Grandma Goose   Quilting is the quintessential American art form. It is the bringing together of spare pieces of material. Some people would regard these as scraps and rags. These are stitched together, creating something that is greater than the sum of its parts and often breathtakingly beautiful. It is hard and painstakingly methodical work.   In my house is a quilt that my mom started with her grandmother when she was fourteen years old. The patches were made, white fabric with red and green material centered in each square that looked like baby roses, and the scraps of material put away. On my mother’s wedding, my great-grandmother sewed these pieces together. There among the wedding gifts was the quilt. Almost six decades later, it is probably one of the few things that remain from among those presents in that church basement.   My oldest brother called her Grandma Goose because she cooked goose around the holidays. It was more likely that she received that moniker because she had one of those wonderful Norwegian last names, that for a child was almost impossible to pronounce or remember, Opstvedt. She was my Grandpa Holland’s mother.   He was born in early 1919, north of a little farm town called Roland. A few weeks earlier Spanish Influenza had swept through the area, changing so many lives forever. It was as close as America ever got to the Rapture. Seemingly overnight a hundred million people vanished across the world, 21,117 in the state of Iowa alone. But it did not end with God coming back. Only the young and strong, those in the prime of their lives, disappeared. One of them was my twenty-one-year-old Great- Grandfather Arthur.    He had only been married to my Great-Grandmother Ellen, not even a full two decades into her life, a handful of months. Old man winter was just contemplating his retreat, when the flu paid a visit to their farm and bared its fangs. A warning ribbon was placed on the door. The brave souls that ventured out covered their mouths and noses with white surgical masks. Church services halted and businesses shut down.   The cough. The fever. The chills.  In three to five day, the near-complete destruction of the lungs. Funeral services, if people were brave enough to venture out, might last a mere fifteen minutes before the survivors scattered as quickly as possible. Just as mysteriously as it appeared, it disappeared, changing almost every family forever. My great-grandfather is listed among the last of the Iowa’s influenza victims.   My grandfather went from being a prosperous farmer’s son to having nothing before he even left the womb. Maybe young people were more mature back then or, at least, pretended to be. I cannot imagine how my great-grandmother kept things together when everything in her world fell apart.  To be not even out of your teens and to be a widow had to be tough.   Since it was the Holland family farm, she got nothing and had to move back in with her parents, who were already overstretched without their adult daughter and a baby returning home. She found the only work that she could, a day laborer, other people’s cooking, cleaning, laundry, ironing and whatever else needed to be done.   It could not have been easy, walking everywhere, the long hours away from her son, returning home with just enough money to keep them going until the next day. The Roaring 20s weren’t so roaring when you’re a single mother with a little boy.   She got remarried to a man, a decade her senior, another farmer in the area. He had served in France with the 88th Division during the war that was supposed to end all wars. They had three children together, two girls and a boy, just in time for the Great Depression to hit.   Farm prices dropped and corn plummeted to eight cents a bushel. It was cheaper to burn it in their stoves than to pay the rates the railroads wanted to charge to haul their grain. Seven decades later, my grandfather remembered how the people’s homes smelled like burnt popcorn. It seeped into the people’s pores.     Young people cannot fathom what that kind of poverty was like. You had to take off your shoes when you walked into town to save on the leather. At ten years old, my grandfather was already doing the work of a man, even driving the horses and wagon into town to sell their crops at the local coop. Everyone had to work if they were all going to survive.   Unfortunately, many friends bought land or machinery on credit when times were good, banks closed, and people simply drifted away. It left its scars and marks on their psyches for the rest of their lives, an inner-fear that never went away. My grandfather, even at the end of his life, had fruit trees in his yard and made wine from what most of us would have considered yard waste, kept odds and ends that most people would have thrown away, because a person never knew.   They survived and Grandma raised some great kids. They were people we all wish our kids could be. Things turned for the better, the economy improved, then her second husband died. He had gone into the Veterans Home in Des Moines for two major surgeries, something went wrong, and he died later at home. He was 55. It was roughly a year before the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor, bringing a new war, and more boys that would never return home.   Rationing books and war drives, she moved into town and got a job as a cook at the school. Rising before dawn to prepare the food and returning home exhausted after the last pot and pan had been cleaned. She also cooked for the weekly Lion’s Club meetings, for any wedding that was going on, and for any other event anyone else asked her to. She walked everywhere she went, rain or shine, sometimes in the snow, because she could never afford a car.  What few leftovers were left she got to take home. She still had children at home.   When she got older, what little time she had for entertainment, she liked to go up to a small lake called Little Wall, where she talked and fished with her friends. It was practical entertainment. You got to eat what you caught.   Her last few years she lived a block from where my parents’ place, in a little house that is no longer there. If my mom needed a babysitter or some help around the place, my great-grandma would walk down the alley to be there for her. Her children even talked her into retirement.  She had this wonderful thing called Social Security. She was no longer going to have to spend long hours standing on her feet cooking for other people or getting up at the crack of dawn. No more heavy pots and pans. No more hot kitchens or long walks. She was going to get to relax, have the time to just sit with her friends, and hold her growing number of great-grandchildren without having to worry about tomorrow.   She got finally got her rest. No more hustling day in day out just trying to survive, but it was not like her children and grandchildren had hoped. She died, a few months into her retirement. That wonderful heart, that kept her plugging away, finally gave out.   In her closet, after her death, filled top to bottom, they found boxes and boxes and boxes of cereal. The Spanish Influenza, the Great Depression, the deaths of two husbands before she was even fifty, it was as if she was saying she was not going to get caught flatfooted by fate again. No matter what happened, and no one can predict the future, she was going to make sure her children, grandchildren, great- grandchildren would never go hungry.   Her life was like the quilt she made.  She took the scraps of life, what many people would have seen as mere rags, and created something special, her family. Quilts take time. They are hard work, involving a great deal of loving care, and, so are families. You have to take what you are given. Piece-by-piece, square-by-square, eventually, if you have enough time, you sew together something beautiful that outlasts you. Quilting is the quintessential American art form. If you don’t believe me, look at your own family.
Grandma Goose   Quilting is the quintessential American art form. It is the bringing together of spare pieces of material. Some people would regard these as scraps and rags. These are stitched together, creating something that is greater than the sum of its parts and often breathtakingly beautiful. It is hard and painstakingly methodical work.   In my house is a quilt that my mom started with her grandmother when she was fourteen years old. The patches were made, white fabric with red and green material centered in each square that looked like baby roses, and the scraps of material put away. On my mother’s wedding, my great-grandmother sewed these pieces together. There among the wedding gifts was the quilt. Almost six decades later, it is probably one of the few things that remain from among those presents in that church basement.   My oldest brother called her Grandma Goose because she cooked goose around the holidays. It was more likely that she received that moniker because she had one of those wonderful Norwegian last names, that for a child was almost impossible to pronounce or remember, Opstvedt. She was my Grandpa Holland’s mother.   He was born in early 1919, north of a little farm town called Roland. A few weeks earlier Spanish Influenza had swept through the area, changing so many lives forever. It was as close as America ever got to the Rapture. Seemingly overnight a hundred million people vanished across the world, 21,117 in the state of Iowa alone. But it did not end with God coming back. Only the young and strong, those in the prime of their lives, disappeared. One of them was my twenty-one-year-old Great- Grandfather Arthur.    He had only been married to my Great-Grandmother Ellen, not even a full two decades into her life, a handful of months. Old man winter was just contemplating his retreat, when the flu paid a visit to their farm and bared its fangs. A warning ribbon was placed on the door. The brave souls that ventured out covered their mouths and noses with white surgical masks. Church services halted and businesses shut down.   The cough. The fever. The chills.  In three to five day, the near-complete destruction of the lungs. Funeral services, if people were brave enough to venture out, might last a mere fifteen minutes before the survivors scattered as quickly as possible. Just as mysteriously as it appeared, it disappeared, changing almost every family forever. My great-grandfather is listed among the last of the Iowa’s influenza victims.   My grandfather went from being a prosperous farmer’s son to having nothing before he even left the womb. Maybe young people were more mature back then or, at least, pretended to be. I cannot imagine how my great-grandmother kept things together when everything in her world fell apart.  To be not even out of your teens and to be a widow had to be tough.   Since it was the Holland family farm, she got nothing and had to move back in with her parents, who were already overstretched without their adult daughter and a baby returning home. She found the only work that she could, a day laborer, other people’s cooking, cleaning, laundry, ironing and whatever else needed to be done.   It could not have been easy, walking everywhere, the long hours away from her son, returning home with just enough money to keep them going until the next day. The Roaring 20s weren’t so roaring when you’re a single mother with a little boy.   She got remarried to a man, a decade her senior, another farmer in the area. He had served in France with the 88th Division during the war that was supposed to end all wars. They had three children together, two girls and a boy, just in time for the Great Depression to hit.   Farm prices dropped and corn plummeted to eight cents a bushel. It was cheaper to burn it in their stoves than to pay the rates the railroads wanted to charge to haul their grain. Seven decades later, my grandfather remembered how the people’s homes smelled like burnt popcorn. It seeped into the people’s pores.     Young people cannot fathom what that kind of poverty was like. You had to take off your shoes when you walked into town to save on the leather. At ten years old, my grandfather was already doing the work of a man, even driving the horses and wagon into town to sell their crops at the local coop. Everyone had to work if they were all going to survive.   Unfortunately, many friends bought land or machinery on credit when times were good, banks closed, and people simply drifted away. It left its scars and marks on their psyches for the rest of their lives, an inner-fear that never went away. My grandfather, even at the end of his life, had fruit trees in his yard and made wine from what most of us would have considered yard waste, kept odds and ends that most people would have thrown away, because a person never knew.   They survived and Grandma raised some great kids. They were people we all wish our kids could be. Things turned for the better, the economy improved, then her second husband died. He had gone into the Veterans Home in Des Moines for two major surgeries, something went wrong, and he died later at home. He was 55. It was roughly a year before the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor, bringing a new war, and more boys that would never return home.   Rationing books and war drives, she moved into town and got a job as a cook at the school. Rising before dawn to prepare the food and returning home exhausted after the last pot and pan had been cleaned. She also cooked for the weekly Lion’s Club meetings, for any wedding that was going on, and for any other event anyone else asked her to. She walked everywhere she went, rain or shine, sometimes in the snow, because she could never afford a car.  What few leftovers were left she got to take home. She still had children at home.   When she got older, what little time she had for entertainment, she liked to go up to a small lake called Little Wall, where she talked and fished with her friends. It was practical entertainment. You got to eat what you caught.   Her last few years she lived a block from where my parents’ place, in a little house that is no longer there. If my mom needed a babysitter or some help around the place, my great-grandma would walk down the alley to be there for her. Her children even talked her into retirement.  She had this wonderful thing called Social Security. She was no longer going to have to spend long hours standing on her feet cooking for other people or getting up at the crack of dawn. No more heavy pots and pans. No more hot kitchens or long walks. She was going to get to relax, have the time to just sit with her friends, and hold her growing number of great-grandchildren without having to worry about tomorrow.   She got finally got her rest. No more hustling day in day out just trying to survive, but it was not like her children and grandchildren had hoped. She died, a few months into her retirement. That wonderful heart, that kept her plugging away, finally gave out.   In her closet, after her death, filled top to bottom, they found boxes and boxes and boxes of cereal. The Spanish Influenza, the Great Depression, the deaths of two husbands before she was even fifty, it was as if she was saying she was not going to get caught flatfooted by fate again. No matter what happened, and no one can predict the future, she was going to make sure her children, grandchildren, great- grandchildren would never go hungry.   Her life was like the quilt she made.  She took the scraps of life, what many people would have seen as mere rags, and created something special, her family. Quilts take time. They are hard work, involving a great deal of loving care, and, so are families. You have to take what you are given. Piece-by-piece, square-by-square, eventually, if you have enough time, you sew together something beautiful that outlasts you. Quilting is the quintessential American art form. If you don’t believe me, look at your own family.