Sunday, April 11, 2010

Grandma's Hands

Grandma Kathleen’s Quilt

Grandma Kathleen Louella (Green) Morris, the daughter of Roy Green and Maggie Neal, born 5 Nov. 1916 in Cullison, Kansas, died 22 Sept. 1985 in Wichita, Kansas.
In Searcy Hall of Stephens College my living quarters always featured the lime green polyester quilt that Grandma Kathleen had made. It was impossible for my college-mates to visit the room without commenting. I remember when Grandma made the unconventional quilt. She had cut up all of her polyester dresses and planted herself in front of The Lawrence Welk Show, her favorite. She was equipped with the hand needles needed to stitch the maroon block and assorted pink, blue, beige, and yellow pieces of her favorite dresses. I was Grandma’s namesake, and I was honored to have the quilt made of her prettiest dresses.
Like the women in The Lawrence Welk Show, Grandma Kathleen was beautiful and the epitome of “a lady.” She didn’t wear pants, that would be “men’s attire and not acceptable to God,” but she would lightly dap on pale pink lipstick with just a bit of powder on her fair peachy face to control shine. Her voice was always calm and sweet barely above a whisper, and she was generous with her smile of approval. As far as I know, the only sin she ever committed was to hold back two to three dollars of Grandpa’s grocery money, to send to me in college. My dorm-mates laughed every time I received a letter from Grandma Kathleen, because it always ended with “This is our secret!” and 2 or 3 crisp one dollar bills would be tucked between the pages of family and Kansas news.

When Grandma came to visit us in Kansas City, which wasn’t often, I was always nervous as a young girl. She and Grandpa would arrive sometime during the day, in time for her to walk to our school to meet us at the guard-crossing. I could never pick her out from all the other mothers or grandmothers, even though the others were white. Grandma was fair skinned with fine straight hair that she wore in a bun 365 days of the year. For first grade she had to attend a black school in Topeka, and her classmates called her “baby shit” due to her complexion. As an adult, we seven grandchildren called her “white Grandma” due to her complexion. She claimed Negro, her sisters who we didn’t really know, had color as did their mother, but her drivers license had “white” listed as her race. When we asked why, which we did often, she’d explained while standing in the colored line at the Hutchinson, Kansas license bureau sometime around 1942, a white clerk behind the desk motioned for her to get out of that line and to stand in line with the white citizens. No questions were asked, the clerk just chose white as Grandma’s race, which she never corrected, and it stayed like that on her driver’s license until her death in 1985.

When we visited her on the farm outside Buhler Kansas on RR3, she’d make us our favorite spaghetti. No one made spaghetti like Grandma. She’d render some bacon, add tomatoes and onions, and that was the sauce. No hamburger, no mushrooms…nope just delicious bacon and sautĂ©ed onions, smothered in fresh tomato sauce. She and Grandpa lived in Mennonite territory, where Grandpa had gone to school, as well as my mother and her siblings. Actually three generations had attended the all white school  (except for my family) of Union Valley, including my cousins who lived with Grandma after their mother’s death. Living in an all white community was not new to Grandma. She had also attended predominately white schools all her life, except for first grade in Topeka, and she lived on North Star St. in Hutchinson, a white neighborhood, where she was accustomed to playing with her white classmates. She graduated at the age of 17 from Hutchinson High school in 1934, an integrated school with very few African Americans, but she had been active in the choral group and would regal us with her fond memories of her friends and school. After graduating, she married Grandpa who was eleven years her senior, got pregnant, and moved to Mennonite country on the farm where Grandpa raised Black Angus cattle and other livestock while she tended to a family garden. So Grandma, well versed in animal parts, would make spicy hog-head cheese, that as a child, I thought the gelatinous mess looked icky, but I loved the taste. Other times while visiting, there was a tub of fresh sauerkraut waiting. She’d prepare ribs and sauerkraut, a good German meal, and one of my favorites. I make it even today, but I can’t find hog-head cheese as fresh and delicious as Grandma’s.

Grandma’s quilt, backed with spring pink fabric and tied using yellow tacks, brings fresh memories of her love and comfort. When, I’m sick I pull it out, wrap myself into its healing powers, lay on the sofa and watch reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show. And of course, to celebrate good health, I eat a pot of bacon spaghetti.

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  1. What a wonderful, interesting tribute to your Grandma. Her quilt looks lovely, and did she!

  2. What a beautiful quilt and story of your grandmother.

    Your story about the quilt made me remember that my mother made a quilt for me of all the wool scraps that I had left over from making skirts.

  3. Kathleen, What a nice tribute to your grandmother. I have a feeling she was a strong woman, and I would have liked her, because I continue to love watching The Lawrence Welk Show, whenever it is on (fundraising shows). I have a very good friend in Hutchinson, and you've mentioned it several times.

  4. Wow, this post brought back so many memories for me (such as my Grandma making quilts from sewing scraps) and also made me hungry - sauerkraut and bacon are two of my favorite foods. Your Grandma sounds like someone I would love to have known.

  5. Your grandma is just beautiful. What a wonderful story too!

  6. What a beautiful quilt Kathleen and what a treasure to hold. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story of your grandmother with us. And I can only imagine how healing that quilt is, especially when you don't feel well.

  7. Thanks to all of you for visiting and commenting on this posts.

  8. Kathleen, what a wonderful story about your grandma! I love the bright green and pinks in the quilt. Thanks for sharing.

  9. OMG, it's been YEARS since I've had ribs and sauerkraut... that sounds SO good! Tomorrow!!

  10. Lovely story!

    I can imagine the 'adult' conversations about the driver's license episode! lol

    That spaghetti sound goood!

    "Guided by the Ancestors"

  11. Beautiful, beautiful post about your Grandma Kathleen! I can't imagine why you ever doubted if she belonged in this 2nd Edition of CoAAG -- of course she does!

    Warm homemade meals & hand-sewn quilts... A true Grandma indeed!:-)


  12. Kathleen,

    Very nice post, and great memories of your grandmother. The quilt is beautiful! Thanks for sharing, and thank you for participating in the CoAAG.


  13. Really enjoyed the stories about your grandma.