Is there any other time of the year that brings to mind so many memories as the season of Christmas? I am and always have been fascinated with all things past, enjoyed history as a child and loved reading biographies. That simply means I love old things like our house, my brain, my husband and most of our furniture. Our home is a lovely old Italianate Victorian, lovely only if you don’t mind a bit of decay, chipped paint and rot, some of which has probably been here since the 1880’s; debris fromits construction. “
I have a particular affinity for old quilts. They have such a unique story to tell with all of their varied fabrics and their histories. Most of our ancestors would be appealed by the asking price of most simple cotton fabrics today, even if they did have a craft/fabric store in every town. Ten dollars a yard being about the average and using new cloth for a quilt…how silly that would seem to them and now, that’s what most of us modern quilters do use.
I do not have a family quilt from my family. I don’t know if my ancestors used them all or if they simply got lost. If I did have one going back many, many years I know it would have both blues and greys from both sides who fought in the Civil War. The cotton cloth would have been grown on family farms, picked by hands pricked with the sharp edges of the cotton bolls, and woven by great grands, and grands who did it with precision. Once again, another lost art for so many families. I know my family quilts would have had worn fibers from hardworking families, both parents and children, working just to survive.
My dear husband’s beloved Aunt Ruthie, his mother’ sister, upon finding out how much I loved quilts, gave me several of hers, crafted many years ago by her mother-in-law. The most unusual one of all four she gave me is now 200 years old, constructed in blues and whites. I have it tucked away for safe keeping because of its fragility and also because they are so difficult to clean without destroying them. One does not dry clean quilts; they are washed very carefully, by very courageously cautious people.
I am enthralled when I look closely at old quilts and am filled with wonder about who made them, what their lives were like and who wore or used the fabrics in these quilts. Did someone’s great grandfather wear that faded blue denim with overalls? Was that petite flowered fabric with tiny daisies once helped a woman protect her Sunday dress by serving as her apron? Perhaps, she wore it as she basted the Christmas goose before attending church in a horse drawn wagon, over rough and bumpy terrain? You can bet their Christmas tree came from their own or a neighbor’s property. Homemade ornaments, paper chains, soggy garlands of drippy cranberries, alternated with their own home-grown popcorn, strung the day before by their children and their friends.
I have learned old things like antique furniture can “talk” to you. They tell you how well they were loved, maintained and even polished. Their patina, odor, dents and scratches all reveal the humans who lived with these beautiful or simply functional pieces. They squeak, they glow and often they outlive their usefulness but always, they are loved as a part of our or some families’ history. It often amazes me when I realize some piece of wood, stone or iron will live on long after you and I are gone. I love to “hear” the stories told by old china pieces, sensible and commonly used items like old irons, coal scuttles and such items
All year long, I confess to this fascination with history and living in the oldest town west of the Rockies, only feeds that thirst. My favorite newspaper of the week is the Friday edition of the Daily Astorian which has some fascinating tales of old shipwrecks, stories intertwined with tales of those captains’ families and their adventures. A couple of weeks ago I read a story I must share with all of you which I found hilarious; however, I’m certain it wasn’t humorous to the poor dead whale in the tale. Not exactly ancient, having occurred in Nov. of 1970, it is a great story anyway. A fellow was walking along the beach in Florence, Oregon and came upon an extremely stinky, dead whale of gigantic proportions, of 48 feet and 8 tons, this particular gray whale had been there awhile. No one in the area could agree how to get rid of the odiferous remains therefore they decided to place a half ton of dynamite on the leeward side of the whale so the offal would land and float out to sea. Seems a fitting burial for a whale. Well…the best laid plans and all that.
They moved the large number of spectators a quarter of a mile away from the explosion and lit the dynamite. Instead of landing in the ocean and being floated away by the current, the remains of the departed whale flew into the air with the explosion and via gravity came down on the observers. The skies were filled with large pieces of exploded blubber, on and around the spectators, one large piece of blubber being so heavy it ruined the roof of one gent’s brand-new Oldsmobile. It was reported one could hear pieces of the poor dead whale landing on the ground, blasted blubber bits everywhere. They did use some decorum by burying what remained of Mr. Whale. I love history because it reports not only the glorious and amazing but the spectacularly silly, stupid and always memorable.
For many of us our holiday memories are completely personal as we remember Christmases and Thanksgivings long past but which live on in memory. Most of us on this site and my Facebook site have some sort of chronic pain. I am told my dear Dad’s sweet and very kind mother suffered from what would now be called crippling rheumatoid arthritis, spending the last three years of her life in bed. Her name was Ophelia, called Phelie by family and friends, she was a tiny woman, gentle in her ways, married to a tall, brutish man, my grandfather Faulkner. Yes, if you noticed, there are members of my family, old and new who use the “u” in Falkner and some who do not. My Dad did not, his brother did.
I never met my grandma Phelie because she died years before I, the youngest daughter in my family of all girls was born. I do distinctly remember each time one of us girls were pregnant and the conversation would turn to what to call the new baby, my Dad would say, “Now, Ophelia, there’s a beautiful name.” We would each change the subject but interestingly enough, my own dear daughter named her daughter, as her middle name, Ophelia. That’s only one of the many reasons both of them, my daughter and granddaughter are so special to me.
We who live with chronic disease and/or chronic pain must not let the present rob us of all the fascination and wonder that surrounds us in our histories and in the histories of others. Certainly, we do less than we used to do, baking less, decorating less but those sweet memories live on in our minds, hearts and loved ones. It is also great fun to drag out all our old pictures of Christmases past as we enjoy Christmas present and leave the Christmases future in the hands of our Lord God. We really have so little control over this thing called life.
I pray each of us never forget the reason for this miraculous, colorful and enjoyable Holy day and that is the wee Babe who lay in a manger of straw, born under the humblest of circumstances who would change the world forever.