A Good Name
I love the name of this west Texas town. Being at an elevation of 6,000 (high for Texas) makes it worthy of its name. When I realized I would be in Alpine for 2 days in February, I searched on line for a place to volunteer. Sunshine House! Another perfect name.
It was a perfect sunshiny morning when I arrived at the welcoming little white brick building. It turns out this building has been many things since it was built in 1893. First it was a public school. In years following it was a hospital, college dorm, Border Patrol Station and then an office for US Agricultural and Soil Conservation. But for my visit, Sunshine house was a cozy center serving the senior community, offering hot lunches and social activities.
A Cozy Place
I loved entering through screened doors! (not enough screened door in Texas) And there were open windows letting in the pleasant morning air. There were Valentine decorations on the tables and doorway and an antique quilt near the welcoming desk. That was a good sign. Quilts are welcoming, that's why I use mine.
Cathy, the director met me and helped me find a space to use, even though I wasn't even sure what I'd be doing. We had spoken on the phone weeks earlier and hoped some of the women who enjoy quilting would be arriving that morning. But it didn't really matter. I spread out the quilt with a few things to open conversation and I waited to see what would happen.
Designs & Talking
It was a quiet morning and the first two people I met were men. I promised them, this wasn't a "Lady Thing" and invited them to the table. As we sat and talked (not about quilts!) the men both gravitated towards the colored wood shapes. As we visited, they pieced together designs and then teased each other about whose was best. I loved sitting in that quiet little room chatting about how Cruz had moved from Mexico in 1962. He talked fondly about the different places he had lived and the different crops he had worked with. I loved the soft spoken answer of Nick when I asked if Alpine had changed much since he was a boy growing up. "Hmm. Not really." I smiled at that surprising answer.
I never did an actual program. As it turns out, I never had a group at one time. I had a number of people coming in and visiting with me and each other and sitting for a while and sharing. It was a nice change from what I do regularly. The quilt did it's job, giving us a cozy area to gather. And I did get a chance to pull out my traveling quilt project. A few were happy to decorate a quilt square to add to the growing quilt.
Squares and Stories
Cathy joined our little gathering at one point to share some antique quilts that had been donated to the center. As she visited with us I told her what great storyteller Avalon was. "Oh I know!" Cathy laughed with nothing but appreciation. After Avalon told some stories about her maternal grandmother who used to host quilting bees and her violin playing Choctaw grandfather, she picked a piece of fabric with woven baskets. Cruz picked fabric with yellow corn on it. "Did you ever pick corn on any of the farms where you worked?" I asked. "Oh yes!" he answered.
The Dining Room
Across the hall I could smell the chicken friend steak cooking. It was obvious I could not compete with those smells that lured the noon time visitors into the dining room. "Come eat with us!" They asked. I told them I my husbnd was arriving to pick me up. "I'll stay for lunch next time I visit!" I promised.
Visiting with the Diners
I didn't have time to eat, but I did visit with a few tables, asking what was the best thing about Sunshine House. Some said, the food and the cooks. A few said Cathy and many said, the friends. A sweet, smiling woman name Lila said it was her kids who convinced her to come to the center. She laughed, "I always mind my kids!" But you could tell they didn't have to persuade her anymore. She pointed to Cruz across the table and grinned. "Cruz gave me flowers on my birthday." Then she smiled to the woman next to her. "Carmen doesn't speak any English and I don't speak Spanish. But we hug a lot!"
What did I learn?
I was reminded about small town warmth. There are wonderful centers like this in big cities, but there was something small and safe and cozy about this little neighborhood building, that sits in a small town. When I said I would eat lunch next time, I wasn't just saying that. I really think I will be back. And I don't even think I need The Quilt to pave the way.
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.