Written for The Ozarks Mountaineer magazine
Copyright© 2009, Jim Long
In the way that e-mail and Facebook connect people today, the quilt once served the purpose for socializing in a community. Church women held weekly quilting get-togethers, either in the back of the church, or in someone’s home.
Making a quilt took a commitment of time and ideas. Either stretched on a quilt stretcher, or rolled on a wooden roller, ladies would sit around the quilt and sew. Individuals worked in small areas, sewing the pieces into blocks, the blocks into a quilt top. Every week the quilt slowly came together, piece by piece until it was whole, while the participants visited, gossiped and kept up on each other’s lives. News of the day, politics, problems in the community, errant children and misbehaving husbands, were all fair game around the quilt.
The quilt symbolized the fabric of the community, each person adding their own stitches and personality. And the quilt served as a love offering, for the person it was being made for, or for an auction to benefit some person, institution or event.
As the last person in my family line, I have inherited several quilts - quilts which tell the story of our family. Each quilt holds the hopes and dreams of a generation, and more, of the community from which it came.
The oldest quilt I have is one made by my great-grandmother Sumpter. She and my great grandfather came to St. Clair County by covered wagon soon after the Civil War, traveling from Sumpter County, Tennessee, to Johnson City, Missouri. That quilt, made by great grandmother Sumpter, was wrapped around a bowl given to the couple as a wedding present, and which remains with the quilt, still. Imagine the stories that quilt could tell, having been wrapped around my ancestors as they traveled away from the chaos of the remnants of War, to new territory in Missouri. The quilt has been well protected through the passing generations and is remarkable in its preservation.
The second quilt I have inherited is the wedding quilt made for my parents by the women of the Upper Monegaw community. The quilt is dated and signed, “Upper Monegaw Friends, 1933.” Having been finished right before my parents married in 1934, it contains the signatures of ninety people, embroidered into each block of the quilt. It reads like a census of the community, a tapestry of one little moment in time.
Reading through the list of names on the quilt, I recognize neighbors of my grandparents Long and great grandparents’ Sumpter. I see cousins, uncles and aunts, great grandparents, I recognize names of families who migrated West when the Longs moved from Pennsylvania, into Indiana, Iowa, Kansas and finally, Missouri. I find the names of families whose lives have been woven together over generations. The Hagens, the Shorts, the Bishops, Fosters, Sewards, Carrols, Wiecherts, Culbertsons, Sumpters and Longs, all tied together by place, kinship, and this quilt.
The third quilt I have is the baby quilt, misnamed because it is a full bed-size quilt, that the ladies of the Taberville Methodist Church made for my mother before I was born. It, too, has been preserved and passed down to me.
And the final and last quilt I have in my possession, is the wedding quilt the ladies of the Taberville Community Center made for my wife and me when we were married. Because my then wife was from Texas, they thoughtfully chose a Texas Star quilt pattern, and presented it to us at the wedding reception in my parents home in 1968.
Those quilts all trace my family’s history, from the early beginnings of a young couple fleeing the devastation after the Civil War, through my parents’ marriage, my birth and my marriage all those years ago. The quilts were treasured and protected through one hundred thirty nine years of my family’s history. They have wrapped newly weds, protected dishes, covered babies, been the pride of new homes and embodied the hopes and dreams of four generations of families.
It is both a blessing to have such treasures, and it is an immense burden, as well. Even though the quilts are all in excellent condition for their age, I wouldn’t use them for everyday use. They’re too big to display, and being the end of the line in my family, the only one left who they mean anything to, I have to decide what should happen to them in the future.
The families of the Upper Monegaw community are gone, all of the names on the wedding quilt are now merely names on tombstones. The quilts were made with love, neighbor to neighbor. Somewhere in the stitches are the stories of the community, of the families who made the quilts. Somewhere in the ancient fabric, the long journey of the wagon going north resides. And yet, what happens to the quilts in the future remains uncertain. What does one do when the weight of previous generations comes down to quilts in a closet?
A snapshot of a community, 1933, Johnson City, Missouri
Here are the names of the people who signed, and helped make the wedding quilt for my parents, Lloyd W. and Mada M. Long. The names are listed according to how the participants signed the quilt, including their punctuation and the dates they signed the quilt before it was embroidered. It’s interesting to note that some who signed, put a period after their name. Several men signed the quilt, with others signing each of their children’s names, their wives or mothers doing the embroidery on the quilt. Not only is the list a snapshot of the community at the time, it is also a listing of all of my living relatives still in that community.
Mrs. Luella Carroll
Herbert D. Foster
Earnest & Flossie Foster
Mrs. Maggie O Hagen
Mr. Ormond R Hagen
Mr & Mrs Guss Wiechert, Mar 1933
George W. Thompson
Orlando Donnel Feb 21/1933
Ruby V. Ginter
Katherine & Hazel Short
George Fredrick Hagan
Ormond Leroy Hagan
Inez Lorene Hagan
Mrs. Chas. Lillard.
C C Oetley
“Lest Ye Forget” Avery Hunsucker
Myrtle E. Thompson
Ermine L Wain
W T Ridgeway
Jessie Montonya Jr
Alfred Raymon Hagan
Ruby Dorrel, Feb. 21/1933
LIzzie C. Gunter
Leonard Dorrel, Feb. 21/1933
Roseanna Dorrel, Feb 21/1933
Mrs. Elizabeth Carroll
Lenn & Luther Crowder
H.A. Long Family
L. W. Long
To Miss Mada from Upper Monegaw Friends, 1933