Purple Passages: Secrets of Grimke House, Charleston

“Heidi, would you mind stopping by 329 East Bay Street before we leave town?”

We were on our way out of Charleston during our recent road trip, and my niece Heidi graciously agreed to stop her SUV long enough for me to catch a snapshot of the Grimké House basking in the bright morning sun. Its open arms-double staircase once welcomed visitors with a hospitable hug. (Until recently it housed attorneys’ offices, so you can draw your own conclusion about its more recent history!)

Grimke House_Charleston_mod

This house was made famous by Sue Monk Kidd’s book of historical fiction The Invention of Wings. Here is an excerpt from my review:

“ . . . the novelist creates parallel stories representing two strata of early nineteenth-century America, alternating chapters with the voices of two engaging characters: the aristocratic Sarah Grimké and the hand-maid (creative name for slave) assigned to her, Hetty Handful Grimké. Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful. Over the next thirty-five years, both strive for a life of their own ‘bucking the constraints of cultural attitudes toward women and slavery, which Sarah and her sister openly challenged.'”

All the purple passages quotes today are pulled from the pages of The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd’s historical fiction about the Grimké family:

 

The Weather

“I slipped through the back door into the soft gloom, into the terror and thrill of defiance. The sky had gone cobalt. Wind was coursing in hard from the harbor.” (50)

(We experienced a Charleston, SC storm downtown as we entered this city May 7, 2015)

 

Mosquitoes

Mother Mary had ordered “the mosquito netting out of storage and affixed above the beds in anticipation of the blood-sucking season, but having no such protection, the slaves were already scratching and clawing their skin. They rubbed themselves with lard and molasses to draw out the itch and trailed its eau de cologne through the house.” (56)

(Disparity between the races no longer noticeable in Charleston today, at least to tourists. )

Wall-hanging on sale in Charleston on Market Street
Wall-hanging on sale in Charleston on Market Street

 

Despair

“My breath clutched at my ribs like grabbing hands. I closed my eyes, tired of the sorry world.” (280)

 

Missing Someone

Sarah’s unrequited love: “Nina was speaking now, her face turned up to Theodore’s, and I thought suddenly, involuntarily of Israel and a tiny grief came over me. Every time it happened, it was like coming upon an empty room I didn’t know was there, and stepping in, I would be pierced by it, by the ghost of the one who once filled it up. I didn’t stumble into this place much anymore, but when I did, it hollowed out little pieces of my chest.” (281)

 

Yearning for a better world

[Lucretia] “leaned toward me. ‘Life is arranged against us, Sarah. And it’s brutally worse for Handful and her mother and sister. We’re all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren’t we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we’ll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that’s all.’” (275)

 

The Pineapple: the universal symbol of hospitality seen everywhere in Charleston's interiors and exteriors
The Pineapple: the international symbol of hospitality seen frequently in Charleston’s interiors and exteriors. Daughter Crista purchased a pair of these.

 We must try, that’s all!

Share your words: your thought, a quote or story adds to the conversation. It’s always nice to meet you here!

Coming next: Jenna’s Rainbow Cake: A Pot of Gold?

Moments of Discovery # 5: Mother’s Quilts

 

Page from On Market Street, Anita & Arnold Lobel
illustration from On Market Street by Anita & Arnold Lobel

Bossler Mennonite Church was the hub of the Longenecker family’s spiritual life and the school beside it, Washington School, the place where the Women’s Sewing Circle fabricated comforters, baby clothing, blankets and quilts to help clothe the needy of the world. Some of these gorgeous quilts are displayed on a previous blog post. You can see and read about them here.

quiltSchoolhouse

Quilt exhibited at the bicentennial of Bossler Mennonite Church
Quilts exhibited at the bicentennial of Bossler Mennonite Church

Even more than quilting I think Mother loved knotting comforters. For her, it was easier to see progress knotting a comforter. She liked the warm fluffy texture, and she could work on it by herself at home.

1995RuthKnottingComforter_small

Last fall, on one of our trips to the attic cleaning out the house after her sudden death, we opened the yellowish, grain-painted blanket chest with turned feet where we knew we would find some of Mother’s prized quilts.

1999_0900_Mother L_holding up white quilt w circles

 Can you identify the design above? I need help with the name of this pattern please!

Crazy Quilt design, 1999
Crazy Quilt design, 1999.  Each of Mother’s grand-children received a quilt. This one now belongs to our son, Joel Beaman.

 

Joanne Hess Siegrist, one of my former students at Lancaster Mennonite School, has published a story in photographs from 1855-1935 entitled Mennonite Women of Lancaster County. In this pictorial overview of Mennonite life from this era, Joanne, who can trace her family back eleven generations, depicts the many facets of Mennonite women’s lives in chapters like these: The Tone of Their Lives, Motherhood and Children, Farm Life and Work, Faith and Family Outings.

Here is an excerpt from her chapter entitled “Quilting and the Arts”

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Mennonite women of Lancaster County spent many hours doing elaborate, colorful needlework. Young women worked especially on their dowries.

 

With a frugality that was part of their spirituality, these women often created handwork out of remnants and half-used materials. They crocheted exquisite lace tablecloths from the cord strings used to tie feed bags. They made hooked rugs using the unworn sections of old winter coats. They designed quilts with fabric from colorful feed bags found in the barn. . . .

 

Mennonite Woman_Quilt_p193

In a photo dated 1948, Joanne showcases Anna Huber Good as she adds tiny stitches to a Grape Vine appliqué quilt. Author Siegrist adds, “Anna quilted all her life; in fact, after rearing eight children, she became even more intent on quilting. Anna got up at 4:00 a.m. and quilted until 6 a.m. Then she made a large breakfast for her husband Daniel and sent him off to his market work. After doing a few cleanup chores, Anna returned to quilting. She quilted all day long until about 9:00 p.m., stopping only for meals.”

Anna’s retirement years were even more productive, making “forty-two quilts for her children.” Amazingly, she charged only 15 cents per yard of quilting thread if she quilted for people outside her family.

Mennonite Women_Quilt_p194_crop_300

Here are four friends quilting in the dining room of Enos and Annie Lefever’s home (1915). Their intent expressions (uh-oh, I see one smiling!) and nimble fingers are caught on camera by Annie’s son Harry, whose photography did not interfere with his membership at Mellinger’s Mennonite Church (Mennonite Women of Lancaster County,194). Just a mere ten years earlier, Mennonite farmer, John Kreider Miller, lost his church membership for running a photography studio (The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal, Friday, May 10, 1996). Photographs, apparently, at the turn of the twentieth century, spoke of pride, a cardinal sin in the Mennonite system of values. (Mennonite Women of Lancaster County, Siegrist)


Amish and Mennonite hand-made quilts are now marketed as a luxury item and often used as decorative wall hangings. There are numerous websites advertising such handiwork for thousands of dollars.

Until recently, the Quilt Museum at the People’s Place in Intercourse, PA exhibited cleverly crafted quilts from all over the United States.

The Mennonite Central Committee, providing aid to the world’s forgotten and neglected, often sponsors quilt sales and auctions beyond Lancaster County borders. Here is a link to one in Ohio.

*  *  *

Buy Joanne’s book here!

 

Is there quilting in your family history? Has a quilt been bequeathed to you of quilt-essential quality? Are you a quilter?

 

Moments of Discovery # 4: A Flash Bulb and a Doll

A snapshot of a baby boy dressed as a girl and an old flash bulb. Those are some of the items we find clearing out Mother’s house. Last October my sisters and I began the arduous task of sorting, saving, or recycling the accumulated store of her possessions having lived in the same house for over 73 years. You can read about it here.

BoxesPacked

Today’s post features snapshots, both photos and artifacts, from both Mother and Daddy with a surprising find at the end.

MOTHER: Some of what I found from Mother could be filed into 3 categories of nurturing:

Feed

Our metal lunch pails carried many a bologna sandwich, usually Baum’s Bologna from their shop north of E-town. After Mother pulled back the burlap, she sliced thick rounds for sandwiches on buttered bread – always butter . . .

Mother L_balogna sandwiches

Read

Every picture, every story seems familiar in this Bible Story Book with pages, crackly brown with age. Sniffing into the spine, I roll back in time to the little girl on her lap. I loved the art work then. Now I love its charm even more. Did Daddy read these stories to me too? Maybe so, but I can’t remember.

BedtimeCoverBedtime Preface

Remember

Cameras freeze time, preserving memories. Mother didn’t write in a journal, but she consistently recorded our family’s story over time. The old box camera is long gone, but here is a “flash” of memory possibly from her last camera . . .

FlashBulb

DADDY  Some of what I found representing my father was surprising:

Although I have several photos of Daddy holding me as a baby, my father was a man’s man: a tractor-driving, motor-fixing, field-plowing, deer-hunting guy. He even hammered on the piano keys. His work clothes were of black moleskin cloth, matching the grease he was in close contact with at the shop. I am certain he never wore pink. Yet here he is posed for the camera in a dress, flanked by his parents, Henry and Fannie Longenecker, my Victorian grandma not yet attired in Mennonite garb that would characterize the rest of her life. Daddy’s dress is not a christening outfit. There was no christening among Mennonites. I suspect that babies of both genders wore dresses to make diaper changing easier.

Henry and Fannie Longenecker with son Ray
Henry and Fannie Longenecker with son Ray

Needlework

Our scavenging took us to the attic chest filled with treasured quilts. My sister Jean and Mother tagged each one a few years ago, so there would be no doubt as to their provenance. Apparently, Daddy drew his needle through a white quilt, stitching animals in red. I see a camel, sheep, chicken, pig, duck, an elephant. Even an ostrich.

Here is just a teaser. (Look for Daddy’s full quilt on a later post!)

Quilt with animal stitching by my father, Ray M. Longenecker
Quilt with animal stitching by my father, Ray M. Longenecker

Nickname

Daddy’s nickname for me was Pocahontas, not so much because I looked native American, but probably because of my thick, dark braids and big eyes. When I found this doll, I decided it shouldn’t be given away, sold, or recycled. It now sits on the dresser in our bedroom with “strubbly” hair, not braided!

Pocahontas

Marian w braids_K-

Final Note: A Curious Find   On our first visit to Mother’s house in October after the funeral, we saw a wicker basket on top of a hallway chest with a poem entitled “Safely Home,” something we had never noticed before. Were we blind to it earlier? Having a premonition of what was to come, did Mother put it there for us?

SafelyHomeBasket

I am home in heaven, dear ones; / Oh, so happy and so bright. / There is perfect joy and beauty / In this everlasting light . . . .

 (Anonymous, Osterhus Publishing House)  . . . a mute but eloquent affirmation


Your turn: Are you holding on to something you treasure from a loved one? A photograph? A small gift? 

Sue, Sarah, and Handful: Reviewing The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd, best known for her debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees, has published her third novel, the acclaimed The Invention of Wings (2014).

Courtesy, Riffle Books
Courtesy, Riffle Books

My Review

A full-page spread advertising Sue Monk Kidd’s latest work of historical fiction recently appeared in the New Yorker, which tells readers something about the stature of this work. Set in Charleston, SC, the novelist creates parallel stories representing two strata of early nineteenth-century America, alternating chapters with the voices of two engaging characters: the aristocratic Sarah Grimke and the hand-maid (creative name for slave) assigned to her, Hetty Handful Grimke. Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful. Over the next thirty-five years, both strive for a life of their own “forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love” as one reviewer characterizes it. Woven into the fabric of this novel is the alliance of the Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, who advocate for the equality of slaves and the rights of women.

While the unfolding plot intertwines other historical figures, both factual and imagined, Kidd held my attention with her metaphors and other descriptions. I was particularly intrigued with the exquisite quilts Handful’s cunning mother Charlotte fabricated, often using the image of blackbird wings as a triangular motif in the design. In the acknowledgements section, the author mentions too her reference to the American black folktale, from which she drew inspiration about “people in Africa being able to fly and then losing their wings when captured into slavery.”

The two main characters in this book effectively invent their own wings, Sarah by tirelessly advocating for human rights and Handful by staging her own escape to freedom. Her often repeated refrain:

If you don’t know where you came from, you have to know where you’re going.

That's one determined woman
Sarah Grimke, one determined woman

 


Quilts

Have a look at some of handmaid Hetty’s exquisite quilts on this website. Possibly the best seamstress in Charleston, the quilting of Hetty and her mother Charlotte offered her freedom spiritually as she recorded her family’s history, and freedom physically too by enabling her to fashion a disguise that may have enabled her to escape.

Q & A with the Author

Website: Sue Monk Kidd
Website: Sue Monk Kidd

Sue Monk Kidd has created an intriguing story from mountains of research including historical dates and events, articles, letters, all inspired by viewing Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party referred to in my last post.

See the intriguing Q & A with Sue Monk Kidd, who observed separate water fountains, black women sitting in the backseats of white women’s limousines, and the story of Rosa Parks in her own youth.

  • How could the author visualize Hetty so vividly?
  • How is Hetty or Sarah like Lily in The Secret Life of Bees?
  • How could Sue recreate the dialect of 19th-century Charleston on paper?

Your turn!

Sue Monk Kidd was published first in Guideposts and Readers’ Digest. Do you remember her writing from back then?

Can you relate to any of the characters in Sue Monk Kidd’s writings? 

 

 

BooksNYorkerCover

Who’s Coming to Dinner? Food with Art

How do you see yourself – Kitchen Goddess, Diva of Design, Mom’s Taxi, Writer Extraordinaire, Care-Taker?

Artist Haley Hasler paints herself as a strong woman in super-abundant settings usually with children and often with food.

MOCAcloseup

Currently displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, FL, Hasler demonstrates the resurgence of realism with bold strokes on large canvases. It is impossible to miss her exuberance. As she explains on her website, “The self-portrait confronts the viewer with an outward representation of the inner self.” And what an energetic self that must be!

She depicts her figures in fanciful costumes of daily life “balanced at the precipice of chaos” (a quote from the gallery that features her work.) Her paintings may recall life at home for you in days gone by, but I’m guessing on a less-grand scale.

Tooth Fairy - Hasler
Tooth Fairy – Hasler
Palomino - Hasler
Palomino – Hasler
Sunday Brunch - Hasler
Sunday Brunch – Hasler
Tea Party - Hasler
Tea Party – Hasler

Young girl peeks out from under the tea table while playing a violin as boy (possibly her brother) snoozes or at least pretends to.

MOCA permits photography of art works for non-commercial purposes
MOCA permits photography of art works for non-commercial purposes

* * *

Like Haley Hasler working in the same decade of the 1970s, artist Judy Chicago portrays not just one but 39 women in her famous work displayed in the Brooklyn Museum, NYC. And instead of a single canvas, Ms. Chicago’s installation entitled The Dinner Party features a huge triangular table measuring 48 feet on each of its three sides honoring famous women throughout history, each with a symbolic place setting: a napkin, utensils, goblet and a plate.

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

Also a part of this installation, on the Heritage Floor of the museum appear white tiles of gilded porcelain inscribed with the names of 999 more notable women. Among these is the name of Sarah Moore Grimké (1792 -1873) an American abolitionist and writer who did extensive public speaking opposing slavery and supporting women’s rights.

That's one determined woman
Here is one determined woman

Sarah Grimké is one of the dual protagonists in The Invention of Wings (2014), the much acclaimed historical novel by prize-winning author Sue Monk Kidd, who was inspired to write the book (she admits in her Acknowledgements) while viewing Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party installation. Sarah, speaker, writer, and suffragist, helped change the course of American history with her activism.

Sue Monk Kidd’s book with the two main characters, Sarah Grimké and her handmaid Hetty Handful, will be the topic of next week’s blog post. Stand by for action!

Maybe the words Diva, Goddess, Tooth Fairy or Activist don’t come to mind when you think of yourself. But you do have a title whether it’s Sister, Cook, Doctor, Teacher, Grandmother, a combination of the two, or something else entirely.

Tell us yours.

Way Back in the Day…

Did Granny or Mom make clothes out of feed-sacks? Did you wear outfits with rickrack or smocking? Blog friend/author S. K. Nicholls reminisces in this recent post.

S.K. Nicholls

My grandmother never bought her clothes. She made most everything she wore. Sometimes her sister in Montgomery, Alabama, would send her store bought dresses.  That was a time when the sewing machine (and the piano) was the most prized piece of furniture in the house.

She baked her own bread, biscuits, cornbread, hoecakes, white bread, and pancakes. The flour and meal came in big fifty pound fabric bags. The feed sacks and flour sacks came in pretty floral prints and stripes, bright calicoes and solids.

cutting-the-pattern-out-pioneer-dress-300x225She would wash and dry the fabric and lay it out on the dining table, pin a pattern in place, trace it and cut it out. We would have to stand for what seemed like hours while she pinned the hems. She made all of our clothes that way. We literally wore flour sacks to school.

Here’s a picture that made it in the local…

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Birthday # 95: A Tribute & Party

Aunt Ruthie age 89 mowing an acre of lawn
Aunt Ruthie age 89 mowing an acre of lawn

July 2013 phone conversation between Aunt Ruthie and me:

M:  Well, Ruthie, how are you doing?

AR:  Well, I’m puzzled!

M:  Puzzled? What about?

AR: I’m doing puzzles, doing “word find”!  Ha ha ha!  (Still witty at 95)

Teaching: Adoring teachers surround their retiring principal at Rheems Elementary School

1993BarbaraSchRuthie_small

Living for Others:

1990s Ruth in kitchen 2_small

Receiving Salt of the Earth Award from Lutheran Social Services for ministry to refugees and immigrants
Receiving Salt of the Earth Award from Lutheran Social Services for ministry to refugees and immigrants

Music: 

1989RuthiePiano_small

Playing the dulcimer 1996
Playing the dulcimer 1996

RuthiePianoRheems

Back to the piano at Rheems Nursing Home: Of the residents, many of them younger than she, her response: “They are poor souls. They probably wouldn’t recognize it if I repeated songs.”

Her schnauzer, Fritzie IV:

RuthieDogPiano1998RuthieFritziePorch_small

January 4, 2012 When her care-giver, nephew Mark has surgery, she remarks: “You and I, Fritzie, are orphans now.”

     *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The school-teacher, principal, tax collector,  family and church accountant, “mother” to dozens of refugees and immigrants has now landed on the spot of the calendar that says 95.

In July 2013, after falling at home, she recuperated at a rehab center and is now living at Landis Homes, a residence for seniors, many of whom are Mennonite, near Lititz, Pennsylvania. She has survived a pacemaker procedure and pneumonia in 2008, a hip break in 2010, and another fall this year. Yet she can still get out of bed, dress herself, and go places with her walker.

Hobbled by her falls and the natural progression of age, she’s no spring chicken, but she is still mobile. However, she finds her memory loss harder to deal with. The pilot light in her brilliant mind (she skipped 2 grades and had to have a chaperone at college because of her age) is now flickering during these last few years:

May 15, 2010 “Am I out of it?” she asks, dealing with the confusion that has set in.

May 17, 2010 “Sometimes I feel as though I must guard against a mental relapse.”

May 22, 2010 “I feel like a monkey on a stick.” Or a doll – Sue (then her housekeeper)  comes “in the door, takes me off the shelf, dusts me off, and puts me back up again.”

Feb, 27, 2011  “I took care of my grandfather, my mother, and now, I have to be taken care of. I was hoping this wouldn’t happen to me!”

January 11, 2012  “I don’t trust myself to say the right answer.”

April 13, 2013  Though there is confusion about where she is and the day of the week, she still notices that the hands on her Bulova Caravel watch have stopped. She gets a new piece of jewelry on her wrist today–and a touch quilt!

TODAY  IS  HER  95th PARTY: Time to Celebrate

Sister Jean and Aunt Ruthie at the 95th Party
Sister Jean and Aunt Ruthie at the 95th Party
Aunt Ruthie and Colleen's touch quilt
Aunt Ruthie and Colleen’s touch quilt

Her Wit: She gets the Last Laugh!

At Landis Homes, conversing with her sister-in-law, my mother, who is the same age, has the same name, down to the middle initial:

 Aunt: I want to go home to my house, my dog, my things . . . .

Mother: You have it good here, Ruthie.

 Aunt: All I do is sit here. I could just as well do my sitting at home.

Mother: Here you have nice people to help you, good food, pretty flowers all around. Virginia Hoover, Simon and Mary Jean Kraybill from church, even Cecilia Metzler, my sister-in-law live here. And they all love it!

Aunt: Why don’t we just exchange places then? We have the same name. You could sit here just as well as I. No one would ever notice.

Ha! Ha!

Your comments welcome! I always respond.

Colleen’s Comfort Quilts: Knot Plain, Just Fancy

Since our children were little babes in blankets, Colleen and I have been friends. Our friendship, knitted together by similar values, compatible tastes, and love of beauty, has flexed with her moves from Florida to Maryland to Texas to California and back again.

Collie with Quilt

Like her quilts, experiences in our lives have at times matched the dark, nubby patches, the smooth, satiny ones, all stitched together by the happy binding of love.

Soon I’ll be taking her latest creation as a gift to my dear Aunt Ruthie’s 95th birthday celebration in her new residence at Landis Homes near Lititz, Pennsylvania.  Ever the artist, Aunt Ruthie has  painted in oils, designed her gardens as colorful collages, and sewn her own clothes in quaint combinations. She’ll love the quilt!

Dark, nubby patches mimic doggy fur of Ruthie's beloved Schnauzer Fritzie
Dark, nubby patches mimic doggy fur of Ruthie’s beloved Schnauzer Fritzie

Last weekend I caught up with Colleen and asked her a few questions. Please listen in!

1. What are touch quilts?

A touch quilt has various textures that are intended to provide a calming effect and soothe jangled nerves as they are stroked.  A touch quilt may be used while sitting in a favorite rocker or recliner, wheelchair, at naptime, in a waiting room or hospital bed and are similar in theory to the security blanket used by many small children.  They are loved by elders and children alike and have been found to be especially useful for those who are blind or have dementia.

2. How did you get started making them?

In 2005, my church started a Prayer Quilt ministry where I learned to make lap-size quilts;  I loved the idea and process and have been making them ever since.  In 2010, a women’s group I belonged to asked if anyone knew how to make touch quilts, which were  to be donated to the local Elder Day Stay.  I did a little research and found them to be very similar to the prayer quilts I already knew how to make, except for the fabrics used.  I made about 16 Touch Quilts over the next two years and got wonderful feedback from the excited recipients.

Gold, satin petals attached only at center
Gold, satin petals attached only at center

3. What types of fabrics do you use?

I look for pleasing colors in a variety of soft fabrics such as satin, corduroy, minky, flannel, fleece, fuzzy, furry, and more. I like to have some satin and fuzzy in every quilt and prefer satin bindings on all of them.

Sizes? (Dimensions of quilts)

I have made lap size (42 x 42), which is the most common size for all ages, nap size (42 x 54), and wheelchair size (36 x 36), which is intended to fit comfortably between the wheels without getting snagged.

4. Where do you get your inspiration for the designs and color combinations?

I try to include at least one fabric with a pattern and select complementary colors based on that. I start out designing on the computer and then put the cut fabric on my quilting “wall” to ensure the design fits the fabrics selected.  When I’m using a new design or a fabric with a new pattern, I often spend quite a bit of time rearranging the fabric blocks on the wall before I find a combination that feels and looks right.  It’s a creative process that can take hours and occasionally, days.

5. Who benefits from your quilts? To what organizations have you donated them?

I donate quilts to the Trinity United Methodist Church, Elder Day Stay, and various individuals.

redzebratquilt

Quilts by Colleen: Touchable Chic

Questions or comments about Colleen’s quilts? Reply below please!

Children’s book: The Boy and the Quilt by Mennonite author, Shirley Kurtz: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2729926-the-boy-and-the-quilt-with-four-color-artwork?from_search=true