A Bridge Theme
A few of my seniors looked a little perplexed when I told them we were doing a bridge theme. It's wasn't exactly obvious what discussions or activities we might have.
It was slim pickings for props, but I managed to dig up a few. I swiped the bridge bookends from the hall table and the Brio train bridge from storage. I borrowed the Golden Gate souvenir bridge from my son's childhood collection... and a few miniature bridges from who knows where.
There are a few world travelers in the four groups of seniors I gather with, but there are just as many who have never left the state. However, all seemed to know a little something about the Golden Gate Bridge and The Brooklyn Bridge. I played a recording of Frank Sinatra singing "The Brooklyn Bridge" and many recognized the Crooner's voice. But none of us remembered the song.
Sinatra - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgN79lEa1dQ
Kids and Bridges
We all had a good time fumbling to remember different versions of London Bridge and how we used to play it. I asked if any remembered a children's story about a troll who lived under a bridge. This child's drawing helped bring the story of "Three Billy Goats Gruff" back to us. The idea of trolls under the bridge made us start thinking about what other things you might find under bridges. Besides water, we thought of train tracks and highways, swamp, dry creeks and sadly, we thought of people living under bridges.
What's Scary About Bridges
Without getting into the gloomy roles bridges play with sad people, we did get off on a tangent about the things that make people afraid of bridges. We talked about how icy or dark bridges can be worrisome, or extra high or busy bridges. We had one person in my first group who had a real fear of all bridges. Betty who lived in Michigan described the beauty of the Mackinac Bridge and how there were some who were too scared to drive across. She remembered seeing a sign with an emergency number for those unable to cross. We wondered if they still had that option.
Most Beautiful or Romantic... Most Interesting or Most Unusual...
It was fun to hear all the different ideas of what made a bridge beautiful. We liked the idea of viewing an illuminated bridge at night. We also talked about romantic European bridges and the idea of a wedding proposal on a bridge. A few recalled the book/movie, Bridges of Madison County and the beauty of the old covered bridges. We talked about the curious history of castles with draw bridges over moats, as well as modern draw bridges that still operate today.
Then it was time to test our own bridge making skills. I wasn't sure how this vague activity would turn out, but I'm always searching for something to occupy the hands, so conversation can flow. So onto the quilt I scattered some cardboard, blocks and spools and invited the group to see how many different ways they could make bridges.
Since I have such a variety of folks in my groups, I had to be careful not to insult my engineers with a silly building game or to stress others who might have memory or physical limitations. For that reason, I used a little music to bridge the gap. As we worked, a playlist of "bridge music" added a little something extra. Sinatra crooned while we stacked boards on spools. A few whistled and playfully marched along with "Bridge Over the River Kwai". I wasn't sure whether I should let "Bridge Over Troubled Water" play since I thought it might drag down the good spirits. But suddenly it came on and Ken started to sing along while he worked. It surprised and touched me, so we let it play.
We finished up and had a good time pointing out all our different creative approaches to covering all our "bodies of water" on the table. Dorothy got the prize for most decorative building with colored popsicle sticks. As we sat back to take in the colorful display, I threw out a couple phrases to ponder as a group.
What does it mean when someone says,
"That's all just water under the bridge." ?
"Bridging the Gap"
We talked gaps between cultures and generations and the importance of bridging those gaps. But we also talked of the problems that happen when real physical bridges are built, bringing areas together that are used to being separate. What problems can occur?
With each phrase, I saw heads nod with recognition. So many recalled hearing those words and giving the advice themselves.
What I learned:
Once again I found out how a theme can connect people in a group. The theme hardly matters, it's just a tool that allows us to open up and find out what we have in common. How fun that our theme was about bridges, which are all about connecting... and that we ended up connecting with each other through the use of that very theme! And now that I notice this photo, it looks like we were pretty good at bridge building on the table and above the table, as well!
I didn't actually take the quilt to my Quilt Group gatherings this week. I didn't have room, with all the baskets and the old retro thermos. I brought a lightweight checkered cloth for the tabletop instead. I was eager to see what stories would be triggered by these picnic props.
You can tell picnics aren't very poplular anymore, because the few books I could find on the internet were practically free. I found an obvious picnic themed book with recipes. I found a book for quilters who picnic. Ha! (A different quilt for each style of picnic) I found a very uninspiring book from 1967 with ideas on picnicking around the world...using Tupperware containers. And I found a book featuring picnic scenes in Impressionist art, which made me crave owning a book with picnics in paintings from all periods. I liked the idea of a book with poems about picnics and I especially loved the picnic illustrations in the old Wind in the Willows book.
My 2-dollar bargain books were a hit. There's something comfy about sitting around and looking at yummy foods in lovely settings.
The Word Picnic
We laughed about the reasons why some people don't love picnics, from bugs to heat to uncomfortable seating. But all in all, my groups love picnics. That's why I enjoy gathering with these wonderful people. Most are of an age, or come from a background that appreciates the simpler things in life. It's hard to say the word "picnic" and get tons of enthusiasm from just any group!
I selfishly wanted to make use of the fact that I have about 75 different photographs of picnics. (I happen to love picnics and that's why I also have a picnic blog) So I made a game using 6 photos per sheet. I wish I had had little plastic ants as bingo markers... Oh well, paper squares worked.
Instead of reading off numbers, I read cards with photo descriptions. "Put a square on any photos that show a picnic table...or a lawn chair or a lake...or a picnic that shows a baby...." My group at the community center loves games and you would have thought we were giving away huge prizes since there was so much whooping. There was lots of discussion and playful debate. This silly game was fun, but it still needs some tweaking! And I need to think about prizes next time. Bingo players expect prizes.
More Discussion, Less Game
The Picnic Bingo game evolved with my 4 groups. It started off as a lively game. I eventually admitted to myself, the Bingo game was just a huge distraction to their stories. By the last group, I just tossed the photo sheets onto the table and skipped the games so we could talk. Many were curious about the photos and the stories behind them. I have a million picnic stories, but I avoided playing storyteller. I wanted their stories. And luckily they began sharing and one story lead to another.
Food and Drink
I loved hearing about the wonderful foods that came to mind with picnics. Fried chicken and deviled eggs...potato salad and brownies! One unusual food tangent we got off on, was when Ken shared about making picnic lists. When Ken was a young boy growing up in The Bronx, he used to get sick often. "Being sick meant staying in bed all day. I never lost my appetite, though. I remember laying in bed with the grip, that's the flu. And I just kept thinking about going on a picnic and all the good foods I would take. I actually got a piece of paper and made lists of everything I would take on my next picnic!" We all know about the term "comfort food" and how healing that can be. But even thinking about good foods on a picnic was a comfort to Ken!
I asked everyone to think of picnics where groups gather together. Some talked about reunions and school picnics. Betty, who grew up in Mississippi, remembered picnics outside her tiny church... a church so small and poor that they could only get a minister once a month. " We called the picnics, Dinner on the Ground, and the farm women would bring dishes of food and everyone would spread table cloths on the ground, since we didn't have picnic tables." It was fun to see our group asking for more details, "Was it for a holiday? Was it hot?" And the discussion went from there to how Memorial Day was once called "Decoration Day" and how folding sheets of paper into fans could keep you cool on a picnic...and keep the bugs away!
We talked about why families used to picnic together. "It was cheaper than going out to eat." That was a common answer. A few mentioned picnics when they traveled. "There weren't as many food places along the road back then, so if you had food in the car, you just stopped and ate when you wanted. And the dog and kids could run around!"
Dorothy, another who grew up in Mississippi, smiled as she recalled the summer nights when her mother would pack up supper and all 7 kids would hike a short distance from the house to a clearing in the woods. "There was always some straw to soften the ground and there were bugs of course, but that was just part of it." And Cathy, the daughter of "Picnic List Ken" told about summer nights with no air-conditioning when the family would pack up dinner and drive to the beach. We could all picture the relief of getting to the cooler air near the water and the relief of parents loading sleepy kids into the car, after playing hard.
We tried to picture the best setting for a picnic. Mountains or ocean? The fall or the spring? Robert said he grew up in Brooklyn and never went on a picnic. That made us think about city picnics. What city parks are best for picnics? And we wondered about weather. Could you have a picnic in the winter when it's cold? A different Betty who grew up in Michigan, not Mississippi, said she remembered picnics in the snow with a fire and cooking hotdogs.
Women and Kids
Jo remembered how she and her college and high school friends gathered over meals at restaurants, until they all married and had kids. Then it was easier to continue their get -togethers with picnics in parks, where the kids could play. And it was cheaper!
We talked about what foods you should pack for a romantic picnic. Ramona said chocolate and Joyce said Champagne. We agreed that night time under the stars would be a romantic setting...or underneath fireworks. We asked if anyone had ever had an inside picnic. "Yes!" Lilia boldly admitted she had had a picnic on the floor by the fireplace. The whole table at the Community Center hooted and wanted to know more. But Lilia just grinned. "How about on the water?" Betty said she took a river cruise once. "We ate boxed picnic lunches right on the boat!" We wondered about picnics in the rain and all agreed we would love to picnic together on a large wrap-around porch, during a rainstorm!
Books and Music
It's always fun brainstorming theme related books and music. I searched on my own first and was surprised that most everything I found with the word picnic was related to kids. I had to laugh at few memorable book and cartoon characters that I was reminded of. Yogi, Red Riding Hood and Dorothy have something in common! They carry picnic (or pic-a-nic) baskets! When I found a book version of "Teddy Bear's Picnic" I got curious about the song with the same name. I was surprised to learn the music was written in 1907, with some odd lyrics added in 1930. I brought an old recording to share with my quilt groups and many remembered and sang along. What none of us remembered was how eerie and hypnotic the song actually is. With a little good humor we sort of marched along (under the table) to the beat, while we pictured zombie bears rather than cute furry ones.
Teddy Bear's Picnic : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZANKFxrcKU
A few remembered picnic scenes from movies. In the musical Oklahoma, there is the big picnic gathering where the men bid on the dinner baskets which have been prepared by the single women. A few vaguely remembered the 1950's drama Picnic, with a steamy scene between William Holden and Kim Novak as they dance under the stars at a small town community picnic. I played a recording of Moonglow, which is the movie's theme song. Since only a few remembered the movie, I didn't expect such a reaction. As the slow piano music began, I could see a couple smiles of recognition and then I heard a sigh and some humming. Jo smiled and filled me in. "Oh, I danced to this song many times." Then I realized it was not the movie, it was the music. Evidently for many, Moonglow was conjuring up personal romantic memories, not movie images. It must have been quite the song in its day. That was a unexpected surprise and a sweet way to end our group!
This quirky video gives you a glimpse!
What did Learn?
As we talked about picnics in the past, I began to wonder how many people today, truly do not have any picnic memories. Sitting around a picnic table or blanket is kind of like our weekly gatherings around the quilt table, but better. There's food. I'm reminded of what I already know. There need to be more picnics!
Nearly 35 years ago I worked with kids in Laguna Beach. That was before I made the quilt and taught Magic Quilt Classes. I was substitute teaching in the public schools and I got a glimpse at what it would be like to be a young person growing up in such an affluent area. It didn't occur to me that all kids in the area weren't affluent.
When we planned a vacation in May for Laguna Beach, I wasn't sure there would be a place that could or would use a mystery volunteer. I did a little research and after a few calls I was set to volunteer at the Boy and Girls Club with a preschool group.
Here I am packing up my stuff that had been waiting in the trunk. I had the big "Magic Quilt" for spreading on the floor and gathering the kids. And I had the "Connected Quilt" with the pictures and messages from other kids and adults who I've gathered with in the last year and a half.
I arrived with my usual mix of enthusiasm and nerves. Communication is always difficult when arranging volunteer visits like this. There's always a fear that word hasn't been passed on and they won't be expecting me. Luckily they were, but I felt like a bag lady as I introduced myself at the desk, weighted down with bags full of quilts and puppets, props and books. I always over-pack, never knowing what I'll use until I get there.
But as usual, the kids put me at ease. First we sat around the quilt looking like an orderly group of preschoolers and before long we were jumping and singing, making patchwork designs with wooden shapes and jabbering with Pickles the puppet.
Laguna Kids Add to the Connected Quilt
After I showed the kids the Connected Quilt, I asked if any wanted to decorate a square to be added to the on-going project. This is my favorite part usually. It's fun to hear what kids have to say as they draw and color. It's usually a time when I learn a little about them, but this time kids were asking me questions for a change. That's always a surprise.
There's never enough time. Suddenly it was time to go. One little girl wrapped herself up in the Connected Quilt. A few kids had fun folding the Magic Quilt. I always ask them to "fold it one more time." I love seeing them laugh when they discover it eventually just won't fold again!
What did I learn?
My idea of "Laguna Beach Kids" has changed! I will no longer think back 34 years and picture the 13 year old girl in Jordache jeans who rolled her eyes at my cheapo Timex and commented. "Nice watch, where'd you get it?"
I'll remember these kiddos in their classroom on Laguna Canyon Road and their eager faces!
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.