Summer, with her welcomed vacation days and built-in times for rest and relaxation, has a knack for stealthily sliding away and disappearing faster than any other season, just as you are maximizing her benefits. However, carefully pondering summer’s highlights and high points allows a brief postponement of the inevitable end of this highly anticipated season.
“A Stitch in Time” —
not merely a quilt exhibit
More than 75 handmade quilts, historic and modern shared gems of Walker County families, immediately embrace you in their warmth upon entering the Bankhead House and Heritage Center’s current exhibit, “A Stitch in Time: Quilting in Walker County.”
The Bankhead House offers a subtly gorgeous, inviting get-away every day. But the quilts, whose alluring glory is enhanced by the lighting, create an unusually calm atmosphere where you can almost hear the hushed voices of the quilters, talking as their fingers fly, creating objects of gentle beauty which harbor countless family stories and memories.
Folk artist Maurice Cook’s vibrant paintings which include quilts are featured as well as a live demonstration on Thursdays by quilters from the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. Until September 21, this exhibit presents a comforting, easily accessed, local summer highlight.
While the exhibit displays a multitude of quilt patterns and quilts of all sizes, shapes, colors, and backgrounds, the Tobacco Flag Quilt loaned by Pat Morrison stands out, commanding extra attention. When Pat, a seasoned, skilled, and savvy collector, bought this quilt through an estate sale, it was the first he had encountered.
The flannel flags, which are pieced together to make this type of quilt, were placed in with or wrapped around tobacco products like cigars, cigarettes and chewing tobacco, and their appearance may date as far back as 1870.
Particularly popular in the World War I era, the tobacco flannels were premiums, similar to baseball cards in bubble gum packs. Patterns were often offered as a series, so consumers would be motivated to collect each and every one.
In addition to flags from all over the world, the tobacco flannels appeared in other patterns — butterflies, baseball and Native Americans.
National quilt expert Merikay Waldvogel recently conducted a quilt turning at the Bankhead House. She noted that Pat’s quilt is very unusual because it includes a Confederate flag, a detail she had never seen in a Tobacco Flag Quilt.
Most visitors to “A Stitch in Time” readily discover at least one quilt which uncovers memories of a quilt from their own lives. Draped over the second floor railing, “Flower Garden,” made by Ellen Horsley in the 1950s and loaned by Lorene Kimbrell, lured me back more than 50 years.
When I was about 5, our gardener was an old, bald, stooped, African American gentleman, who asked to be called “Preacher” in recognition of the small congregation he led in a church near his home.
He worked on Fridays and if the weather was uncooperative, Preacher would spend the morning waxing the hardwood floors with Johnson’s Paste Wax and then buffing them with a monster of a machine.
I got home from kindergarten just in time to happily and contentedly sit at the kitchen counter with him and eat a lunch of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup served with a grilled cheese sandwich made on Flowers Bakery white sandwich bread.
Preacher’s wife made a “Flower Garden” quilt for my mother during that time. Today a brief glance at this faded pastel-colored quilt, neatly folded at the end of the bed, affectionately tattered and torn, jump-starts a wonderful collection of childhood memories — highly-polished floors, perfect for sliding and still reeking of nose-wringing Johnson’s wax, simple and sweet conversations between an inquisitive little girl and a kind, thoughtful old man who had lived a hard life, and a time in my life when I thought the world centered around me and belonged to me.
“A Stitch in Time” is so much more than a quilt exhibit.
It is an invitation to reminisce, sense the caring of handcrafted loveliness, and uncover layer after layer of stories — yours, mine, and ours.
We Shall Gather
at the River
Seven years ago our older son started college. The house immediately got a little quieter with fewer energetic teenagers in and out and the usual bickering between brothers disappeared. Two years later, the younger son was off to college.
When friends and acquaintances realized in passing conversations that the last child had left for college, they typically attempted to sympathize and inquired about how we were handling the “Empty Nest.”
No such phrase exists in my vocabulary. My nest will never be empty.
Our sons, even after college graduation, do come home from time to time. They bring new friends, girlfriends, fiancees, dirty laundry, and amazingly original thoughts, ideas and plans.
So, for the last seven years, I have been remodeling my nest and enjoying the resulting benefits.
One of the remarkable, yet rare, rewards of this remodeling task is the long weekends when we can all gather at the river — parents, sons, fiancee and grandparents, each driving in from a different direction.
Summer is particularly appropriate since the water and all its offerings are available. A single gathering that fits this description ranks as the high point of the summer.
With an acute and always developing sense of how important our families are to us, these gatherings revolve around long conversations on the porch with endless cups of coffee, boat rides for bird watching, swimming and water skiing, scattered naps induced by hours of reading, and the rowdy joy brought by six dogs — five of our own and one a neighbor.
The most pressing concern during our gatherings is the dinner menu.
Providing the perfect opportunity to prepare favorites and briefly postponing concern about healthy eating habits, the evening meals are always accompanied by dessert. Dark, dense, and not too sweet, Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pie pleases even those who do not live and breathe for chocolate.
OLD-FASHIONED CHOCOLATE PIE
1 9-inch, deep dish pie crust
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
One half teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 large egg yolks
2 Tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1. With a fork, pierce the bottom and sides of the pie crust. Pre-bake the crust
at 350 for about 6-8 minutes.
2. Combine the chocolate and the milk in the top of a double boiler and heat over simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
3. Combine the sugar, salt, and flour. Add to the chocolate and milk. Mix thoroughly.
4. Pour a small amount of the warm chocolate mixture into the egg yolks to temper them and mix well. Add the tempered yolks to the chocolate.
5. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly until the mixture is thickened.
6. Add the butter. 7. Remove the filling from the heat and add the vanilla.
6. Spoon the filling into the partially baked crust and bake at 350 for approximately 30 minutes.
7. Cool thoroughly and cover the pie with the topping.
DREAM WHIP PIE
2 individual envelopes Dream Whip Whipped Topping Mix
Three fourths cup cold whole milk
One fourth cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Place a metal bowl and the mixer beater(s) in the freezer until they are very
cold. 2. Mix the milk, whipping cream, and vanilla and refrigerate while the bowl and beaters chill.
3. Put the Dream Whip in the chilled bowl and add the other ingredients.
4. Whip the mixture until it is light and fluffy.
Before summer elusively slips away like a helium-filled balloon, hang on tightly to a highlight or high point — a quilt, a gathering, a moment, a day.
Tuck your treasure back and savor the memories until it is time for the pleasures of a distinctly Southern fall.
Margaret Dabbs is a freelance columnist who resides in Jasper. Her column appears every other Wednesday in the Lifestyles section. Comments and suggestions are welcomed by contacting Dabbs at 205-387-2890.