Monday, January 23, 2012

With her own two hands . . .

I start thinking about it the moment I open my eyes.  Even while I say my prayers, put on the water for my coffee, and make my bed, I am thinking about the plans for today.  Oh boy,  I am so excited!!!!!  Ok, by now you're thinking, wow, what is she doing today?  I hope I won't disappoint you when I tell you I am going antiquing. If that wasn't enough, on the way we are stopping at a quilt shop.  Ohmygosh, I'm practically giddy!  I have been looking forward to some calm and peace and quiet since Christmas, and finally it has arrived.  A little time to relax and do nothing.  No parties, no holiday meals, no presents to make and wrap. No cookies to bake.  Whew!

When we have only a few hours, I pick one of the nearby antique stores,  but when we have the whole afternoon I always choose the same place. It is amazing.  It is called Historic Volo Country Village, first settled in the 1830s.  Some of the original structures are still standing today, including one of the huge barns housing antiques.  A local family purchased a 30-acre dairy farm which would later become what is now known as Historic Volo Country Village. It still has that small village feel but has a lot to offer. Just thought I would share it with you!  It is in the Chicago area if anyone is interested, here is a link. 

Anyhow, back to my story.  You should see me as I get ready to go - I think you would laugh.  I pack up like I am going on a little vacation.  I empty my necessities from purse; cell phone, camera, paper and pen, debit card, kleenex, and every last dollar I can find  into the pockets of my most comfortable old coat, as a purse would only get in my way.  I make sure I have my little reading glasses tucked into the front of my shirt, which will later be perched on the tip of my nose like the typical little old granny!  I pack a little snack - two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on homemade bread with my peach-orange-pineapple marmalade which I made this summer, as well as some Diet Coke and a huge glass of ice. If there are any baked goods around the house I pack them too.  This will be perfect for when we start getting tired and thirsty.  After a couple hours of wandering I am usually ready for a little break.  Once I am refreshed and replenished and rejuvenated I kiss my husband, who by then has started snoozing reading magazines in the car. He can shop for a couple hours but not four or five like I do! 

We're off.  And I swear that when we are going somewhere I don't particularly want to go my husband drives really fast, and when we are going to an antique shop or quilt shop and I am so excited to get there, he drives five miles under the speed limit.  He tells me that is absolutely not true, and that it just feels that way to me - but all I know is that I just can't get there fast enough.  We're only forty minutes  away, but it feels like hours. 

Finally, we have arrived.  This place has three HUGE barns filled with antiques,  and about 7 pole barns filled with vintage cars.  The retro 1950 style snack bar, complete with vintage tables and checkerboard floors has a Betty Boop movie playing on the overhead screen for all to enjoy.  Sometimes the smell of the chili dogs is too tempting for me to resist, and of course I must purchase a hand dipped pretzel or two to munch on to keep up my strength.  Really healthy, right?  But really good! There are T-shirts and posters and all kinds of memorabilia to tempt me. I bought some cheap but really fun movie star sunglasses to wear. Quite silly actually.  But then, so am I.    
Ready, set, go! We are ready to shop.  Usually my husband's plan of action is looking through the car museum and all the buildings filled with cars. When he is finished he tries to find me in the antique barns.  I always dive right into the antiques. As we part ways he usually slips me a $20 dollar bill which makes me very happy because now I have  a little extra jingle!  Woohoo!  He's a good man.  He used to ask me if I needed money and I would always laugh at him - because what a dumb question, right?  And then he would ask how much money I need, and that would make me laugh again as I would ask him how much money he has in his wallet!

I tuck my $20 into my  pocket and merrily skip into the first antique barn.  As I enter I look at the time and try to plan my strategy.  Should I go to my favorite booths first, or start at one end and work my way through all three barns?  I usually end up a little short on time, so I debate if I should start at the opposite end today.  But I don't.  I am a creature of habit.  I will take my usual route and visit my favorites along the way.  I already know which booths are worth venturing into. Of course I give the other booths a quick glance just in case something catches my eye. 
I have my camera ready to go.  I take so many pictures of such fun things.  Maybe I couldn't afford them, or really have no place to display them, but I know when I get home I will enjoy going through the pictures. Sometimes I take pictures of something that  I would like to try to recreate at home.
As I wander amongst the dishes and linens and collectibles I feel a connection with the people these may have belonged to.  Most of the items are from the forties and fifties in the booths I look in. Back then money was scarce. Certainly most people didn't have any extra in the household budget to purchase items just for the aesthetic beauty.  As I picked up some darling little porcelain figurines, examining them from all angles, debating whether the price was good enough for me to bring it home, I got to thinking. Back then, owning an item such as this probably meant so much more to them.  People didn't have huge collections of beautiful things, unless of course they were lucky enough to be one of the few wealthy people of that generation.  Oh no, they had to make every penny count and only buy things that were needed and necessary.  Nowadays, we have so much of everything - too much if you ask me - and we don't even appreciate much of it.  Back in the days when people had less they were more careful about purchases. An item usually had to be practical. Homes were smaller too. A family had to decide what was really important enough to use up valuable space in a kitchen counter top or cabinet - or even hanging on a wall.  If it could also be beautiful then so much the better!

As you know, our clever and hardworking forefathers and mothers didn't let a meager income stop them from having beauty all around them.  Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers cut down trees and gathered the finest pieces of woods. They brought these home to their workshops, barns, and front porches. They would begin cutting, carving, whittling and sanding until they had a wonderful piece of furniture, a useful hand tool, or a beautiful carved item.  Those same hands that worked the fields and cared for the animals also brought function and beauty to the home and to their lives.

The men and women had very little spare time, but when the supper dishes were cleaned and the household chores were done, there was a little bit of time for relaxation.  The family usually gathered around the fireplace in the winter and out on the porches for some fresh air in the warmer months.  I am picturing a scene from Little House On The Prairie. The family is sitting around the table or near the fireplace, the father is playing the fiddle.  The children danced as they sang. Mother smiled, watching her loved ones, clapping her hands in time with the music.  After the children were all tucked safely in bed Mother would pick up her little basket full of mending to be done.  Perhaps not a most enjoyable chore, but mending and repairing clothing was necessary.  These women had a desire to do something a little more colorful and creative, and many saved small scraps from pieces of clothing and pulled threads to use later to create the most wonderful quilts and stitcheries.  Lucky for us, because many of us own these handmade quilts and beautiful heirloom clothing, as well as crocheted and knitted items, which were passed down from generation to generation. 

Notice I say lucky for us.  I feel that any item handmade with love and care is one of the greatest treasures we could ever hope to receive.  It is just like when a person takes the time to make a homemade meal, or bake a pie or cake for loved ones.  What a wonderful gift - with their two hands they make a creation for all to enjoy.  We are so lucky.

As I see all the beautiful hand-crocheted potholders and doilies, and hand-sewn aprons, dolls, and clothing, I have mixed emotions. I
pick up a crocheted potholder and marvel at the beauty.  I look at all the intricate details and appreciate all the hours it took this woman to crochet this potholder.  I imagine that this was made during her evening hours after all the days work was done and all family members were cared for.  I think about how she must have carefully clipped the pattern or instructions from a newspaper or magazine. I look at the $4 price tag and wonder how this could only be valued at $4.  I feel sad.  I think I must buy this, because I love it and some woman many years ago loved it too.

Not too far away is a sweet old quilt calling my name.  It has pink flowers set in green borders, with hand quilting done around the flowers and stems.  As I look at it more carefully I see it is a very large quilt. A nearby shopper helped me open it up and I saw it has several spots that are quite worn. Perhaps this is just from use, or the way it was stored or displayed.  I am wondering  who made this quilt. Perhaps, like me, she loved flowers, pretty much anything  pink, and applique. I think about how she must have saved the scraps of fabric from feed sacks and clothing too worn to be repaired.  I wonder if she maybe traded with a friend or neighbor or family member to get the fabric  colors she wanted. Or, maybe she had a little pin money from teaching piano lessons, trimming the homebound neighbor's hair,  selling eggs, or homemade jam.  Perhaps she had a farm stand outside the front of the house where she sold her fresh produce. 
Maybe, once she saved up a little extra money for herself she went shopping and bought a yard or two of fabric for the flowers.  
I think of the time she spent tracing out the flower appliques and stems.  I think of how she worked so hard while cutting the squares to make them perfectly square, and how much care she took to make sure the border strips were straight.  I think of her hand stitching the flowers to the background.  I think of her happiness while making this quilt.  I know when I am making something I am so happy.  I just love making things with my own two hands.  I think of her imagining this quilt being finished and proudly displayed on her bed.  I wonder how many years this quilt was used on the bed, and if every time she looked at it she felt happy.  Or, maybe this was to be a gift for a daughter or granddaughter or niece who was going to be married.  Maybe she had a sister who loved flowers and pink was her favorite color.  I guess I'll never know. The price tag says $35.00.  

Yes, it is worn and a little stained, and does have some blocks that are in pretty sad shape.  I imagine someone would buy it to cut up into a smaller quilt or pillows, but I didn't want to do that. I took some pictures and decided I could make one just like it.  As I walked away I wished I had $35.00 extra so I could buy it.  As I made my way into the next barn a sort of sadness came over me.  Don't ask me why, but I really wanted that quilt.  I marched back to the booth and gathered the quilt in my arms, carried it to the counter, and asked if this dealer had a sale coming up soon. I was told that any item over 20 dollars could be given a 10 % discount.  I still didn't have enough money to purchase the quilt.  I sadly brought it back to the booth and carefully put it back the way I found it.

I must tell you that I have been to that antique mall at least ten or fifteen times over the past five years and each time that I walk past that booth that quilt calls out to me. I don't know why. Maybe because it is pink appliqued flowers?  Perhaps.  Maybe just the simplicity of the quilt, nothing fancy or overdone, just sweet.  I wanted so badly to buy it this last time, but consoled myself by deciding to save my pennies to buy it the next time I visit. I must be the one it was meant for, because visit after visit it sits patiently waiting for me.

Don't for a moment think that I don't feel it isn't worth $35.  I think it is worth much more, priceless really.  I just didn't have that much  money.  And don't think I don't want to buy the quilt. I do.  I will start saving coins in a jar and shave a little off my grocery bill  for the next week or two until I have enough money to buy this quilt.  Now that I am thinking about it, I might just contact the antique mall today to have them ask the dealer what her bottom dollar price would be, and if I they will hold it for me until my next visit. I am not trying to be cheap, and I am not devaluing the quilt.  I just don't have the extra money.  But if I did I would gladly pay $35, because I think it is worth ten times that.  I feel the time and care put into this quilt, made with love and with her own two hands is worth so much more. I don't know who made it or when, but it belongs with me.

When I see these items in the antique stores I can't imagine how a family would just get rid of them when someone they loved worked so hard on them.  I have a several items from my family, crocheted doilies from both grandmas and several quilts from my great aunts from downhome, and I treasure them like they are worth millions.

As I wander through these cast-off treasures, I think of the amazing items our ancestors created with their hands and how these things brought beauty to their homes and to their lives.  I think of the joy and satisfaction they felt while creating these things, and the pride they must of felt when completing the item. As I hold these items I wish I had a million dollars so I could buy them all. The fact that they could be so easily discarded makes me sad.  I wish I could speak to the prior owners and explain to them how much these items must have meant to someone they loved.  I wish I could meet the woman who made this quilt, and the women who crocheted these beautiful doilies, and tell them that I appreciate the time and work and love that went into these items that they created with their own two hands.

My wish is that if you ever are lucky enough to have an heirloom  passed down to you that you treasure it.  I also hope that you explain to your children and grandchildren the importance and value of these items.  I very much hope that you are also finding time to create something that you love that can be passed down to family members after you are gone, and that they will love and treasure it.  Because, after all, it is something that you created - with your own two hands.

P.S. After writing this post I called the antique mall and asked them to contact the owner of the quilt for her best price. She said she will take $25 for the quilt. I agreed to the price and they are holding it for me until I get there again! I'm so excited. I will carefully wash it and display it in my new craft room.  I hope whoever made this quilt is looking down from Heaven right now, and smiling. . .

For more wonderful vintage images, please visit my friend Meri at her blog   ImagiMeri's