Tennessee Mountain Stories

Grandmother’s Dresses

When we lose a loved one there is much to deal with – not the least of which is a lifetime of stuff.  We have a lot of stuff these days but all generations have died off leaving at least a few clothes.  What to do with those is never easy – you don’t really want to just throw them all away and often they don’t fit or suit the folks left behind.

Sometimes among the “estate” there are treasures that children and grandchildren have long coveted.  Other times things are hidden away and practically forgotten.  At my Great Aunt Margaret’s recent estate sale I found a couple of quilts her mother and my Great Grandmother Cecil Harvey had created.  They are such treasures that there are tears in my eyes even now as I share them with you.

Now Grandma Harvey was from a very practical generation yet she was still a sentimental soul.  I was blessed to have her in my life into my early 20’s – having a great grandmother living within a few miles for that many years isn’t something a lot of people enjoy and I wish I’d truly appreciated it at the time.  Grandma wanted her children and grandchildren to have a piece of their heritage and quilts were a great way to do that.

Grandma Harvey found a great solution both to how to deal with her mother’s clothing and created a memorial to her at the same time.  She pieced the dresses into a colorful block quilt.  I don’t know if there were more quilts made – I’m asking my aunts that question now – but I can certainly imagine Grandma Harvey doing that for each of her 5 daughters. 

Quilt-makers today carefully purchase coordinating fabric and cut and piece them in intricate patterns.  I doubt many people can appreciate the big blocks on this quilt but few that have ever held a needle can scorn the precise stitches.  And the love poured into these rags is immeasurable.  I can imagine Grandma remembering times her mother wore each dress – Grandma Hixson never had so many clothes that you wouldn’t remember them all in great detail.  She died when I was just 7 years old and I suppose I mostly remember her from the pictures and stories.  Still, it’s not hard for me to see her slender frame in the prints on these fabrics. 

Euphemia Alexander Hixson

Euphemia Alexander Hixson

How I wish Grandma Harvey was here to tell me a story about each block.  “There was a big purple stain on this one where she spilled blackberry juice making jelly,” or “This blue dress was her favorite church dress; I’ve seen her a hundred times wearing it with her purse over her arm and her bible in her hand as she started down the road to church service.”

I may not know the specific stories but I’m eager to share the memories I do have with my own children as I teach them how to quilt and how to treasure these quilts.