The Evening of Dr. King's Birthday
On Sunday evening I muted the Golden Globe Awards and read Martin Luther King's speech. It's not the first time I've read or heard those words, but for some reason their meaning was clearer this time. I went to bed, but didn't sleep. I kept picturing the National Mall in 1963, crowded with 200,00 people, listening. "I have a dream..." Then I pictured the people gone, replaced by a gigantic quilt. Not the Aids Memorial Quilt that visited the Mall years ago, but an enormous crazy quilt.
The Quilt Dream
I wasn't asleep, but I couldn't stop my brain from visualizing this enormous puzzle of fabrics... crooked triangles, penny sized circles, long slivers and jagged stars. The material, I imagined had as many different textures as shapes and each individual cloth had it's very own smell...hints of the person who wore the apron or denim or satin. And then I imagined people coming towards this massive quilt...people as varied as the shapes, colors and textures...And then I begged my brain to turn off and let me sleep. But it wouldn't, until I agreed to just take my own simple, storytelling Magic Quilt to visit the kids at the shelter the next day. They often help me with storytelling, so they would help me finish this story!
Quilts and Cooperation
I had been to the Women's Shelter earlier in the week. My theme with the Quilt Kids had been simply "Quilt". That's a warm and cozy theme for winter. But it also leads to discussion about what goes into quilt making. The groups long ago who made quilts, whether they were Amish or they were slaves or they were farm women, all came together and cooperated to create a good thing. While these quilters worked, they shared stories, songs and ideas. We tied this thought into some of Dr. King's hopes and dreams...of people coming together.
We wake up Pickles...
On Monday afternoon, I headed to the shelter with the Quilt and my puppet. A school holiday and an oddly fierce wind gave the kids playing outside a strange energy.
We found an empty room inside and the kids spread out the quilt. The kids drained a little of their energy with a couple rounds of the Quilt Song, which allowed them to jump and sing and point to things on the quilt.
Then they begged to wake Pickles from his sleeping bag with their singing voices. The 2 year old thought Pickles was real, but even the 9 year olds played along and took turns trying to sing him awake!
When the puppet emerged, he was groggy as he often is. He croaked in a confused voice, "I had a dream..." There was a long pause and then an energetic 8 year old boy lunged forward. "Like..like..like... Martin Luther King!!" Too perfect, I thought.
Shapes and Fabrics
Pickles told them a bit about his dream, but he yawned and I put him back in the bag. I told the kids I would tell the dream story, but they would have to help. When I described some of the shapes on the quilt, they added their own. The nine year old boy blurted out, "Trapezoid! Rhombus!" like he was answering a quiz. "A heart." added a shy six year old girl. When we talked about the textures and the kids reached out and felt the cotton quilt, but imagined lace and velvet and scratchy wool. The enthusiasm rose the highest when they argued about which celebrity singer wore the silk gown that was part of the quilt. They listed singers I've never heard of!
We talked about the smells of the cloth shapes. "The piece of baby blanket...how does it smell?" I asked...then cautioned; "Only good smells, please." There was only a moment before a young boy, who must have a tiny sibling, answered. "Baby powder and... baby hair." As if he had no idea how sweet that was.
They loved the smells, especially when imagining Grandma's apron. "Cookies..." They could have talked kitchen smells all day, but I wanted more than food. "Perfume." Said the girl...not so shy anymore...thinking about the satin gown. And the last idea came from the child in the group who is least able to sit still. "A book." He said smiling, holding his palms open. Where did that come from? There was no adult whispering in his ear.
We finished the talk of smells by imagining all the smells of the quilt combining to form one perfect smell. We counted to three and each took a long moment to inhale. Their expressions showed how glorious that scent was. And I knew from experience to cherish this moment for only a second because all it takes is one puffy cheeked giggle to change the whole mood. We moved on.
The people came to the quilt...
The story progressed and we imagined people from all over America coming to the quilt. We pictured an old farmer hobbling with a cane, a baby crawling, an athlete running. We imagined people of all sizes and shapes. We didn't need to imagine different skin color...our group already had a perfect mixture. And then we pictured people coming from even further away!
I had no books with me to show them images, but they came up with their own ideas of fabric, worn by the people arriving from Iceland and Africa and Japan. "Don't forget about Jamaica!" said the 9 year old boy wearing the colors of Jamaica on his shirt.
"What will they do when they get to the quilt?" I asked. The once shy girl said, "They won't know how to talk to each other." We imagined the people staring at the quilt, then staring at each other. We decided it was a crawling baby who first moved onto the quilt, and the others followed. So the Quilt Kids moved off the border of the quilt and moved towards the center. Like kids, they squished close and giggled. Like a teacher, I reminded them how big the quilt was and how there was room for everyone to have their own space. And they suddenly relished having their own cozy spot, all their own.
After pausing the story because one little boy lost his tooth, we returned to the problem in the story. I asked, "If they don't speak the same language, then what happens?" "Hola!" laughed one boy who comes from a Spanish speaking family. "Bonjour!" Said a girl who is not French. "Aloha!" Said another and that was all they could come up with, before they decided the power of the quilt would help them somehow understand each other. Martin Luther King would have liked that, we agreed. Should we put him in our story? I obviously was steering this towards what I thought would be an ideal ending.
The Star of our Story
And then because they are children, real children, they ended the story like this...
"Seeing all these people from so many places getting along, made Dr. King so happy that he came. Right in the very middle of the quilt he appeared." (I wondered if they were taking this somewhere very religious) "How?" I asked. And after a tiny bit of discussion the small group happily concluded, "He came rising up, you know... that thing that floats up on a stage. The way Justin Bieber does!" And I grinned and the kids beamed with their thought. "Good ending." I said. And it was time for snack in the kitchen.
What I learned...Kids can surprise you with their thoughts, as sweet as a storybook. But they are as real as today. You can keep the thoughts as positive as a Magic Quilt story, but they still want to know about Dr. King's death. I told them I was child when he died and his funeral was on my 11th birthday. "Did you have a party?" The quiet girl asked.
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.