphones when I asked the adults if they knew of another great film that came out in 1939. When I held up a picture of The Wizard of Oz, the little girls paused and squealed.
For the next 20 minutes, the 5 year olds and the folks in their 80's and 90's were in the same world. We remembered all the characters and mimicked their voices and gestures. We quizzed each other with famous lines like..."Are you a good witch or a bad witch?" We sang all the songs we could remember and dreamed about sitting in a glitzy movie house with big box of popcorn and watching the whole movie.
What I learned:
We all know about the popularity of The Wizard of Oz. Most of us remember being scared watching it as a child and most of us still love seeing the movie as an adult. But what a treat it was to witness these young girls with these older women connecting as they recalled the movie together. Even though they are worlds and generations apart, but they shared the same joy from this old classic!
1 Theme, 6 Stops, 6 Surprises
In this past week, I took the quilt to 6 different places. Even though I used the same simple theme of quilts with all the groups, each experience was uniquely different. I walked away from each group with a special thought or reminder that I hadn't expected.
1 - Silverado
Even though this is my 4th year gathering around the quilt at Silverado, I still have to be reminded to keep it simple. Sometimes I bring so much stuff and so many ideas to the table it can be overwhelming. When I began talking about the history of quilts with this group, I noticed Pearl admiring the quilted bib and Mary examining the Amish potholder. I took the hint and turned the focus towards them. I forgot all the games and thoughts I wanted to share and we were off on some tangents about babies and cooking. It seemed a better fit for the group on that day. Sometimes less is better.
2 -A New Group at an Adult Day Care
My group at Sheltering Arms in Houston also has dementia, so I started out with just a quilt on the table and added as we went. The biggest treat for me with this group was watching them react when I pulled out a small book about quilts made by the women of Gee's Bend, Alabama. Many of the sweet elderly women in my group looked like they could have been the very women from this isolated community who have been making quilts since their ancestors were slaves in the area. The women lit up as I explained how the Gee's Bend quilts were discovered a few years ago and have gone on tour as prized works of art. At this point many of the women began to share stories about quilting grandmothers and non electric sewing machines...and the sentimental magic that comes from recognizing pieces of quilt fabric that you once wore as clothes.
At one point Dorothy noticed the similarity between the book cover and a patchwork piece I had pulled out earlier. My dear friend Claire made that piece over 30 years ago and I've always admired it. I had to smile as I watched these folks compare Claire's work with the quilts of Gee's Bend! I'll never see Claire's patchwork piece with the same eyes. I'll always remember this enthused group and their eager comparisons.
3 - Assisted Living in Sugar Land
I learned an important lesson from the folks in Sugar Land. Men like talking about quilts, too! Bud sat down and flipped over the edge of the quilt to examine the stitching. Then he noticed the quilting hoop was broken. He offered to fix it, if I had glue and string. I didn't, but Lucille got some from her room. What fun to have this group suddenly engaged in a project I hadn't expected. I left this group with a mended hoop and a quilt folded into a triangle. (Bud folded the quilt like the American flag!)
I had my first time sharing the quilt at a skilled nursing facility in Sugar Land. The atmosphere was something between a luxurious hotel and a brand new hospital. I was excited about sharing with a new group of seniors in such a quiet and comfortable space. I prepared the table with a few quilts and props and prepared to greet some new friends. What I wasn't prepared for is the obvious fact that people in hospitals often deal with pain. I deal with dementia and language issues and troubled children, but I've never worked with people who might be physically hurting. I had a sobering moment when I realized I would only have one dear woman in my group a short while. Her son brought her to our room in a reclining wheelchair. He eagerly pointed out the quilts on the table to his mother. Then he told me with great enthusiasm that his mother had a whole room at home devoted to her quilting. This new friend couldn't stay long because of her intense pain. She has been on my mind ever since. I wonder what quilting stories she would have been eager to share on a different day!
5 - Community Center in Richmond
I always have to plan something for the Center, that will engage the folks who have difficulty with English. I brought along these colorful, wooden shapes to help us talk about designs in patchwork quilts. It was nice to have something concrete for a few who shy away from discussion. Pretty soon everyone at the table was making designs with the colorful shapes. There was a quiet murmur of voices and even a little humming as the group fiddled with their pieces. It felt like a quilting bee, minus the sewing. You don't have to have needle and thread to achieve the same sharing atmosphere of the old quilting bee. You just have to have a common project.
6 - Shelter in Fort Bend County
My last stop in the week was the Women's Shelter. It was fun to climb onto the quilt with the kids after a week of gathering around tables. The kids were pretty wound up on this day, so we did a few silly songs with lots of movement. We stood and jumped on the blue border and pointed with our feet at different pictures on the quilt. When a little of their energy drained, we moved onto other things and finally I brought out the wooden shapes.
Kids vs. Adults
What an odd thing to find myself comparing. All week I watched older hands working carefully to form shapes and designs. Then suddenly I was watching tiny hands, snatching up colorful pieces and pressing them firmly onto the quilt. Some worked on their knees, some clapped and cheered at their own accomplishments. I didn't hear humming in this group, but I heard voices jabbering away, negotiating here and there as small fingers traded colors and shapes. What fun to see the same enthusiasm I'd seen before, but everything was louder and quicker with the children. It reminded me of something I of course already know...
...Old hands were once young. And the smaller, quicker hands will someday be old. I so hope those little hands can live long and enjoy as many adventures as the old ones!
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.