What Theme for May?
On May first I headed to my morning Quilt Connection gathering for seniors. I carried with me, everything from a toy tractor to a potato.
I could have done a May Day theme or an early Cinco de Mayo, but lately, the weather has made me crave gardens and farms.
I arrived and tossed books on the table for the early arrivals. As I unloaded all the other goodies, I smiled and mostly listened.
Without prompting, folks started in, talking about the theme.
Almost everyone in the group had some association with farms. They looked at the photos of tractors and the intriguing farm related artwork of Grant Wood and started sharing stories.
A few recognized Wood's famous, "American Gothic" portrait. We could have talked for an hour, about the odd story behind the curious portrait. But this group had too many stories of their own to share, about tractors and crops...
Crops and Veggies
I scattered a few fresh veggies and even a little cotton and wheat on the table. Hands began to reach and then voices began sharing memories.
Right away, there were stories about picking cotton and other crops. I've heard some of these stories before, but I never tire. Some in my group grew up on farms and others worked on them. All have an appreciation for the hard work. "Cotton is the hardest to pick..." "Picking apples was easier than most crops. The truck followed along and we'd just put the apples in the truck bed..." "I loved picking green beans. Sometimes I'd pop a few open and eat them raw!" "Mama had so many recipes for corn..."
The vintage toy tractor was a hit. The tiny milk bottles inspired stories of cow-miking. I held up the tiny wheel barrow and shared my own memory, of my brother giving me wild wheelbarrow rides. Robert talked about using a wheelbarrow to clean out the horse stall. We all laughed about that smelly chore.
In my afternoon group, we spread the quilt on an outside table, beside the garden. I didn't need to pick up the toy wheelbarrow to prompt memories, because there was a real gardener working nearby. We asked him to roll his wheelbarrow over to us. We examined the real thing and listed all the things wheelbarrows can carry. We also asked him to give us rides! He just laughed.
From Corn to Cotton Picking Machines
The props and photos prompted stories and advice from both groups. "Oh, you know the corn is fresh, when the husk still feels moist! " "I rode on the cotton picker with my daddy..." "Always stagger your planting rows, a week apart, until the first frost..."
The sight of cotton brought about a musical reaction in one of my seniors in the afternoon group. She smiled and began to sing, "Jump down, turn around, pick a bail of cotton..." I laughed and sang along. I was excited to tell them I had a recording of that song. Debbie, who assists me with the memory care group smiled and said "She's been singing that song all week!" I was excited to hook up the speaker and play the old recording, featuring legendary blues singer, Leadbelly. The singer was once housed in a Sugar Land prison, located directly between where my morning and afternoon groups meet. I had the group listen hard to hear the lyrics about picking cotton. What a surprise to hear Leadbelly's lyrics, mentioning Sugar Land, Texas!
A Healthy Theme
I left both groups in good spirits. Talking about farms and gardens just feels healthy. I felt like I got a few of the benefits, without all the hard work!
What Did I Learn?
The dynamics in both groups are very unique. They come from different worlds with different experiences and abilities. My morning group is closer to my age. My afternoon group is older and most deal with Alzheimers. But, whatever the background, all seemed to share a special joy in handling the veggies. Some breathed in the earthy smell of the dusty potato, some seemed to delight in the cool corn silk. Other hands just fiddled with the beans, as if tempted to take a bite. For all there were memories, connected to the vegetables. For some it brought back hard, but satisfying farm and garden work. For others, cooking and recipes came to mind. For all, the flavors of fresh veggies was a fun topic.
I'm not sure this topic would have the same impact in 20 years. I wonder.
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.