From 2 to 101
I took a Thanksgiving theme to four places this week. We talked about favorite foods, family traditions and the obvious... what we're thankful for. What a wonderful mixture of thoughts and voices, still lingering in my head. Children as young as 2, up to my oldest adult at 101, all shared a little Thanksgiving enthusiasm!
How thankful are kids?
My senior groups were amused by these paper turkey feathers that clearly demonstrate how young kids have a hard time understanding thanks. Some of the words my kids dictated or wrote years ago were more about wishes than thanks. "I'm thankful for Santa to bring me a kitty." I was amused later when I gathered with the kids at the Women's Shelter and discovered their thoughts of thanks were similar to my kids' ideas 20 years ago. "I'm thankful that I was a Ninja for Halloween."
Around the Table
With all the groups, we had fun imagining the perfect Thanksgiving table with all the smells and colors and flavors. After that we came up with a list of the kinds of things families and friends can share around the table besides food. In one of my senior groups, Vivian reminded us that we can share grace and Betty talked about sharing stories. In another group Lucille thought about all the recipes that are shared. One of the children at the shelter made me chuckle when he thought up the idea of sharing jokes!
A New Project for Sharing
I asked each group to help me with a project that would help connect all the kids and folks who gather around the quilt each week. I asked everyone to decorate a couple squares of fabric so we could stitch them all together and make a new quilt.
Creating the Squares
Each group approached the project differently. The children did lots of negotiating over material. Two boys wanted the cloth with a train print and each had a pretty good argument why they should get it. I was relieved that Roberto's little sister distracted him into picking another fabric.
I encouraged the kids to write something special that would be shared on the future quilt. "Something you're thankful for or something that makes you happy or makes you laugh." After a few "I love Christmas" and "I love Food!" cloths, I was able to talk the kids into thinking a little harder. Roberto admitted the thing that made him happy was making his baby sister smile. That made me smile!
Thoughts in One Word
My Community Center group was the most enthused about decorating their cloth squares. For some who speak only a little English, one word was enough to convey a message. We had everything from "Peace" to "Cherry Pies".
Music and Stories
Norman Rockwell's painting helped spur a few memories with the seniors. As we worked on the fabric squares, we played a little music and some even sang along with a recording of Louis Armstrong singing, "What a Wonderful World". We decided that was the perfect Thanksgiving song.
It was fun to see what ideas this group came up with. Betty chose a "Gone with the Wind" printed fabric and wrote, "Love makes the world go 'round". Lucille worked quietly for a long time and then I realized she had written a long story (in tiny cursive) about a a very mean rooster she remembered from childhood. A fun memory to share on the quilt.
To get our brainstorming started at Silverado, I told about a song my family sings every year at Thanksgiving. Our tradition started as sort of a joke and now we've mastered a pretty tricky way of harmonizing. Betty shared about her grandmother's cozy kitchen and Rita remembered some delicious foods. After talking a while we got down to sharing some thoughts on the cloth squares. Even 5-year old Andrea helped. My mom wasn't able to personalize her own, but she was able to pick her material. I had to smile because she chose the same print the boys had fought over. My mom always loved trains!
Piecing it all together!
Eventually these squares will come together and I'll be able to gather my groups around a new quilt. This is what I hope will happen. Each group will gather around the quilt and point out the messages and drawings on all the squares. The words and pictures on the quilt will remind us of other things. We'll go off on all sorts of tangents and share a few stories. Our tangents might lead to a song or a joke or even a debate. Hopefully we'll end up sharing a little laughter, too.
What I learned: Sitting around the quilt each week is kind of like coming together at Thanksgiving! We usually don't share food, but we share about everything else. I might have to decorate my own quilt square and write, "I'm thankful I get to gather around and share with my quilt peeps every week!"
This week I took the Quilt and a "tree theme" to 3 places.
I have added am Assisted Living Center to my stops. I played it safe with a tree theme, assuming everyone has some kind of tree memory.
First Stop, The Community Center
At the Center, my props and photos always draw folks to the table, but I have to have art supplies to keep them there. This was never supposed to be an art group, but I now know, if I can get the hands working, the sharing will follow... with the help of those who speak both Spanish and English... to do a little interpreting for me.
While a few worked on labeling leaves on their own family trees, I heard stories about parents and grandchildren. Others used charcoal and pastels, and debated over "the very best kind of tree." Most in this group named a fruit tree as their favorite!
On to The Original Quilt Gan
My friends in this group would rather explore the stuff on the table than create a piece of art. It's amazing how many memories are triggered by the smell of a pinecone or the feel of a willow branch in your hand.
It's not all serious talk with this group.
Trees can make very good costumes sometimes!
What are they good for?
It's amazing how long the list can get when you brainstorm the use of trees. They give us food, shade and fuel...and they even make us laugh! Betty laughed first and then was perplexed at this photo of a bizarre, sycamore trunk, arching over a sidewalk.
A Surprise About Acorns
Margaret did a little acorn sorting, while I shared one of the (very important) things I learned in college...how to use an acorn lid as a whistle. No one else was able to create the same piercing sound, but I assured them it had taken me 4 hours (on a class hike) to learn the skill!
There was no time for artwork or acorn whistling or games with my last group. They just had too much to say!
Lucille told us about the fall colors in Oregon and how she planted 29 trees after her husband died. Dorothy told us about a big Mesquite tree where they tied their horses.
Sometime the shared memories go way back. Eunice, who just turned 101, told us about the mulberry tree on her farm and the hours she spent as a child climbing in it.
Bud remembered a rope tied to a tree branch over a swimming hole...and an occasional "belly buster"!
Betty remembered how she and her friends buried pennies at the root of a tree. They had planned to dig them up one day, but never did.
We all remembered the fun of a willow tree... using the long branches for hiding and swinging...and whip making. That reminded Katherine of being told to go out and pick a "switch" when she was a child. She told the story with enough of a chuckle, that we didn't have to worry!
Not All Nostalgia
One of the best things about this group is that we don't just talk in the past. We talked about tree grafting and parasites like Spanish moss and mistletoe. One of the most interesting things I learned from the group was that during the Civil War, acorns were covered in cloth and used as buttons.
A Special Tree
As I packed up to leave, some of the folks reminded me to take a look at the wonderful papaya tree planted in the front of the Assisted Living Center.
I did stop to look and I had to take a photo!
What I Learned:
For some of my quilt folks, I just hope they enjoy the time we sit and share around the table. That's enough. But for some of my new friends, I hope they are enjoying the fun of a "lingering theme" like I am. I can't stop thinking about the stories I heard and the comments that were shared. All week I have been pausing to enjoy trees...just a little 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.