When I was recently hunting through old "dress ups" in search of a costume for a Halloween party, I was reminded that we're never too old for costumes!
If my husband and I were able to laugh that hard as we joked around with old wigs and masks and hats (that his mom had kept) well then it would work for the Quilt groups!
We talked about how downright creepy masks can be. I shared an odd assortment of flat masks that cover just the top half of the face.
There's something incredibly eerie about recognizing the mouth and voice... and then noticing the eyes peering out from those tiny holes on the paper mask.
These old molded masks are pretty spooky, too. Some of us remembered how ridiculously hot these things were to wear! We debated about the Indian mask and how appropriate it would be to wear that today. I wasn't surprised that quite a few could see no harm, where others had concerns about the painted face and the mean image.
Costumes, Then and Now
We wondered what costumes kids used to wear... that we don't see anymore. There aren't many gypsies trick-or-treating these days. We figured we wouldn't see Roy Rogers at the door or a scarecrow or a "tramp". We wondered what costumes we see today that we wouldn't have seen 40 years ago. "Barrack Obama!" was one answer.
A Princess or Two!
There are some costumes that seem to show up every year. We still see witches and maybe even a ghost or a Superman now and then.
And there's always at least one princess!
What Could You Be?
We tried to be inspired by picking up just a pair of gloves or a scarf or glasses. How can one thing transform you into another character?
And we remembered when kids' costumes were simple and homemade. You didn't buy a sword or a broom to add to your costume. You made it from cardboard or searched the closets till you found something to use.
I was so curious with some of the older folks, or the quilt group members who didn't grow up in the States. I wasn't sure how many even had memories of going door to door in costumes.
My most surprising answer was from Ken, who was a young boy growing up in the Bronx in the 1930's. No, he didn't remember going door to door on Halloween. "But I remember dressing up in poor looking clothing and knocking on doors asking if they had food." Since I know Ken wasn't really poor I asked. "Did you feel a little guilty about that, Ken?"
"Of course not!" Ken explained. All the kids did it. His daughter was visiting and helped us with her internet search. What a surprise! I never realized there was a tradition like this, actually on Thanksgiving. I read later that it was often called Ragamuffin Day.
I always have to add some music to the group, so we enjoyed a few recorded tunes. Some staff members at the Assisted Living home were happy to dance a little to Thriller and I was surprised that 90 year old, June could recognize the music to Psycho. I was equally surprised that some of my Spanish speaking crowd at the Center recognized Phantom of the Opera.
Eerie Melodica Sounds
My last group at the Skilled Nursing Facility met on the patio because the weather was heavenly. The balmy air attracted some folks I might not have had otherwise. There were more wheelchairs and caregivers and family members than usual... a more varied group than I'm used to.
I slipped back into my childish self and crept around the group, adding a dramatic jolt of organ sound to "scare" my friends. They were all good at humoring me and played along. I came closer to a new gentleman in a wheelchair who had been moaning and thrashing uncomfortably. His wife had been enjoying our theme, but I wasn't sure if I might cause more agitation. This is when I realize my lack of training. The dear man wasn't looking at me, but I sensed his mouth turning upward as I got closer. I decided to risk it and gave him a "jolt" of my silliness! His reaction was sublet, but sweet. I could see the distraction had been pleasant for him. His wife smiled as he became calmer.
What Did I Learn?
With concerns of health and safety, there are fewer kids enjoying the old-fashioned fun of going door to door for candy. If I'm lucky enough to meet great grandchildren someday, I wonder if they'll question me with envy. "Did you really knock on doors and open your bag for candy when you were little?"
A New State for the Quilt
In October, I was in Iowa for the first time since childhood. We planned on visiting the small town of Grinnell, where I went to Kindergarten. It would have been pretty surreal to have been able to take my quilt and do a program in my very own old classroom... but we were scheduled to visit on the weekend. However I was able to visit another small town school in northeast Iowa a few days later.
Miss K's Kids
I communicated by email with Miss K, weeks before. She arranged for me to visit her classroom after the kids had lunch. From our brief exchanges, I could already tell she was the kind of teacher I admire. When I arrived that day, the kids were in the midst of some energetic, music and movement activity. She greeted me with the same positive enthusiasm she had with her kids!
Miss K. put name tags on the kids and we jumped into some songs and games around the quilt. It's amazing how helpful name tags can be. Kids respond more quickly when I use their names. But I quickly noticed I was needing a lot of help with pronunciation. Coming from Houston, I'm pretty good with Hispanic names and there were quite a few in this class. But I was also dealing with a name or two from Somalia and there were some accents I didn't recognize.
We did an activity with stiff, squares of fabric. There was nothing tricky or even all that creative about it. It just gave them each a turn and gave me a chance to observe all the different kinds of kids, with so many different approaches. One was very shy, but was encouraged by another child. Another was eager and spoke with such enthusiasm, but I could barely understand him. This had turned out to be very different bunch of kids from what I expected. I was in rural Iowa after all.
Miss K. called her group, the Super Kids. You could tell they loved it. She smiled to me, hinting that she had a pretty energetic group this year.
I showed the Super Kids my "new quilt" and we decided to add some new squares with words from them. I had to smile at the things they loved... balloons... army guys!
What Miss K. didn't share with me, was about all the changes this school has seen. 30 years ago, the students had parents who grew up on Iowa farms or towns. But when a kosher meatpacking business opened in 1986, the town changed. Hasidic Jews from New York arrived first.
Then immigrants to work in the plant arrived, from Russia and Ukraine, then later from Mexico and Guatemala and finally from Somalia. A lot of change for a town of less than 2,000.
Varied, Like the Quilt
The residents in town were as colorful and different as the squares on the new quilt I started almost 2 years ago. Since I began "volunteering on the road", I've gathered around the quilt with kids and adults from all over.
The new friends I've met in west Texas towns, New Mexico, California, North Carolina, Alabama, Missouri, Mexico and Chile have helped decorate squares to add to a new quilt. The squares bring the thoughts and drawings and flavors of o many, together. Who would have guessed I would have seen as much diversity in one tiny Iowa town as I've seen on my travels!.
What Did I Learn?
There's much more to the story of this town and the difficulties they've faced, dealing with so many cultures in such a small area. But seeing this beautiful bunch of kids with their teacher, who cares deeply... I'm left with a great deal of hope. We've heard it before. The future lies in our children.
The Quilt's Home
St. Louis is pretty much home, since I moved there when I was 18. St. Louis is home to the Quilt Idea, too. While living in St. Louis In the 1980's, I started teaching "Magic Quilt" classes for kids. When my husband and I decided to make St. Louis one of our fall road trip stops, I was eager to take the Quilt back home!
My Old College Buddy!
Setting up a "Quilt Connection" when I'm traveling, is usually pretty tricky. I call up a school, center or a nursing home and share a little about what I do. There's often lots of red tape, which is understandable. And eventually if all is cleared, I arrive and volunteer.
How wonderful that I was able to connect with my dear college friend, Karen who had recently taken a new position as Activity Director at The Sarah Community in St. Louis! We set up a day and time...
I'm used to "winging it" with new groups. I don't know what kind of space I'll be able to use. I don't know how many will be in my group or what the abilities or interests will be. Improvising with a new group is part of the fun.
Karen's energy and confidence masked the fact that she was still somewhat new to her job, She didn't act like someone who was still learning names and routines. She certainly was beyond "winging it", but it was nice to team up once again and "improvise" with Karen. Improvising was something Karen and I did a lot of, years ago!
This and That
Karen and I found a cozy spot and settled in with a small group. Suddenly I was enjoying this relaxed, informal gathering. I shared a little about quilts... some stories, some props. But it was different than past groups, where I've "presented" a program, or felt like a teacher. It just felt like a group of women gathering around a quilt years ago.
Working with Hands
I tossed a collection of wooden shapes on the quilt and it was fun watching hands... fiddle with designs and patterns. Most of these hands probably did a lot with needles and thread, in the past. Just like long ago, sharing is often easier when the hands are busy.
At one point, Karen took one of the women back to her room to gert a quilt that she wanted to share. I took that moment to brag to the others about my friend. "What! You didn't know Karen was a singer?" I quickly informed the group.
Then I told them about how I first heard Karen's voice nearly 40 years ago. "We were in Theatre Conservatory together..." I even and told them about some of our crazy performances.
Around Another Quilt
The two returned and spread out the other quilt to share. After we admired the new quilt, the focus changed! Suddenly everyone wanted to know about Karen's work with the Bob Kuban Band. They wanted to know when she would be performing for them! And then they were back to more questions about her time with the band. Look what I started! But it was fun having these women, sharing in this fun reunion between 2 old college friends.
For the New Quilt
Before ending, we brainstormed some words that came to mind when we thought about quilts. Comfort, Memories, Sleep, Dreams... Karen and I jotted their words onto fabric squares that will be added to the quilt I'm building from all the friends I've connected with in new places. One of the women suggested we call our new group, "Gathering of the Eagles". I liked the bold title. I'll always think of these women when I look at these new patches on the quilt.
What Did I Learn?
I've used this quilt to connect with new people and to help others connect with each other. But this time, the quilt helped me connect with my old friend! Thanks, Karen!
A Boring Theme?
I didn't tell any of my groups we would be doing a Tree Theme. They might not have come. The idea of talking trees doesn't sound very stimulating.
Who Doesn't Like A Tree?
Everyone can find something good to say about trees. When I asked my Alzheimer's group to tell me something good about a tree, Ro smiled softly and began, "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree..."
The stories of kids and trees were the best. Ken said he was a city boy, but remembered trying to jump from a wall to a tree as a young boy.
His small hands lost their grip on the branch and he fell, cutting his head. Someone in our group asked if he still had a scar and Ken laughed, "Pay me a quarter and I'll show you the scar!" He chuckled again as he remembered another detail. "My mother nicknamed me monkey after that."
When I asked my group at the center who could think of a song about a tree, the group looked at me blankly. Then Robert, who is always hidden under his WWll Vet hat, spoke softly. He isn't one for singing solo in a group, but when he started up, just speaking the words, "like a tree planted near the water, I shall not be moved..." the group began to recognize the old African American spiritual. It was a touching moment to see this grou[ singing and swaying together.
Click below to hear Mississippi John Hurt sing
I played a few theme related recording and got different reactions. The younger crowd loved the livelier version of "Lemon Tree", by Herb Alpirt. My older and quieter seniors liked Peter, Paul and Mary's version... even though they didn't remember the trio. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLhYghzNfII
The only song that everyone seemed to recognize was, "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree". This isn't the first time those Andrew Sisters have gotten a few to their feet, dancing at the Community Center!
Underneath a Tree
We ended up having quite a discussion about sitting under trees! Everyone was talking at once, trying to name the special person they would want to sit with, underneath a tree.
All talked at once, until we used a prop from the table. We had to "pass the apple" around the table to help us take turns. One dear woman who spoke no English, had her friend interpret. She smiled and pointed up to the sky and said she would want to be under the tree with her mother... who is now in heaven. Another, less serious member of our group, grinned and lifted her eyebrows dramatically. "I'll never tell!
We started talking about what you might see in a tree. We began with the obvious. Fruits, nuts, leaves. We moved on, to swings, birdhouses, nests and colored lights. About every possible animal was named and then someone mentioned a tree house! Which of course led to kids in trees! There were only a few women in my 4 groups, who remembered climbing trees.I guess that's not surprising.
That reminded me to be appreciative that I was born in a day when girls climbed trees. I was a big fan of tree climbing and so were my own kids. We thought about kids today and wondered how many have never climbed a tree. Some kids might not have a tree to climb, but most just don't have time to climb.
In one of my groups, we pondered the old question, "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear... does it make a sound?" It didn't take long for the jury to agree. "Of course there would be a sound!"
Another group got off on a debate about Spanish moss being a parasite. The group finally decided no.
In my hospital group, we got off on a different kind of subject. Our discussion of tree roots, led to family roots.
Family Roots Family Trees
Jon who was new to our group, said he began exploring his family roots after his father died. "my father never wanted to talk about where he came from, because Dad was adopted. But I wanted to know."
It was touching to hear the group support Jon. They were glad he cared enough to explore his history. Margie encouraged Jon, "Family history is important!
Sweet Dorothy leaned in and shared with a smile, "I have a lot of family history." Dorothy always shares positive stories, even though she grew up in a poor, black family in Mississippi.
Ken softly interrupted. "You wouldn't have to go back very far and you'd have slaves in your family history." The words sound harsh in print and I did cringe when I heard Ken speak. But I was touched but the reaction. Dorothy turned to Ken and smiled, "I know. That's true." These two come from such different worlds, (Ken from the Bronx) but they share a warmth and trust and positive spirit that I have come to admire.
Making a Tree
There were no discussions of family roots, with my group at the Center. But there was lots of sharing.
We got off on a project, making "leaf tags" to decorate a bare tree branch. I just threw out paper, pens and yarn and they jabbered away as they worked. I laughed to watch this group, as comfortable as siblings at a dinner table, sharing pens and fighting over scissors and laughing over stories.
What did I learn?
It doesn't take much. I don't need a tricky theme or fancy art supplies or props. This was one of those subjects that brought people together. It didn't matter about age or health or skills or education. Everyone had a little something interesting to say about trees.
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.