Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Quilted Icon"

Seth Godin's business blog post, "I Quilt", reminds me of my grandmother, Cora Bess Campbell, and the patchwork quilts she made for all her grandchildren.

The youngest of twelve, born and raised on an Arkansas farm, Cora Bess Yingst (age 16) married LeRoy Campbell (age 19) shortly before they hopped a train to California. Roaming like gypsies, picking crops with migrant workers up and down the West Coast, they fished, camped and made life-long friends along the way.

They settled in San Bernardino, California. Nightly, he used Lava soap and a brush to scrub the auto-shop grease from off his hands and under his fingernails. Even before he'd spent a chunk of his weekly pay at the bar, it was hardly enough to feed, cloth and house a family of five. Cora Bess chose to rise to the creative challenge of turning scraps into things of beauty, form and function.

Grandma Bess, a meticulous seamstress, made my large, colorful quilt out of little scraps of material left over from the perfectly-fashioned cotton dresses she'd made for me from flour sacks. I'd sit on the floor next to her, cutting fascinating buttons from old clothes I'd never seen, and add them to the glass jar of her enormous collection. I'd sort and stack various sizes of empty wood thread spools while her fingers expertly guided the flowered fabric under the bobbing needle of her foot-powered shiny, black Singer sewing machine. I was enthralled by her talents. I can still conjure up the aroma of pinto beans, cornbread and greens cooking while she taught me how to take remnants of seemingly worthless material, and come up with a creative, beautiful and functional design.

Seth's, "I Quilt", helped me view circumstances and/or relationships like precious scraps of unique materials with the potential of special uses and re-uses. Cora Bess's gift to me is now a "Quilted Icon" - symbolic of my perpetual option to create beauty with whatever, as little or as much, is at hand. Like scraps of varying weights, textures, weaves and sources of materials are sometimes difficult to stitch together; so, too, are some jobs, people, and circumstances. I'm grateful for the compatible remnants with which I've been able to design, handle and stitch a life together. I want to make the most of what I've been given - and I'm remembering how to do that by visualizing my grandmother creating my very own "Quilted Icon".


  1. Fiona Sanders4/23/10, 11:27 AM

    Are you sure we're not from the same family?? Right down to the pot of beans, cornbread, and greens!! I could swear you were describing my grandparents. She was 16 he was 19 when they married, they headed for CA, she sewed like no one else, and quilted like crazy, and I have one of those quilts because she made them for each of her grandchildren.

    I was born just outside Sacremento, CA, Pam.

    Loooooved this entry though, our lives truly are like a quilt.

    Hugs, Fiona Sanders

  2. Fiona, how wonderful that our histories have common threads. I was born in Rialto and moved to Oroville when I was five. California was an incredible paradise back in the 50s and 60s.

  3. Christina Duane4/23/10, 8:31 PM

    What a beautiful analogy a quilt is to our lives and how God allows us to keep pieces of our past in the new creation with all of their memories and preciousness to us.

    I love the vivid picture painted of the time spent with your grandma from the way she skillfully sewed to the aroma of the food she so lovingly made filling the house.

    It reminded me of the smell of my grandma's Swedish meatballs and coffee always on and he sound of Polka Music on the old phonagraph with it's scatchy sound and her sweet voice saying my name. Grandmothers are stitching that hold our quilts together. Grandmothers are divine.

  4. Very moving, Pamelita. I wish I'd met your grandmother. Heck, I wish I'd met my own. Grandparents offer us unique insights into a different world that even our parents can't give us. Thanks for this...


  5. Pammy, this is gorgeous. I could feel and smell and see everything, even to how soft those dresses must have felt in summer. People forget (or don't know) that flour sacks were pretty on purpose--not burlap--the flour companies made them that way because they knew women used them for sewing. I'd forgotten you had Southern roots. Wow. What a heritage. I do envy you your California experience...I loved Rialto in 1980 the first time I went there, and just imagined what it must have been like years earlier. (It wasn't that different in 1980, probably; it was still pretty small. Not any more.) California was indeed a paradise. I'm glad we got here in time (1963) to enjoy that era. It's still a great place. Ain't what it was. But just about the most beautiful place on earth, anyhow!

  6. Scraps...stitching a life...gratefully...with beauty. What a perspective. Holding on to that one, sister-friend. Thanks.

  7. I just reread this blog entry. I'd forgotten I'd written it. Now that my dear mother, Cora Lee, has passed, the memories of the nurturing times with my grandmother and mother are even more precious.