08 March 2011

The 130-year-old quilt

Women's History Month challenge for March 8 — Did one of your female ancestors leave a diary, journal, or collection of letters? Share an entry or excerpt.

Quilt made by Nancy Ellinor Honnoll Walker and Mary Marcella Walker Brooks in Mississippi, 1881.

Do I ever wish that they had. I have so many questions now. But maybe this will serve in the place of a journal. Sometimes we get messages from the older girls in forms other than writing. Sometimes. This is one of those times. This story is about an heirloom that is also a record.

I posted about this quilt last year. Here's the rest of the story.

After my grandmother died in 1994, Shirley called me to say that there was something special for each of the grandchildren, something Grandmother particularly wanted us to have. With a slight catch in her voice, Shirley said that Grandmother wanted me to have THE quilt.

"What THE quilt?" I wanted to know. "There are lots of quilts she gave us."

"No," Shirley said, "THE quilt. I didn't even know about it until she told me."

Grandmother had rescued the quilt after a devastating tornado struck her family farm in 1957, destroyed the farmhouse and fatally injured Mossie. She also rescued pages from the family Bible that were scattered in the mud. The quilt was cleaned and put up away from everyone for the rest of Grandmother's life.

It is a slightly tattered beauty with the name "Mossie" and the date 1881 embroidered in one of its panels, and the name alone embroidered in another. We assumed that this was made for Mossie by her mother.

In 2003, I started researching it so that we could get it on the Quilt Index. There aren't that many quilts with such a clear and provable date and place of origin, after all. At that time I knew nothing about my great-grandmother's family except that her mother was a shadowy figure named Gramma Walker. And that didn't get me very far in the genealogy.

With a little digging, I uncovered the Honnoll family, and Gramma Walker turned out to be Nancy Ellinor Honnoll Walker, whose name was spelled exactly that way in the pages of the family Bible that Grandmother rescued after the storm.

I also realized that Mossie was born in 1874. By 1881 she would have been old enough to start learning sewing and cooking. I can't prove it, but I am betting anything that this was her first project, with her mother's help where needed. I believe that her mother drew the name and date and that Mossie embroidered them, carefully. It's what my mother did for my first embroidery project. Needlework does run in the family.

Name and date block

Name block. Look at that handwriting.

Tornado damage on the back.

Certainly this quilt was of supreme importance to Mossie. In a life filled with some serious hard times and many cross-country moves, it was one thing she never lost.

She didn't write down much, ever, not even recipes, but this quilt is a record and a message in itself.

P.S. When Shirley came up to Delaware for our wedding, she asked me quietly if I still had the Mossie quilt, since she didn't see it anywhere. As casually as I could, I told her that it was put up somewhere. It was. It was put up hanging in the chapel for our wedding the next day. The look on her fact when she saw it there, brilliant and perfect for an October day, is one of the best memories I have in my whole life. It was the day before Mossie's birthday, which I did not realize. Sometimes everything comes together.

1 comment:

Paula said...

Oh wow! What a beautiful quilt!! You are lucky to have that in your family.