I recently got carried away with a huge spring cleaning project at home. I sorted through boxes of stored dolls. I had an amusing time, trying to see how many I could display on an antique organ. I stopped at 69.
Around the Quilt
Most of these dolls have just been taking up storage space. I knew I needed to find homes for them, but I wanted to put them to good use first. I planned a doll theme with my senior groups. On Tuesday I lugged part of the collection, along with some books and photos.
No one remembered the Lonely Doll book, that I adored. My seniors all remembered paper dolls, but the high school volunteers had never heard of them. I told them how my mother used to make paper dolls from cardboard. My sister and I would describe the clothes we wanted Mom to draw. Then we colored them and cut them out. The young volunteers listened, but their expressions told me... "That does not sound fun."
I had a couple of men in my morning group. I was glad they weren't scared off by the theme. One remembered his sister sharing her dolls with him. The other never played with dolls, but he happily eased into the theme by looking through a book about doll history.
Kewpies, Barbies, Shirley and Chatty Cathy
Kewpie dolls and Shirley Temple dolls were popular when my mother was a child. Many in my afternoon group remembered them well.
Many in my morning group were closer to my age. They remembered what Barbie looked like when she debuted in 1959. A few remembered the popular Chatty Cathy and her robotic voice, when you pulled the string.
My young volunteers laughed at the 1959 Barbie image. They admitted they had collected tons of Barbies when they were younger. They seemed surprised that girls often just had one Barbie Doll... or Ken. They had never heard of Midge, Barbie's much more human looking friend.
Not everyone had a memory of owning a store bought doll. We brainstormed how you could make a doll at home... from wood or scraps of fabric, paper or clothespins. A few had made cornhusk dolls, but no one remembered carving dolls from soap, like the ones that Boo Radley made for Jem and Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird.
We talked about what makes a doll appealing. Some thought pretty baby dolls were the best. Others liked cuddly, soft dolls. One admitted that she never really liked dolls at all.
I was the kid who liked cute & little over fancy & expensive. I preferred Troll dolls and "Liddle Kiddles" over Barbie. I had to laugh when I saw my dear friend wearing my 2 favorites, like festive broaches!
The small dolls were fun to pass around. It was interesting to hear the group conversing, as they passed.
While we passed we wondered... Are all dolls toys? What do kids do with dolls? Where are dolls kept? Why are some dolls scary? How can dolls be used to teach?
Do Boys Like Dolls?
We decided that plenty of boys do like dolls ... especially this guy, with Elvis and Popeye.
I was glad I had a few of these fine gents to share. My son had these when he was younger, but he didn't just have boy dolls. We talked about how boys and girls can learn a little something with baby dolls.
Dolls that Teach
I got this crazy looking babydoll when my mom was expecting. I learned how to care for my baby, while I watched my mom with my tiny brother.
My morning group had fun listing all the crazy "performing" dolls. Dolls that walked, talked, drank water and wet! My mom gave my daughter a battery-filled doll that crawled. Somewhere on an old VHS tape there is a video of Heidi and the doll, racing in the grass.
Dolls for a Purpose
I was excited when Ramona could tell me about the "Last Doll" tradition. In some Mexican families, fathers give their 15 year old daughters their "last doll" when they celebrate their Quinceanera. Ramona said her granddaughter had a doll displayed on her Quinceanara cake.
No one in either group knew anything Kachina dolls and how they've been used to teach Hopi and Navajo children about the ancestral spirits. I didn't open up a discussion on Haitian Voodoo dolls... but I shared a happier version, that is more of a good luck doll. We didn't have time to talk about the "Johnny Walks Last" doll, that I discovered on the internet. I wonder if anyone would have remembered these sad looking dolls, that were used to inspire sympathetic donating, for St. Labre Indian School. My theme research always teaches me something and this was an unusual bit of info!
We talked about collectable dolls, that adults buy and display. Some collect antique dolls or dolls that look like famous people.
I shared character dolls that represented 4 generations. My grandmother's Uncle Sam got a few chuckles. My mother's Sonja Henie doll was less familiar. No one could guess my doll in pink was Caroline Kennedy, but a few recognized my daughter's Shirley Temple - Heidi Doll. We tried to guess which of these dolls was actually used for play.
Posing with Dolls
In my morning group, everyone grabbed a doll or two and I snapped some photos. I was surprised at how many thought the Doctor Dolittle doll was handsome. Rex Harrison was indeed handsome, but I always thought the smiling doll was eerie.
What I Learned
I learned that my senior friends are a lot more forgiving about doll flaws than younger kids. No one seemed a bit put off by dirty faces or ripped clothes. Both groups were delighted to spend time sharing and comparing and most of all, telling their own doll memories... dolls that got lost, stolen, broken or playfully tortured!
Now that we've had some fun, I will have to decide where these dolls go. I think I spied a few folks who might be up for adopting!
On Fat Tuesday, I met with a couple groups around The Quilt. My senior groups have always loved a Mardi Gras theme, with festive masks and beads. But this time, I decided to leave the beads at home.
During a recent closet cleaning, I discovered just how many masks I own. "This is ridiculous!" I told myself, "I need to use these or get rid of them." So... I planned a mask theme.
Starting With Mardi Gras
I was cautious. Some of my masks are creepy. Some are comical and some could be politically incorrect.
So, I started with just a few Mardi Gras masks and everyone was happy. We talked about the festive colors and feathers and designs. Everyone liked the idea that eyes and mouths were showing and we could see expressions.
Masks for Dia de Muertos
Some of my friends from Mexico, were excited to see the masks that reminded them of Day of the Dead festivities. We talked about how painted faces can become a mask. A face just covered in paint, can hide expressions... if the makeup is done well.
Masks of Mexico
My father collected many masks when he lived in Mazatlan. I know only a little about the history of Mexican masks and how they've been used, in ceremonies and celebrations. I brought the least scary of the collection, but still hesitated before sharing. I was blown away by the enthusiasm. Not only did both groups admire the artistry, but they seemed incredibly eager to try them on!
On Stage and in Film
A woman in my morning group reached for the unpainted wooden face and said it looked like a Roman mask. I was impressed. We talked about the use of masks in Greek and Roman theatre and Chinese operas. But most of the folks were much more excited to remember the mask-wearing heroes and villains from TV and movies!
Besides wearing masks, we passed photos around the table and tossed around lots of questions. "What does a mask hide?" "What kind of masks do people wear for work?" "What athletes wear masks?" "Are masks more scary or funny?" I was surprised at some of the brainstorming.
The groups came up with a long list of special masks... masks worn by welders and robbers, surgeons and scuba divers... beauty masks for skin treatment or sleeping... masks for patients who need oxygen or burn victims.
Masks for Kids
Most of my seniors had memories of wearing a mask for Halloween. But none remembered anything quite so deluxe as the paper mache granny mask, that my dear friend Diane, wore when we trick-or-treated. The mask fit over her entire head, so I, (as a mask-less bride) had to guide her from door to door!
I had some high school volunteers in my afternoon group. Only one of them ever remembered wearing a mask for Halloween. We teased the young girls, that they really missed out. Then we fessed up, about just how uncomfortable it was having a plastic mask strapped onto your face... steaming it with your breath... mumbling through the mouth hole and stumbling from house to house, when the eye holes didn't match up.
Masks From the Fifties
I had 3 vintage Halloween masks to share. Again I was cautious. I was concerned about how appropriate these masks would be. But the masks got everyone talking.
One man said he was part Cherokee and he wasn't insulted by the painted face of the Native American. One woman said the face of the woman was beautiful. No one could decide what the gorilla-man face was, but they were amused and nearly all in my morning group wanted to put it on. Dear Betty, in the afternoon group, pushed it away with a laugh. "Keep this away from me!" I was intrigued by the reactions.
Many fondly remembered making masks out of paper grocery bags. Even one of the high school volunteers had made one. These flat, paper masks showed a simple and clever way to disguise yourself.
We all agreed, they were less creepy on the table than on the face! We tried to figure out what made it so odd. There was something eerie about combining 2 images... the real and unreal. But again, both groups were more delighted than bothered! That surprised me.
What Makes a Mask?
We talked about the definition. A mask is an object that covers the face, for protection, disguise, performance or entertainment. The morning group decided, these crazy noses and mouths were worthy of being called masks.
I brought out a few tiny masks for inspection. There were a few sweet comments about how cute they were... but all the attention went back to the big masks...
Why So Fun?
I honestly could not figure out what made my folks so happily entertained by the masks. The clown mask was kind of frightening and I almost didn't bring it. But many begged to try it on. I realized I should have brought a mirror, but they didn't even seem to care. They loved watching the others react. A few times I snapped an image on my phone, so they could see themselves.
My morning group wanted to pose for pictures, in every mask. I always bring them copies and I will have tons to distribute at our next gathering! My afternoon group just seemed so tickled to surprise each other. The full face masks were the most fun. There were no hints of facial expressions, but the body language and the muffled giggles, gave much away!
What Did I Learn?
I've always known that puppets and masks have something in common. They offer many adults and children an opportunity to play at being someone else. Maybe that's why we had so much fun with these masks. I didn't take the theme to my kid groups at the Shelter, but I may find a way to adapt for them. We'll see.
UPDATE: February 2021
I'm looking back on this post from almost 2 years ago. It's been nearly a year since I was last able to meet with these wonderful folks. It's still uncertain when we will gather again. It's odd to recall our fun Mask Day and realize we totally missed out, on one kind of mask. There was no surgical mask in our discussion... no pandemic mask.
Two years ago, I never guessed that a protective face covering, would come to mind first, when thinking of the word MASK!
As we begin February 2021, I have a new appreciation for the masks that keep us safe. I'm especially grateful for those who wears masks to protect others... just as Don did with his daughter in 1986. It's amazing to know that "Baby Heidi" is almost a mom. She will be wearing a mask in about a week, when she gives birth to her daughter. The things I didn't know in Feb/March 2019!
Three Groups on Tuesday
On Tuesday I met with 2 Senior groups as well as a group of children. It happened to be the Lunar New Year, so I chose China for our theme. Most of my young and old friends, had little connection to this theme, but they all loved the chopsticks!
Focusing on China
Masks, Hats and Dolls
Others reached for something curious to try on or examine. The Terracotta Army Warrior mask surprised a few!
I had a lot of props for our theme, focused on China. But, the chopsticks were the biggest hit in all groups. Everyone had their own style.
The chopsticks challenge put everyone in a good mood. We were more focused on humor than skill.
Watching all the creative techniques got us all laughing.
While hands were busy, we listened to different recordings of music. One piece had the sounds of a bright and festive lion dance. The other traditional piece was filled with eerie flute and plucking strings and a distant gong.
My youngest and oldest, had the most creative techniques! Luckily we had no eyes poked or sword fights with the kids. They were a fun and wild group at the Shelter that day, so I was taking a risk bringing out the tiny weapons. But they were very curious and so proud of themselves. The chopsticks ended up being a great tool for calming the kids!
Gonging in the New Year!
I actually don't know if gongs are used at all and I hope I didn't improperly use my Chinese gong. But, we created our own tradition by "gonging in the New Year" with special thoughts and words.
Fortunes and Wishes
We all agreed that the fortunes in fortune cookies are pretty useless. We read the words in one and decided we could do better. Each took a turn striking the gong and coming up with their own fortune or words of hope or wisdom. Some folks shared their thoughts and a few kept the "wish" or "hope" to themselves.
My morning group is often so enthused it's hard for some of the quieter folks to get a word in. It was pretty special to watch the focus change as we took turns with the gong. Because the vibration held the sound for so long, it gave each person a chance to hold onto their moment, to think or share their thoughts. My favorite "wish" came with a thoughtful sigh. "I just hope that somehow we can find a little peace with this country of ours."
In the afternoon, we weren't able to use our quiet private room on Tuesday. Our table in the middle of the living room had lots of distractions with staff and residents passing through. But this funny little puppet caught the eye of many and we ended up with more people in our group than usual.
We had fun, even without a screen or projector. The traditional Chinese music played and the little dragon danced on the quilt. We could even see his shadow on parts of the quilt.
I managed to get another woman to just come for a bit. She was also reluctant and kept her distance. Then her dear husband arrived for a visit and the two of them joined in together, with all the activities. At one point, I pulled out a card that explained matchmaking in China, using a compatibility chart. I knew it was beyond comprehension of most, but the sweet husband studied the chart for a moment. "I was born in the year of Rat and my wife was born in the year of the Pig!" He smiled at the conclusion. "It says our match is Quite Charming!" I have no clue how much his wife understood and how much sense it made to the others. But his wife was glowing as she watched her husband announce his sweet conclusion. It was a lovely way to end our gathering!
What Did I Learn? I've done this theme before, so I expected the positive reaction to the chopsticks and gong. I just wish I had lugged less and cluttered less. My Chinese New Year's Resolution should be about simplifying the Quilt Groups. Our gatherings should be more about the questions than the stuff. Props are good, but I only need to bring the special ones.
Letters... Mailboxes... Post Offices... Mailmen... Memories...
For a December theme, I decided to indirectly focus on the holidays, with a theme about MAIL. You have to be my age or older to appreciate that theme! I gathered my stuff and headed out to my senior groups.
As I drove to my morning group, listening to NPR, I had to laugh. The radio program was titled, Miracle on Your Street: How the Post Office Handles Holidays. By the time I met my group, I was full of lots of extra trivia!
The thought of Flat Stanley only amused the group for a moment. They were more drawn to the stack of letters tied with a bow. We talked about why those letters were tied up with ribbon. "So no one can read them!" "Because they're special." We talked about making letters special, with sealing wax or even a lipstick kiss! No one could believe that I had not opened these special letters that belonged to my mother. We debated. But I have chosen not to read them.
Where Letters Go
I doubt kids today would want to spend more than a minute looking at the old Golden Book, about the adventures of a letter traveling through the mail. But my group around the table was delighted by the images on each page. It was a good reminder (to me, since I grumble a lot about mail service) about what an amazing thing it is, that we can write a note at home and have it end up in a friend's home, across the country... for 50 cents.
I may not have opened the letters tied with ribbon, but I loved sharing these family gems. There was a postcard my grandmother wrote in 1918. There was a letter from my great great uncle in 1889, typed on Ely & Walker stationary... reminding me of my family's odd connection with President Bush's family.
But my favorite letters have always been the ones that my grandfather sent to my mother when she was small. This one from 1932, starts with Dear Baby. I love his drawings. Oh how I wish I had met him!
Mom's Postcard Collection
My first Senior Quilt Gatherings, began when my mom was alive and she was able to join in the fun. She is no longer here, but I pulled out her prized collections of oddball postcards. These are just a few of the old (and less humorous ones) in her collection of about 100.
Passing the Cards
Of course the best part is always hearing the stories. Many remembered their mail carriers fondly. They were always postmen, back in the day and they usually came to the door and were known by name. Two remembered having no postal service. They had to make trips to the post office to get their mail. I kept my own mail service grumbles to myself.
Music and Cards
Before finishing up, we listened to a little Christmas music, while passing around vintage holiday cards. Who doesn't like to look at some cozy pictures of snow, when it's 80 degrees in Houston? We sang a couple Hanukkah songs, too... even though we were a little late for this year's celebration.
What I Learned: I didn't overdo with a December theme this year. Mostly I was too disorganized to get holiday props pulled out. But our simple theme seemed just about right to me. I felt more relaxed and focussed and I think the others did too. Best of all, I did a lot of thinking about my mom. It felt like she was right there with us!
Chairs Around (and on) the Quilt
Pictures of Chairs
Before we really got started, a few conversations started up at once. Some were discussing the similarities of chairs in dental offices and hair salons.
Across the table, a few others were looking at pictures of men in chairs. One voice announced, "Oh Mr. Kennedy was our best president!" We all took a look at the president, in his famous rocker. In about 60 seconds the entire table was suddenly arguing about who the worst president is/was! Oh, how I wanted to learn more about their thoughts!
We talked about how chairs were once used in circuses, by lion tamers. Then we studied some photos of tightrope walkers, using chairs and acrobats balanced on crazy stacks of chairs. We built our own chair towers, with colorful plastic chairs.
In both my morning and afternoon groups, we let the small chairs spark memories.
There were more memories of rocking chairs than any other kind of chair.
A Grandparent's Chair
Many associated a special chair with a grandparent or their mother. "Nobody could sit in Papa's chair, but Papa!" "My mother had a rocker like this one. Later, I rocked my babies in that same rocker. I used to sing to them when we rocked."
A Romantic Memory
She continued with a story of sitting on those stools with her future husband... when he proposed. We had a fun time imagining a proposal over ice cream!
Janie loved the park bench and said she had one in her yard, once. We debated for a moment if a park bench was a chair... and was a porch swing, a chair? The group decided... "If you sit on it, it's a chair!"
Chairs for Kids
Everyone loved the potty chair. We heard a few funny stories about potty-training. The doll's rocker reminded June, of Dennis the Menace. We talked about generations of parents using chairs to discipline their children.
A few chairs reminded folks of sitting at kitchen and dining room tables. Were there rules about sitting at the table? Did you ever tip back on your chair? Pull the chair out for an elder relative? Put a phone book on a chair, like a booster seat for a small child?
The tiny Captain's chair, reminded me of the antique chairs that surrounded my family table, growing up. Our old chairs didn't exactly match and each had its own annoying problem... a wobbly leg, a nail that snagged, a warped seat. But I loved those chairs.
The Adirondack chair and the folding beach chair put smiles on a few faces. Some vacation memories were shared, but the chairs also inspired a little fantasizing. We changed our focus from remembering, to imagining.
Pass the Chair
Everyone began talking at once, so I grabbed the wicker chair and said I would start. I held the chair and thought a moment. "I'm imagining that I'm sitting on a wonderful chair, some place special..."
"I'm sitting on my lawn chair, in the carport, looking out at the yard." "I'm in a soft chair with lots of pillows and I've got a warm drink." "I'm on a porch in a rocking chair and I have a book."
What Did I Learn?
It's the familiar that delights people the most. The photos of unusual chairs didn't get nearly as much attention, as the basic rockers and kitchen chairs. The chair made out of books and the Queen's throne were curious, but people were drawn to the photos of the chairs they knew best. Even when allowed to dream of their fantasy chair and place, most chose a chair and place that they remembered.
Our chair theme was simple and all could relate. That is usually the best.
First Time Theme
It would have been easy to have just packed up my closet, for this theme. But I figured it might be a little creepy, putting adult shoes on the quilt. With the exception of a couple of children's shoes, most of the shoes I brought, had never been on a real foot.
An Enthused Bunch
Luckily, no one seemed to think my shoe theme was a bit odd. Right away, hands reached for favorite shoes.
The baby shoes were a big hit. Everyone had something to say about the white, high tops.
"I remember using white shoe polish on those!" "People used to bronze them and make them into bookends." "Some would hang a pair from the rear view mirror!" "They were the best for making a baby walk correctly." "Remember the bow-biters that clipped on, over the laces? And bells on the baby shoes!"
Tools For Shoes
I was surprised to hear the term "shoe spoon" when I shared my grandmother's old shoe horn. Everyone seemed to remember using a shoe horn of some kind.
The other tool was foreign to most. I knew my grandmother had used the hook, with the buttons or laces on her boots. At least 2 seemed to recognize the old tool and tried it out on the baby shoe.
The Old Classic
We wondered... "What were the first shoes made out of? Bark? Animal skin?" "Did the first shoes have a right foot and left foot?" "When did shoemaking go from cobbler-made to factory-made?"
We had fun coming up with some crazy shoe ideas, that really do exist... like ballet toe shoes and clown shoes. We found a few photos (from the internet) that helped us brainstorm some shoe ideas, that we'll most likely never see on a foot!
Thanks to a great find on ebay, I had some curious shoes to share. I'm not sure where these are actually from, but we had a good time guessing. The elevated wooden shoe looked like it was designed for a wet climate. The leather shoe, with cleat-like nails on the bottom, made us think about shoes... that can also be used as a weapon!
Kids and Shoes
No one claimed "Go-Go Boots" as their favorite, except me. Oh how I loved mine, in 4th grade! But many remembered the stylin' boots and the singer, who wore a taller pair, in the sixties. My memory care group surprised me at one point, when one voice began to sing the song, made famous by Nancy Sinatra. "These boots are made for walkin'..." Suddenly, the entire table was singing along! I love moments like that.
Quiet Shoes... Loud Shoes
I played a recording of a song called Fidgety Feet. I asked one group to imagine what kind of shoes you would wear, if you danced to the song. (I thought they'd think of tap shoes) But Connie had a different thought. She stood up carefully and with a secretive smile, she began to do a light and graceful "Soft Shoe" performance! Wonderful!
Then, I played Puttin' on the Ritz and we could actually hear the sound of Fred Astaire's tap shoes on the recording. A few used the children's tap shoes and some used gloves, with button fingers. We didn't use our feet, but we managed a little tap-dancing on the glass!
Stories and Poems
Most had a pretty good memory of the storybook characters, known for their special shoes. The idea of wearing glass or ruby slippers made us all cringe. Most agreed that house slippers were the most comfortable of all shoes. "Why would they call Cinderella's or Dorothy's breakable shoes, slippers? Slippers are comfortable!"
It was the nursery rhymes, that really pulled us all together. "One two, buckle my shoe..." "There was an old woman who lived in a shoe..." "Wynken, Blyken and Nod one day, sailed off in a wooden shoe..." It was especially fun to see my memory care group, chanting the words together... then laughing together, when none of us could remember what happened when that wooden shoe sailed off!
Put a Shine on Your Shoes
The shoe shine kit brought back a few memories. None of the women remembered shoe shining experiences, but all could recall seeing shoe shine stands in airports and train stations, barber shops and hotels. One dapper gentleman in my memory care group, smiled as he told us, he always gave an extra tip... if he got a little singing with his shoe shine.
I shared a video recording of Fred Astaire singing, Put a Shine on Your Shoes. In the movie clip, Astaire sings as he sits on the elevated chair. He and the talented shoe shine guy, both end up singing & dancing throughout the whole shoe shine process. It's a crazy scene, worth Googling!
Then we talked about horses (and even other animals) that wear shoes. Then, there was a lot of discussion about uses for horseshoes... from tossing horseshoes to hanging them (for good luck) on the wall.
What Did I Learn?
I learned... that we did not have enough time to talk about shoes! We didn't get to brainstorm all the uses for shoeboxes or shoelaces. We didn't get to play Blue Suede Shoes or eat shoestring potatoes! We didn't get to list off all the shoe sayings! "You never know a man until you've walked in his shoes... if the shoe fits... Goody two-shoes..." And we forgot about penny loafers and saddle shoes, stilettos and wingtips!
Worst of all, we didn't have enough time to hear all the personal shoe stories that were just beginning to surface. Next time, I will bring fewer props. We'll talk more about the shoes in our memories, than the shoes on the table. Props help to excite us and get us thinking... and then they distract us.
...we become kids again, when I pull out the school stuff with my Senior Groups.
Even though the folks I gather with, come from different worlds, with very different kinds of experiences, we all seem to have a fondness for sharing school nostalgia.
Young and Old
Not all are the right age to have learned how to ready with "Dick, Jane & Sally" books. But all remember hardback books and spelling lists.
Some remembered walking home for lunch and others recalled buying hot lunch in the cafeteria. "I can remember just exactly what I used to have on my tray! The roll went right there and the spaghetti was the best! I bought a carton of milk to go with it!"
Ramona remembered hiding under her desktop, to sneak bites of her taco. A few others attended culturally mixed schools where the children who had sandwiches in their lunches, were curious about the kids who had tacos. "Lots of kids had never tasted a taco, so sometimes I shared."
We had fun trying to remember all the school supplies we used as kids... pencils and chalk, glue and a Big Chief tablet for many of us.
We laughed about how Crayola colors have gotten a lot fancier with their names, from sea green to periwinkle. We even noticed that the words on the labels were written in 3 languages!
The Black and White Quilt
In my morning group, we gathered around a black and white quilt, with musical notes and piano keys. The quilt belonged to Betty, who told us about her years as a teacher. Her music students made the quilt for her.
The table props always help with stories. I expected the school desk and lunch tray to prompt a few. I didn't expect any whistle stories, so I asked what kind of teacher would use a whistle.
She smiled even bigger when she remembered the young football player, who made a lanyard for her whistle. The well-loved coach passed away and Betty still has the whistle today.
Luckily no one had horrible stories of getting paddled or slapped with a ruler. But everyone in both groups decided, teachers have a tougher time with behavior issues, today.
It was interesting to hear from those who went to rural schools and felt like school was a break from all the farm chores and house work. "No one ever complained about school. We felt lucky to have it."
My dear friend from Trinidad, was so intrigued with the small bus. He never took a yellow bus to school, but he sometimes took a train.
He was one of the lucky ones who was allowed to go to school, in Trinidad. He actually gave our group quite an education, when he told us the changes in public schools, with Prime Minister, Eric Williams. "Now school is free for all children from Kindergarten to University!" He announced.
What Did I Learn?
I was reminded of how much our little gatherings remind of a classroom. When we gathered around the quilt this time, (after 2 months) it felt like we were all just a bunch of kids coming together after summer break.
Just like any class, we're made up of different personalities and temperaments. Some are loud, some need encouragement to talk, some are distracted and some like to clown... But there are no teacher's pets in our groups. We're all teachers and we learn from each other!
For July, I gave myself a simple, do-over theme. Carnivals and Fairs!
It's always easy getting my senior groups to recall some kind of memory, involving a Ferris wheel or carousel.
The Big Fairs
We also talked about the bigger fairs, that involved other countries.
All my groups loved hearing the famous song from the movie, about the 1904 World's Fair. "Meet me in St. Louie, Louie... Meet me at the fair!" I was surprised how many knew the words.
A photo of the 1904 Great Observation Wheel, was a big hit. It was hard for any of us to imagine a ride that could carry 2,060 people in 36 different wooden cars.
The giant wheel was actually designed by George Washington Ferris for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. After being used at the St. Louis fair, there were no buyers for the Big Wheel. It took 100 pounds of dynamite to destroy the wheel... which sadly became scrap metal.
We had a new visitor to the morning group. She was enthused about our theme and then shared some of her own stories. When we talked about the New York World's Fair, Evelyn said she never attended. However, she was IN the Japanese World's Fair Expo! What a surprise! She said she had been in an exhibit on the Philippines, since that's where she was from. She said it was pretty fun getting to answer people's questions about her country.
Evelyn had one more memory to share. "I lost my daughter at the Vancouver Expo!" Her smile told us there was a happy ending. "She was really only gone for about 5 minutes." Evelyn laughed, recalling how quickly the Canadian police jumped in to help. When they found her 5 year old daughter, she was crying... "But not as much as me!"
What I Learned:
I love surprise guests, especially when they have a surprising story or two! I learned that it's okay to repeat a theme now and then, because there's always a new story out there!
I've never done a wedding theme, but it's something most folks can relate to.
It was also a good theme for June... plus, I was selfishly inspired, by the marriages of my kids in recent months. I thought I could have fun making use of all the props and photos I've accumulated.
The recent Royal Wedding gave me a way to pull in a little current news, with all the memory sharing, that I expected. With a wedding theme, I knew I would need to be a little cautious. Most of my seniors are women and all my regulars have been married.
I knew we could have some fun sharing some wedding memories, but I figured Harry and Meghan could help me out. Keep from letting things too sentimental. Even good memories can conjure up sad emotions, when you're missing a spouse. It would be fun to put a little focus on a storybook wedding!
Quilt-Free Quilt Group
On Tuesday morning, I left the usual quilt at home and spread a white cloth on the table. (If only I owned a wedding ring pattern quilt, I would have used it) Then I let the white tablecloth set the mood.
When I scattered a few books, hands began to reach and pages began to turn. First it was quiet, while images were being absorbed. Then the sharing started. Two chuckled over an amusing, retro wedding veil. Another two women pointed and sighed over an elegant lace gown. I saw one woman shake her head and smile over an extravagant wedding celebration. "I got married by a judge!" She announced with a chuckle.
Weddings of The Past
All the folks I gathered with, were old enough to remember the weddings of Princess Grace and Jackie Kennedy. No one in my morning or afternoon groups claimed to have had such a ritzy dress or decadent wedding, but we all loved comparing the styles.
I tossed some invites and cards around the table. There wasn't one person who knew what a "Save the Date" card meant. Most were surprised at how casual invitations have become. All were pretty surprised to find out it took one dollar to mail the heaviest of the invitations.
I hid the very tacky bride and groom "cake topper" inside the mystery bag. We passed the bag, taking turns feeling the plastic couple, through the fabric. No one guessed what it was, but all laughed when the dated decoration was revealed.
In my memory care group, I asked, "What goes on the top of a wedding cake?" Ramona's face lit up! "Butter cream frosting!" Ramona knew more about cakes than most of us. She had been a cake decorator, in her younger years. We talked about how wedding cakes have changed over time. Most hadn't heard of a "groom's cake". We all wondered if that tradition would stand the test of time.
Young and Old
When I was a kid, most little girls dreamed about being a bride. Not always so, today.
It was fun having some youthful guests with different perspectives, in my morning gathering. Neither of the young girls had any desire to try on my old yellowed veil. Who could blame them. It looked about as crazy as the one I wore on Halloween, nearly 55 years ago.
Ready for the Aisle
I was glad to have a reason to pull out the old bridal veil. It hasn't been of much use since 1979. A few were game to grab the veil and flowers and ham it up for the camera.
Margie started singing, Here comes the bride! I quickly shared a recording of Wagner's, Bridal Chorus. The familiar music inspired some to sing along. Then a few demonstrated the step-together-march... using fingers, across the table! It got pretty silly.
No Veil for Mr. R
Mr. R was our only man in the group and he was quite a good sport. He graciously went along with our theme and was even willing to pose for a photo... but not as a groom!
He laughed and made it clear he was not interested in playing the groom role again. "I did that already!" He shook his head remembering the hard work... which had more to do with raising 10 kids, than being a husband.
I hoped Mr. R could help us out, with the definition of War Bride. I've always been a little confused and I thought our WWII vet could help us out.
But our conversation took another route when someone thought a War Bride was something like today's term of Bridezilla. Luckily the only horrible bride stories that were shared, came from TV and movies.
Weddings Around the World
It was a coloring book that opened up a discussion about wedding traditions around the world. There were curious illustrations of brooms being used in a German wedding and a lucky black cat in an Austrian wedding.
I pointed out the image of the Thai couple, connected by flower garlands. I had to admit, I still didn't understand what was behind all that happened during my son's Buddhist wedding ceremony in Thailand.
But I was able to share lots of photos and tell about the things I did know..
The warmth of my daughter-n-law's family and friends... the dreamlike sounds of monks chanting and bells ringing... the delicious smells and flavors of the celebration food... the colors and scents of tropical, flower displays and so many, many smiling faces!
I shared a few more photos about an Indian Hindu wedding that I attended in April. We talked about the beautiful clothing and energetic dancing. I'm pretty sure there were only protestants and Catholics in my two groups today, so I expected some to steer us towards a discussion of church weddings.
But there were too many questions about the bright fabrics and decorations and foods and music. The focus seemed far away from the Norman Rockwell style, little-white-church-wedding-image, that many could related to.
A bouquet of fake flowers, inspired a little brainstorming about how flowers are used in weddings around the world... bouquets, boutonnieres, table and cake decorations... We wondered if there's ever been a wedding without any flowers at all?
Our youngest in the morning group (with her aunt) told us about being a flower girl and scattering petals. I laughed about how I'd always dreamed of being a flower girl... but never had the chance. We talked about the ups and downs of playing a role in the bridal party.
Planning a Wedding Today
There are almost too many options when planning weddings, today. Most didn't remember having much choice about where to have the ceremony or even the reception. No one knew much about writing vows or even choosing music for the bride and groom's first dance. "I think it was easier, when there were fewer choices..."
When we talked about choosing a song for the bride and groom's first dance, there was a pause. No one seemed to remember specific music from their own weddings. Then Ramona, our cake decorator smiled with her suggestion. "I Love You Truly!" I had to smile, picturing either of my kids dancing to that sweet tune from the twenties.
Changes Over Time
We compared a few photos from different time periods. We agreed that there seem to be more smiling photos from today's weddings.
Some thought it was the formality that made people more serious at weddings in the past. Many of us thought that weddings have become more playful and party-like, because the bride and groom are doing more of the planning in today's wedding. A few of us admitted that our mothers, had done most of the planning.
In my afternoon group we took turns pondering a few questions, that got us off on some interesting tangents.
We discussed, people who marry multiple times... weddings that are halted due to an objection... why couples elope and what would be the best place to get married if you could choose anywhere. (my daughter's answer at age 5 was Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Place!) We didn't discuss same sex weddings, shotgun weddings, mail order brides or annulments. But we could have. These groups surprise me sometimes.
What Did I Learn?
We had fun with our wedding theme, but I think I was too cautious with my approach. I jumped around from Royal to Hindu weddings, from cake to veils from wedding songs to wedding movies. I was so afraid of getting personal that I didn't allow time for memories to surface and stories to be shared.
I was concerned about those who have lost beloved spouses and some who might have dealt with ugly divorces.
We jumped around so lightly, that I ended up missing out on the best stories... about sweet proposals or funny wedding fiascos. If only my mom had been at the table with us, I might have been braver. 10 years ago, she was a part of my first Senior Quilt Group. She would have been perfectly fine, sharing wedding stories and ignoring her divorce memories.
Most of us have the ability to remember the good things, especially as we age. I should have taken the risk and asked more questions and listened more.
What Theme for May?
On May first I headed to my morning Quilt Connection gathering for seniors. I carried with me, everything from a toy tractor to a potato.
I could have done a May Day theme or an early Cinco de Mayo, but lately, the weather has made me crave gardens and farms.
I arrived and tossed books on the table for the early arrivals. As I unloaded all the other goodies, I smiled and mostly listened.
Without prompting, folks started in, talking about the theme.
Almost everyone in the group had some association with farms. They looked at the photos of tractors and the intriguing farm related artwork of Grant Wood and started sharing stories.
A few recognized Wood's famous, "American Gothic" portrait. We could have talked for an hour, about the odd story behind the curious portrait. But this group had too many stories of their own to share, about tractors and crops...
Crops and Veggies
I scattered a few fresh veggies and even a little cotton and wheat on the table. Hands began to reach and then voices began sharing memories.
Right away, there were stories about picking cotton and other crops. I've heard some of these stories before, but I never tire. Some in my group grew up on farms and others worked on them. All have an appreciation for the hard work. "Cotton is the hardest to pick..." "Picking apples was easier than most crops. The truck followed along and we'd just put the apples in the truck bed..." "I loved picking green beans. Sometimes I'd pop a few open and eat them raw!" "Mama had so many recipes for corn..."
The vintage toy tractor was a hit. The tiny milk bottles inspired stories of cow-miking. I held up the tiny wheel barrow and shared my own memory, of my brother giving me wild wheelbarrow rides. Robert talked about using a wheelbarrow to clean out the horse stall. We all laughed about that smelly chore.
In my afternoon group, we spread the quilt on an outside table, beside the garden. I didn't need to pick up the toy wheelbarrow to prompt memories, because there was a real gardener working nearby. We asked him to roll his wheelbarrow over to us. We examined the real thing and listed all the things wheelbarrows can carry. We also asked him to give us rides! He just laughed.
From Corn to Cotton Picking Machines
The props and photos prompted stories and advice from both groups. "Oh, you know the corn is fresh, when the husk still feels moist! " "I rode on the cotton picker with my daddy..." "Always stagger your planting rows, a week apart, until the first frost..."
The sight of cotton brought about a musical reaction in one of my seniors in the afternoon group. She smiled and began to sing, "Jump down, turn around, pick a bail of cotton..." I laughed and sang along. I was excited to tell them I had a recording of that song. Debbie, who assists me with the memory care group smiled and said "She's been singing that song all week!" I was excited to hook up the speaker and play the old recording, featuring legendary blues singer, Leadbelly. The singer was once housed in a Sugar Land prison, located directly between where my morning and afternoon groups meet. I had the group listen hard to hear the lyrics about picking cotton. What a surprise to hear Leadbelly's lyrics, mentioning Sugar Land, Texas!
A Healthy Theme
I left both groups in good spirits. Talking about farms and gardens just feels healthy. I felt like I got a few of the benefits, without all the hard work!
What Did I Learn?
The dynamics in both groups are very unique. They come from different worlds with different experiences and abilities. My morning group is closer to my age. My afternoon group is older and most deal with Alzheimers. But, whatever the background, all seemed to share a special joy in handling the veggies. Some breathed in the earthy smell of the dusty potato, some seemed to delight in the cool corn silk. Other hands just fiddled with the beans, as if tempted to take a bite. For all there were memories, connected to the vegetables. For some it brought back hard, but satisfying farm and garden work. For others, cooking and recipes came to mind. For all, the flavors of fresh veggies was a fun topic.
I'm not sure this topic would have the same impact in 20 years. I wonder.
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.