I’ve been a reader all my life, never thinking there was anything unusual in that because my siblings were dedicated to books as much as I. Nor did I think it was unusual when I was 12 years old that the librarian gave me access to the locked book case. This was where the books that were designated too racy for the general public were kept--Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, T S Eliot, Voltaire, almost anybody worth reading. I never did know who the people were who tried so hard to shut down the minds of the local people. Wouldn’t they just frizzle if they were exposed to today’s television?
My mother was a working woman, spending long hours in the restaurant she and Dad owned. By the time she came home from work, she didn’t have the strength to try to teach me the things I wanted to learn. Besides, there were five kids in our family and I couldn’t expect her to give me time that would take away her time with the rest of us.
Art has always been important in my life, and thanks to a high school teacher who .stopped me in the hallway at the beginning of the seventh grade and said, “Sign up for art.” I had someone who encouraged me in something I hadn’t thought I had an aptitude for and I’ve been grateful to her ever since. Art has many branches and I’ve taken advantage of several of them as my life made it’s changes and new things appealed.
I was an earnest Girl Scout. I took seriously their aims and traditions. Our troop had two excellent women acting as Captain and Lieutenant. I don’t remember doing it, but I must have talked a lot about wanting to learn to sew and embroider because one day the Lieutenant told me if I would bring a flour sack, a needle, a thimble and some white thread to her house on Thursdays after school, she would teach me to sew.
The first thing she taught me was to make a fine rolled edge and to sew it with tiny stitches that didn’t show. I was proud of the job I had done when I went to her house the next week with the hemming all finished on four sides. Imagine my delight when the Lieutenant showed me a transfer pattern for a fancy letter “E” and asked if I’d like to embroider that on a corner of the dishtowel. Thus was I introduced to my first embroidery.
I don’t remember how long I went to her house for my sewing lessons, but it must have been a long time that she was willing to work with me. She taught me to be careful of my stitches: they should all be the same size. The embroidery she had me do was mostly with a single strand of floss and NO KNOTS were permitted on the back of the cloth. The only reason I was able to withstand waiting for my next lesson was that I had plenty of work to do to finish up the previous week’s project at home. I was careful and precise because if the stitches got too big, she’d make me take them out and do them over. That only happened once in an early lesson and it was only for a couple of inches.
By the time I’d finished being taught by the lady Lieutenant, she had taught me several ways to make a hem, I had done many embroidery projects, including card table covers with embroidery in the four corners or around the edges, and I had embroidered several sets of pillow cases with more advanced kinds of stitches in each design. Then she taught me to pull threads and do “drawn thread work” with designs in the openwork with embroidery. The first projects were card table covers, then I did more intricate work on fine tubular cotton pillowcase fabric. Over time I learned as many fabric arts as I could. I am a strong believer in cherishing work done by “Loving Hands at Home.” I believe the most beautiful work in the world can be found among that made by loving hands at home because the unpaid craftswoman will put in the hours needed to make something exceptional.
I worked on my first political campaign when I was ten years old, going to campaign headquarters and offering to help while the ladies smiled and had me delivering leaflets all over town, making me feel important and saving their aging legs. My right to vote is so precious to me, I have never failed to vote in an election, no matter how minor. I do what I can for what I believe in in politics, I always have and I think everybody should, even those who don’t think the way I do.
My husband and I built a house. He was excellent doing the rough work and the basic carpentry but when it came to finishing the kitchen, he decided to hire a cabinet-maker friend to finish the kitchen. The cabinets were beautiful, but the carpenter’s wife wasn’t interested in dishes and I was a dish nut. He built the cabinets with 10-inch-wide shelves,a size that was fine for his wife’s dishes, but I had 11-inch plates. I grumbled about that for a few months then signed up for a class in wood shop at night school. The first thing I made was a sewing cabinet. That was for practice. The second thing I made was an 8-foot long hutch for my dining room. It had shelves wide enough for my plates and lots of dishes in the upper display section and the base cabinet had special places for my giant turkey platter, the outsize salad bowl, big casseroles and serving plates. That made me so happy I just kept doing cabinet making, for whatever I wanted. I took wood shop at night school for five years and by the time I quit I had my own wood shop with all the tools except for a planer. I never quit doing woodwork. If I wanted something, I built it.
I am a cancer survivor. I had breast cancer in 1998. It was a time when I had been going to Nicaragua to work with a weaving cooperative, spending three months at a time each year with some of the hardest-working, sweetest people I have ever known. The cancer was discovered when I was getting my annual physical before the trip. I was determined to go to Nicaragua, and 26 days after my surgery I was in Leon with my surgeon’s blessing. “Life goes on,” he told my relatives who had protested. It does.