Chairs Around (and on!) the Quilt
This week, chairs were scooted and wheelchairs were rolled... right up to the Quilt-covered table for my first ever, Chair Theme!
I've been itchy to do this theme for a long time, because I love chairs and I have a lot of tiny ones. But mostly, I thought it would be fun, because every kind of person can relate to chairs.
My Chair Prep
For a long time I've been collecting photos of chairs. Recently I've asked friends, family and even a stranger (when I was buying a chair) to tell me their chair stories. I have learned if you give someone a moment (maybe while relaxing in a chair) they will come up with a good chair memory.
My Chair Memory?
I have many, but this wicker rocker could tell more stories than I ever could!
I have memories of this rocker and my 100 year old great grandmother. Later the chair moved with my family to Iowa and became a favorite for cartoon watching. Since Iowa, the rocker has lived in 5 more states and it's been covered in 4 different colors of paint and fabric since my ownership. My own kids were rocked in it and I'm sure future grandchildren will be.
More Rocker Stories
I didn't waste time with my stories, though. I heard about rocking chairs from storytellers who were younger than 10 and way over 90.
My little rocker collection spurred on lots of discussion about the design of a rocker and what you can do while you're rocking... and what are the dangers of rocking chairs... and who uses rocking chairs more, young mothers or the elderly? And what's the best place for a rocker?
I guess my theme of chairs was almost too broad. We could have talked 2 hours about rockers!
I had my own fun before packing up my collection of 27 small chairs. When sitting around the quilt later, I showed the photo of my proud stacking accomplishment. They didn't think it was nearly as awesome as the picture of the circus performer, balancing on a jumbled stack of chairs.
Our Own Skills
I purchased a plastic chair-stacking game on eBay. Some took on the balancing task with enthusiasm, while some seemed confused. Dot questioned me in her Louisiana drawl, "Why are we doing this?" My answer of "For fun" seemed sufficient.
For a few, fiddling with the plastic chairs was yet another way to spur on a memory. Donna said, "I remember when my teacher asked us to help stack the chairs in the classroom!" A few started stacking the tiny chairs in a proper "one up, one down" fashion. Personalities shine through, when playing with tiny chairs!
Chairs for Relaxing
The most enthused discussion revolved around the chairs that help us relax. We debated over the best outside chairs from Adirondack to folding lawn chairs. "And when we're sitting in those heavenly chairs, what do we look at and what do we do?"
Adele described watching the ocean from a chair on the boardwalk. Lucy remembered a porch chair with a view of Lake Michigan. Then she shook her head and wondered out loud, "Why did I ever leave Michigan?" I worried that I had caused an ache of yearning. "What!" I interrupted her sigh, "That is no fair. I have never enjoyed a view of Lake Michigan from a porch! I'm pretty jealous of your memory!" She laughed and agreed, she was lucky to have it.
Robert picked up the Adirondack chair and told us he remembered sitting in a chair just like it. "I sat in it and read the bible." I liked picturing Robert lounging in a chair and reading, since most of his stories are about hard work on the farm or in the service.
Chairs With a Purpose
We had a great time comparing the chairs we enjoy while being pampered, to the chairs we dread, because they bring us pain. I meant the dental chair! I had not planned on discussing electric chairs... although my buddy Ken did bring it up. We all cringed.
Chairs in Books
The book of "397 Chairs" seemed to entertain Ramona and Wilma for quite some time. But we had a hard time coming up with a book or movie involving chairs. We decided "The 3 Little Bears" was the only book that seemed to have a spotlight on chairs.
Chairs in Music
We had some fun remembering the game of Musical Chairs, but it was harder coming up with songs about chairs. I found only a few recordings, mostly country songs with rocking chairs... some too sad to play.
I did find a duet with Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden singing, "Old Rockin' Chair's Got Me". When I asked my last group if they knew of any chair songs, Robert worked to remember the lyrics of the old Armstrong song. When I played the recording, it was fun to watch the whole gang begin to sway with the slow and bluesy duet. It made it seem as though we had all just gotten seated in rocking chairs, that rocked side to side...rather than forward and back!
Here's a Youtube video of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jh9mereIx1o
Manners and Discipline
We brainstormed chair rules. "Don't tip back in your chair." "Sit still!" "Don't stand on that chair!"
I asked how many remembered chairs being used for punishment?" None of us ever remembered the luxury of a rocking chair in the corner. The portrait of me posing in a chair, nearly looks like a child being punished... or at least a Time Out Chair. But I don't think "time out" had been invented yet. My mother had her own chair discipline. When my sister and I bickered, she put us in 2 chairs that faced each other. We weren't allowed to argue anymore, but we were encouraged to make faces. We knew Mom expected us to end up laughing, so we tried our best to not let her plan work. Our teamwork against Mom's psychology usually lasted a short while. And then the torture of suppressing giggles ended!
Pass the Rocker
I ended each group by passing a small rocking chair around the table. Each had a turn to describe a chair they remembered or a chair they would love to have.
Dot recalled a handmade rocker, similar to the one pictured. She nearly fell out of her own chair with enthusiasm as she described the day the rocking chair salesman drove his truck right up to their house in Louisiana. "My mama and papa had oak rocking chairs in the fireplace room and I wanted one just like theirs. I cried and cried until I got me a little baby rocking chair!" Her grin was probably just as big as the one she had the day she got her way.
In my last group, we had an eight year old join her grandmother. She talked about a rocking chair in her house that had been there since her big sister was a baby. "And she's eleven!" I wanted to chuckle at the idea of an 11-year-old chair, being old. But I didn't dare break the trusting spell of the sweet group, by acting amused.
Ken said they had a child-sized rocking chair in their home. "For a while, we used to loan the chair to a department store at Christmastime. They used it in their window display." That thought got the whole group thinking about rocking chairs near fireplaces, with a cup of hot chocolate! And Christmas music! Yummy food smells wafting from the kitchen!
Mother's and Rocking Chairs
Angel raised 5 daughters and remembered the task of rocking one child to sleep, only to pick up another and start all over.
Sue remembered rocking in a glider that sat in their sunroom. .. until it got too hot in the summer. But one day, her mother made a trade with a friend and swapped the yellow, electric mixer for an electirc fan. Then it was breezy enough, so Sue could sit and read her book!
Lois described the nursery where she rocked her children. We all tried to imagine the sounds of the nursery. Did the rocker squeak? "No, but the baby cried!"
Rocking on Porches
Many had porch memories with summer and crickets and lemonade. I loved Marie's memory of rocking on a front porch, watching cars and people as well as trees and squirrels!
Men in Rockers
We had talked earlier about the relief President Kennedy's rocker brought to his weary back. That reminded us that rockers aren't just for moms.
Margaret remembered her husband coming home from work and pulling the rocker to the doorway of the kitchen. While she cooked he would sometimes read the newspaper aloud to her. "Sometimes our young son would crawl up in his lap and he would read to him." Her voice was dreamlike as she described the little boy's game. "He would sneak down and crawl away and my husband would pretend he didn't notice."
I could picture the young father with his exaggerated expression as he hunted down the hall for the missing boy. "He would act surprised when he found him, and bring him back to his chair." She said this happened over and over and every time the young son returned to his father's lap, his smile got bigger. He had fooled his daddy.
What Did I Learn?
Aware of the Chair? This theme has made me more aware of the chairs I use daily. Right now, the one I'm seated in while I write this... needs a better cushion!
Tents, Trailers and Cabins
Not everyone can relate to a camping theme. But I selfishly chose the theme, because I'd just returned from some trailer and tent camping.
"Who Has Been Camping Before?"
That was the first question I had for each group. The fact that less than a fourth of each group answered "yes" could have made for some dull sharing. But as usual, everyone seemed to have something to say. Tent stories lead to National Park talk. Park talk lead to cabins and lodges. And everyone had something to say about fires and bugs!
A Fine Centerpiece
My crazy display bowl of marshmallows and sticks gave us something to laugh at, right off. Many who had never camped, remembered toasting marshmallows. Dot had more than marshmallow stories, though. As a child, her family and the families of nearby tenant farmers gathered for camp-outs, out in the swamp. "During the day, the women would fish and the men would go hunting."
Even though she hated it when the kids were all sent to the tents for bed, she loved listening to the adults as they lingered around the fire, sharing stories. "Oooeee!" Dot grinned and carried on, her Louisiana drawl, "They told the best stories!"
Margie had enthusiastic tales of helping out with her son's Boy Scout Troop. She laughed about all the sandwiches she and her husband made for the boys. A young aide joined our group at the nursing home and shared her own memories of being a Girl Scout.... not that many years ago.
"But we never camped in tents or got to make fires! I wish I could do some real camping, now!" 87 year old Elaine, smiled at the young woman's complaint and suggested they both go camping. It was fun to listen to this enthusiastic pair, planning their imaginary camp-out!
Building Our Own
We tried to imagine having only 1 match to start a fire. How could we go about building a structure that would light with one match? Many knew about the importance of tiny, dry, pieces of wood. Some suggested leaves or pine needles.
I tossed out some sticks and quite a few built tiny teepee and log cabin structures, that probably would have caught fire easily. Claire and Juanita laughed as they cheated and reached for some Lincoln Logs to add to their structure.
Besides Sleeping and Eating...
We talked about other things you might do on a campout. Some talked about hiking and fishing. The toy canoe reminded Robert of a time he tried to cross a river, without the help of a canoe. "I didn't know how to swim, but I wanted to get across! I used 2 buckets under each arm to help me float
Then I held another with my legs..." He laughed, as he described losing a grip on the bucket that he held by his legs... his face went down and he barely made it across. Robert's river story reminded him of more river stories, one that involved spotting Bonnie and Clyde as he headed in for lunch, after a morning of picking cotton. I was pretty delighted to look up details on the internet, that made his story (in Wharton, TX) sound pretty quite possible... even if it had nothing to do with camping!
Camping and Music
We imagined the kind of music you might sing around a campfire. Guitars and harmonicas came to mind. Dot proudly recalled her husband's harmonica skills. I was surprised to learn the others at the table had all heard him play. There was a hint of sad to Dot's proud smile, which made me assume he has passed away. But she seemed mighty delighted to hear the others rave about his talent.
The Good Old Portable Ukulele!
Margaret did a little strumming on the uke as she yodeled for us. Ken did as much laughing as he did singing, while he played. And then we put the uke down and listened. I was surprised to see so many faces laugh and remember, when I played a recording of the funny, "homesick song" from the 1960's, "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah... Here I am in Camp Granada..."
Books Spark Memories
Jeannette was surprised to see the Ford Treasury Outdoors book. She said it was her son's favorite book as a young boy. "For a while, he wouldn't read anything else." Claire was amused by some of the fancy Airstream trailer images. We talked about the word "glamping" and how some add so much glamour and pampering to their experience, it can hardly be called camping.
Things to Touch
While I passed around a few photos and book images with one group, I let Bruce serenade us on the uke. He never complains in our group, that he can no longer see.
He tells amazing stories and responds with incredible enthusiasm, when I give him things that he can explore with his hands. He loved the soft flannel of the doll's sleeping bag and the perfectly proportioned, miniature canoe. The props reminded Bruce of a number of camp related stories from his rich family history going back to the mid 1800's. But Bruce never was a fan of camping himself. "I did enough of that in the service."
We talked about how much better food tastes when we've worked up an appetite from playing or working outdoors.
Most believed food tastes better cooked outside. Ken thought campfire food was delicious, even when it was charred on the outside... like the potatoes they would stick directly into the fire.
Trailer, Tent or Cabin?
Out of all my groups, not a soul had pulled a travel trailer. But everyone seemed to recall Lucille Ball's movie, "The Long, Long Trailer".
We did have enough folks with cabin and tent experiences to debate which was better. Mary said. "At least you know what's in your tent! There are too many nooks and crannies for bugs to hide, in a cabin!"
Best and Worst?
BUGS! That topped the list when we discussed the worst part of camping. I had to laugh because that was indeed the biggest problem during my recent camping experience.
Torrential rains were a bit of a problem too, but the mosquitoes that followed were even more aggravating. What luck that my sister had a folding screen house!
What Did I Learn?
It's possible to have fun with a theme, even when many don't automatically relate to it. I wish I was better at convincing folks!
That's why I'm often slow to answer, when I'm asked what the next theme will be. "You'll have to come and see!" That's my best answer. If I'd told everyone ahead of time that our theme was camping... it's possible nobody would have come.
Rainy in Texas!
On May 18th, I decided to embrace our wet spring with a theme of Rain and Wind. I lugged in some weather related props to share with the Quilt groups and got ready to enjoy rain memories. The very idea seemed to make the rain disappear for a couple days. Not a drop fell during any of my Quilt groups.
Creating Rain Sounds
But we made our own rain sounds with a "rain stick" and the "rainforest drum". A few made the sounds of a light rain with their finger tips on the drum. Others went for the sounds of rolling thunder, pounding with palms. Marie reminded us that drums were used in many cultures to bring rain during droughts. We thought about doing a rain dance, but decided we didn't really need more rain.
I had a few toy umbrellas to prompt some umbrella memories. We pictured Gene Kelly dancing with an umbrella and we listed all the uses for an umbrella... like shielding from sun or wind, or catching rainwater or using an umbrella as a cane.
Ramona thought a pointy umbrella was great tool for protection. "You can use it like a sword or baseball bat, if anyone bothers you!"
There were a few memories shared about umbrellas, but the sweetest came from Adele. "I used to open my bedroom window when it was raining and I'd put my pillow on the windowsill. I'd prop up my umbrella over the sill and rest my head on the pillow, where I could listen to the sound of the rain."
Rain in Music and Movies
Everyone recognized "Singin' in the Rain" and most sang along. Sleepy Margaret had been nodding off just a bit, but came to life when the music started up. She twirled one of the tiny umbrellas and sang along!
Just a few remembered the the Hepburn and Lancaster movie, "The Rainmaker". I played a recording of the musical version, where a conman called Starbuck claims he can make rain with magic words and a hickory stick... for 100 dollars. It was fun to see the group lean in to hear the story/song that I remembered loving as a child. We chuckled at the singer's bold voice, vowing his rain would cause the rivers to overflow... and make the dying cattle would rise up, again!
I brought along a pink cloud pillow that I made years ago for a game with kids. I had no idea it would end up being so useful.
The first group I met with had the energy of a grade school classroom on a stormy day. It was sunny outside, but they had an electric enthusiasm that was delightful, but noisy! Everyone had a story to tell and there were too many voices talking at once. I had to grab the cloud. "Put it over your head, Adele!" I laughed. "Everyone will know it's your turn to talk." We knew it was childish and silly, but it gave each their own turn to speak.
My very last group is always smaller and more intimate. We passed the cloud and each told something they liked about rain. "The smell!" said Rose. "Especially when it hasn't rained in a while and you can smell the moist earth!"
Donnie had a hard time coming up with anything positive. She had a memory of a bolt of lightning coming straight through the front door and out through the window. She said she hates rain and storms now... but she is glad that she's here, to tell her story.
I so wish I'd had an old pair of galoshes or rubber boots with buckles to share. Or a yellow rain slicker or even a poncho. But I did dig up a few dolls with rain related outfits.
Most recognized Mary Poppins and I asked if anyone had childhood memories of leaping off porches or chairs with umbrellas in hopes of being lifted into the sky. I was the only one. I guess my generation was the most impressed by the 1964 movie which made us all want to fly with umbrellas!
We didn't just talk rain, we talked about wind. We listed all the ways we can tell it's windy, from trees and windmills blowing, to hair and skirts... to laundry on a line.
I asked what wind is good for and Margie lit up! She threw back her head as if recalling an image of her brother with his kite, stuck in a tree. I wish I had a film of her expressive hands and face as she recalled every detail of the kite rescue story!
Wind in the Room
We made our own wind when we blew on a tiny pinwheel. Margaret had the best technique as she rotated the tiny stick to the proper angle. Then we used a paper fan and took turns stirring up the air in the room. That wasn't so exciting till I blew bubbles into the room and everyone tried to perfect their fanning technique to keep the bubbles from coming down. Mostly we did a lot of laughing.
Oddly enough the thought of floods never came up with any my groups. However, images of floods have been on my mind ever since.
However, shortly after enjoying this fun weather theme, I headed off on a camping trip with family. I've just spent 2 weeks traveling Texas, dodging floods and tornadoes. Communities have been devastated in our area. We've been lucky, but others have not. It seems odd to suddenly revisit these photos of my groups, laughing and singing and teasing about rain, just days before the subject became serious.
What Did I Learn?
There's a drama to weather that makes for an intriguing theme. You can't control it and maybe that's why we're all a little in awe of it. Weather stirs up the air, but it also stirs up emotions... good and bad.
What Else Did I Learn?
A rainbow is such a positive image and symbol. It seemed fitting to end my last group, with a discussion on rainbows. It also seemed fitting to play Judy Garland, singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
Of course I took a risk with that emotional song and I did end up with dear Martha, sniffling. The song made her think of her late husband, Dick. But then we all ended up laughing as we pictured Dick looking down at all of us with our silly umbrella games and songs. We decided he was pretty amused.
So I also learned that rainbows, as whimsical as they seem, have the power to brighten or darken our moods. Weather is serious business and I'm glad we didn't know what was coming our way, 2 weeks ago. It's sunny today as I write on June 1, but it's also the first day of Hurricane Season!
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.