Is this my 5th year doing a Christmas theme?
I guess I shouldn't ever feel guilty about repeating a theme... especially this one.
Hot Chocolate and Art Projects
I had 5 groups this year. I packed up thermal pitchers of hot chocolate and colored lights for the table. .. books and decorations.
Every place I visited was already buzzing with festive energy. At the Center a few gathered at my table with craft projects they were finishing.
They sipped and sang carols and rang bells, while they finished folding Reader's Digests into Christmas trees. That made me smile, because I remember doing that in second grade.
My first group was distracted and as giddy as kids on Christmas Eve. I missed my usual intimate gathering when we share and laugh together. Quite a few had just enough time to ring a few bells before rushing off. There was Holiday Food Give Away in the meeting room.
I hurried to hand out Christmas cards I'd brought for each and reminded myself that it was a wonderful thing that my little Quilt Table wasn't the only thing these folks had going on!
Usually the wheel chairs are already gathered and waiting at the Nursing Home. Where was everyone? I knocked on a few doors and found a few empty rooms, which alarmed me. Where was Dorothy and where was Bob? The hardest part of working with the elderly is knowing you have to say good-bye.
I ended up with a sweet small group. Dot and Mary, both from the South laughed about their father's cutting down Christmas trees. Dot said the beauty of the tree her Daddy cut, sometimes had to do with how much beer he'd had to drink before heading out.
Mary said her father cut trees for all of the classrooms in her elementary school. She said it was the least he could do since she and her siblings filled up every classroom in the school.
We talked about Christmas stockings and what you might find. "Fruit and nuts and maybe a peppermint stick." Was the common answer. Then my Southern gals got all excited remembering their favorite nut with a jolting name that made me glad for a moment my sweet Dorothy was not there.
I had to gently remind them that we call them Brazil nuts now and that the old term could be hurtful. Then eagerly asked them more questions about what they loved best at Christmas.
What Did I Learn?
Funny I thought the Quilt had the power to stop the clock and give us a little Non-Rush-Christmas-Nostalgia-Time! Even my Quilt Groups felt hurried because of other activities and happenings. Actually it's a wonderful thing that there was so much going on for these wonderful people!
We talked about the lost art of letter writing. Everyone who gathered around the quilt this week (including myself) was old enough to remember the days of sealing wax and licking stamps and letter openers.
But none were old enough to have lived in the day of writing letters with a quill pen.
The quill pen was a hit, though. Everyone was intrigued by how soft it was. I was so glad I had the feather, since I happened to have two new guests who had both recently lost their ability to see. It was a sweet surprise to watch them enjoying something on the table that was more fun to feel than see!
We talked about the fun and simplicity of sending a card with a picture and short message. I shared 2 old postcards, both cancelled in 1918. They were written by my paternal grandmother and fraternal grandfather, both doing service during the war.
The Fun Postcards
Talk of old letters can get sentimental and serious, so we had to lighten things with the crazy collection of whimsical postcards my mom collected over the years!
There were cards with moving parts and blinking eyes and two with attached baggies, one holding sand and the other, Spanish moss. We debated if any could actually be sent in the mail anymore.
We all recalled a day when only men delivered the mail. It was amazing how many remembered the name of their postman. Lucille remembered her postman whistling as he strolled down the walk. It was a welcoming sound, that told her there might be mail!
I recalled a teasing postman when I was a teen. He climbed our porch stairs on a chaotic summer afternoon when the moving van was unloading at our new home.
The stress and heat of the day was broken when he hollered past the movers, "Is there a Beth Meyer who lives here?" I answered and lunged for the door, "Yes! Do I have mail!" "No," He said in a serious tone, before laughing and handing me a letter from a dear friend.
There aren't exactly tons of books to share on the subject of letters and postmen. The only one I found on my shelf was an old Golden Book with illustrations that easily spurred on more memories.
Tom had the most surprising story. His great grandfather had been a carrier of Confederate mail during the Civil War. As a young man Tom helped clean out his great grandfather's home and found a letter from Sam Houston. (Not sure how he aquired that?) Tom said he was able to sell the letter for $50 to the State Archives, so that he could pay for a gravestone.
Songs and Movies
We came up with a few theme related movies, like The Postman Rings Twice. A couple other random movie scenes came to mind.
We had an easier time coming up with some fun theme related music. I played a few recordings. Many recognized "Mr. Postman" and "Return to Sender".
But my new friend Tom came up with some lyrics that surprised me. He pondered a moment as he recalled some verses from "Down in the Valley" that I had never heard.
"Write me a letter... Send it by mail. Send it in care of... The Birmingham jail. Birmingham jail, Love. Birmingham jail. Send it in care of, The Birmingham jail."
Sealing a Letter
We talked about decorating envelopes with stamps and stickers and even perfume.
Then I dug for what I thought was the obvious... "What's the most special way to seal a letter!?" It was a quiet gentleman by the name of Bruce who shyly answered, "A kiss."
I'm always curious to hear the thoughts that are shared when we draw cards with questions. "What do people like to get in the mail?" I heard everything from Love Letters to Social Security Checks! Charlotte remembered receiving letters from her mother in beautiful penmanship. Naomi remembered hoping to get responses in the mail, after writing fan letters to movie stars!
The Cost of a Stamp
I shouldn't have been too surprised that not one person in all my groups knew the price of first class stamp today. Quite a few knew that it took a 3-cent stamp to send a letter in 1950!
Doing my quilt groups has turned me into even more of a pack rat. I'm forever holding onto treasures that I might share with the groups. But on this day I brought in a box of unused greeting cards my mom had collected. She's been gone 2 years and I've made little progress in using her cards. So I set up shop at the Community Center and asked folks to take as many as they liked. What a treat watching the cards disappear.
What Did I Learn?
I learned that it's a good idea to have a Letters and Mail theme right before Christmas. It reminded me to be patient with our replacement carrier, who seemed to make a total mess of our mail during the holiday season.
Every time I got irritated with our service, I looked at the mailbox and package ornaments on the tree and I thought of all the sweet stories that were shared around the Quilt Table.
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.