I recently spent a week in the town known as St. George's. The cozy little community was settled by the English in 1612 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I was eager to volunteer at two of the public schools, for two reasons!
St. George's Preparatory School
Being in a small community gave me a bit of motivation. Everyone knows one another, so I could make a connection more easily.
Our innkeeper had a nephew at St. George's Preparatory, which was my first stop. Another big perk, was knowing that Bermudians speak English! That sounded so easy compared to some of my other overseas Quilt Adventures!
That doesn't mean I wasn't nervous as I approached the door to the formal looking school. I'm always a little anxious, not knowing what to expect. And Bermudians are very mannerly. I hoped I wouldn't break any rules!
Mrs. Foggo's Class
There were 22 children in Mrs. Foggo's L-2 class of 6 & 7 year olds. In my photo, they look very serious and orderly as they waited for turns with our activity.
Each child was given a fabric square and they took turns adding their squares, creating a sort of puzzle design. I wish I had photos of when they stood on the quilt, jumping and singing and pointing to the quilt patterns with their feet. And I wish I had photos showing animated expression, like when one little boy talked about the tee-shirt quilt his mother made for him. Or the quizzical look of one child who asked if you could make quilts with other shapes besides squares.
Making a Quilt Song
The kids were surprisingly curious about the quilt. We talked about how the quilt is like a sandwich with a patchwork top, plain bottom and cotton batting in the middle.
Our talk lead to a spontaneous song creation, about making a quilt. "Time to make a quilt now, Oh yeah... Time to make a quilt now, oh yeah..." We had to fit the words to the rhythm, the same way you fit pieces of fabric together. In fact, we ended up using the word fabric instead of cloth or material, to fit our first verse. "First we get some fabric, oh yeah..."
Claire's Smaller Quilt
This colorful piece of patchwork is always a hit with kids. We compared it to the big quilt. "It's smaller!" "It has lots of squares, too!" "It's brighter!" I had them guess which was older of the 2 quilts.
Most were sure that we were sitting on the older one, since it looked so faded. But I told them how my friend Claire made the small quilt 36 years ago, 10 years before I made the big quilt. It didn't take long for one child to determine, "I'll bet you had to wash the big one more. That's why it's so faded."
A Name for the Kids
I told the kids I wanted to add a fabric square to my new quilt, that could represent their group. They picked the material, but we needed to label the back with words to identify their group.
"What shall I call you? Mrs. Foggo's class?" We tried to think of something more clever, but couldn't decide. "Okay," I started, "I'll close my eyes and count to 3. When I open my eyes I'll see you kids and whatever word comes to mind, I will call you! I closed my eyes and counted, expecting to open and see their their gray and white uniforms, like an ink blot. Maybe they would look like a large panda or a spotted flower... But when I opened my eyes I gasped, "Bright eyes!" The kids had quietly crept forward as I counted and all I could see were grinning faces and 40+ big bright eyes! Mrs. Foggo's Bright Eyed Kids!
The group posed for a picture before heading off to lunch. Mrs. Foggo spoke to the kids and I heard their voices in unison, "Thank you, Mrs. Zienty!" What a sweet bunch!
In the afternoon, I headed past the first school, in search of the preschool. I got a little lost and a sweet woman walking down the road escorted me the rest of the way.
A Sleepy School
I knocked on the door of the school, then walked in cautiously. All was dark... it was nap-time! But Mrs. Pitcher greeted me warmly and woke the kids on their cots.
As they lifted their sleepy heads, she invited them to join me on the quilt in the other room. I expected those quiet little nappers to stagger in slowly. But they were quiet and shy for only a short while!
Pets and Games!
I had been told this group was doing a pet theme, so I came with a few pet songs and games. I brought fish, cat and dog Beanie Babies to help us sing a tricky pet song. The props were supposed to help the kids not get mixed up, but I was the one who kept calling the kitty a fishy.
They loved catching my mistakes. Then they shared about their own pets. The few who had no pets, got to decide what their dream pet would be. A soft spoken little girl dreamed of only a stuffed animal. A little boy wished for a horse and another for a mouse! By the time our 45 minutes was up, our little gang was all warmed up, but school was over.
Time to Head Home
Mr. Johnson who had been substitute teaching that day, handed out sweet treats as the kids lined up. He offered me one, as well as a ride back to the hotel in his taxi cab.
As we drove he told me some history of the island as well as his own history with teaching before he retired. He now does a little cab driving as well as sub-teaching in his spare time. As I sat in his immaculate cab I had to grin every other minute, when he waved through the window and greeted a local by name.
What Did I Learn? It was a treat to witness how respectful and gracious the children and teachers are in St. George's. The uniforms in the primary school made me feel like I was in a private school, yet both schools were public. If only I'd worked with the next grade up, I could have had children with blazers and boys in Bermuda shorts and knee socks! But i don't think the good behavior had anything to do with uniforms. The entire week, I felt like I was in a small community where people knew one another and looked out for each other. I felt it in the classroom as well!
Boats and Ships
I've collected a few more oddball boats and ships since my last gathering with this theme. Once again, everybody had their favorites.
And of course everyone loved the hats, too. The Coast Guard hat was a favorite. And the sailor hats got one group off on a tangent about Popeye... and spinach.
Reminded of Memories
As some handled the more simple boats, I saw smiles of recognition. There were reminders of peaceful fishing boats and summer camp rowboats. It made Margie remember a paddling a boat years ago. She threw her head back laughing as she recalled a friend leaning over the edge to grab a lily pad and nearly toppling the boat.
My sweet friend Robert was the only one with real ship memories. He shook his head and said he had so many stories of time spent aboard a ship during World War II. When asked about the food they served, he said he couldn't complain. Turns out, Robert also spent some time in a submarine. He said that was the worst. "Had some bad dreams on that." Then he sort chuckled and added, "But the food wasn't bad." I had to smile, because Robert always reminds us, that he's "blessed to be here." He never complains.
This hand carved canoe reminded a few of making boats as children, out of toothpicks or paper.
J laughed as he remembered creating a boat, big enough to take a ride. He and his brother "borrowed" their mother's wash tub to use in a nearby lake or river. He grinned and made a spinning motion with his finger, to show what happens when you try to paddle a round wash tub. He didn't stop smiling when he mentioned that he also, "got the belt" when his mom found out. I could tell he thought it was totally worth the belt.
Many remembered making boats from newspaper as kids. In some groups we folded our own and even tried them out in water.
It was nice seeing a few, helping each other with the folding project. I knew the task would be too challenging for a couple groups, so we guessed how many folds it would take.The groups counted along with me as I made a silly show out of the folding production. 10 folds and we had a boat. All clapped.
A Lively Table
I usually prefer an isolated room for my groups, where all can hear each other's stories. But the large living area was the only available space at one center. With all the extra distractions of pets and nurses and visitors surrounding us, we just turned up the music and let it become a party.
There were no real Beatles fans in this crowd, but it was hard not to sing along with "Yellow Submarine". And Peter, Paul & Mary's version of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" encouraged a few to sway and hum. I had one newcomer to the group who approached, afterwards to thank me with a timid smile. "It was nice joining you all. It made the time go by faster... The days seem so long." She seemed so aware of the new world around her at the Alzheimer's residence. It reminded me so much of my mother when she first arrived in the very place, 10 years ago. I assured her we'd be getting together for more fun.
This little carved fisherman and his boat was the favorite in my last group.
Dot said it reminded her of the "dugouts" that were carved from logs. She grew up along the river in Louisiana and remembered the dugouts resting up on the shore and being paddled down the river.
In the past there have been big discussions about cruise ships and boating sports. But my groups this year were more inclined to focus on the simple boats.
One group brainstormed different kinds of boats, without motors. We thought of Tom Sawyer on his raft, Native Americans in canoes, graceful and quiet small sailboats and simple fishing boats like these in Guatemala.
No Need for Boat Photos & Props
A circle of wheelchairs was already waiting at the table when I arrived at my last stop. I rarely see the same faces twice at this center, so I introduced myself as I spread out the quilt.
Before pulling out the props, I began to explain a little about what we do in the Quilt Group. As I reached for my large bag of props, I could see hands touching the quilt. Voices were beginning to share and comment. Turns out, everyone in this group had a quilt memory to share.
Boat Talk or Quilt Talk?
I ended up leaving the books and photos of boats in my bag. The few props I'd pulled out, were shoved to the other side of the quilt.
These folks were drawn to the quilt, not the boats. One frail woman spoke a few words to her son in Spanish. He then told the rest of us about the quilts his mother had made. I wasn't sure how much she could understand, but her smile was so large and her eyes, so focused. Others began to tell stories of their own projects... or their mother's quilting frames, or the fabrics that they loved the best. I needed no props.
I usually have so many things covering the quilt. I forgot that new visitors don't need all the extra stuff.
On this day, the Quilt's faded fabric (and its not so fine stitching) was enough to draw people in and get conversations started. With such little prompting, words seemed to spill from the guests seated around the table. The mother and son touched me the most. They communicated with a few words here and a nod, smile and gesture there... and then the son would share what his mother said.
What I Learned: I need to talk less and listen more.
The mother and son were the first to depart as we finished up. I reached for the woman's fragile hand to thank her for coming. She took my hand and held it. Then, when she spoke in English to me, it was suddenly clear that she had understood all I had been saying. "Thank you so much. " She said softly. "You are a gift..." She didn't let go as she spoke a while longer. I could have argued with her, because She was obviously the Gift! She and her gracious son! After they left the room, one woman remarked in surprise. "Her son told me she hasn't spoken since she came here!" It was odd to realize how the quilt all by itself, spurred on so many good memories. And those memories urged one woman to speak!
I need to lug less and jabber less... and hear more!
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.