Whenever I’m presented with a choice of two brands of something, if all else is equal, I’m inclined to buy the one with an imaginative name. If neither has an unusual brand name, I’ll look at the drawing, even if it’s just a sketch, or the design on the wrapping. An image of plump tomatoes on a lush vine will get my vote over something that seems too straight-line or dull.
This preference goes back three generations in my family (well, three that I know about for sure) and has proven to be true of the fourth generation, too.
My grandmother was a prolific quilter and a talented seamstress. She didn’t use any of the patterns that I’ve seen named and admired, such as Lone Star, Log Cabin or Love Knot. Imaginative names all. She didn’t use a pattern when she sewed a dress or other garment, either. She could make something that fit, by measuring and then creating her own pattern.
I overheard her once say to my aunt, “It looks like Carla’s going to make a seamstress.” I did make my own clothes through high school, college and beyond; for a few years I made clothes for my babies, but my talents lay mostly in the ability to follow directions and visualize a result. I never took it to the level of making a pattern myself. But I had a first cousin who became a clothes designer, so my grandmother’s gift did pass down to someone.
When I visited my grandmother, I often brought her the scraps of material left over from something I’d sewn. This worked well with the method she used, which was to cut cloth into 3-inch squares and piece them together. Like I said, she didn’t do one of the designs I’ve seen since. But the finished product did have harmony of colors and a configuration that she created as she went along. She started with a little square that would be dead center of the quilt, and she went on from there. If she ran out of scraps of a particular color, why, she just picked up some other color that caught her fancy and kept right on.
Come to think of it, her method showed a lot of trust in her own ability to make a harmonious whole. She just kept going. She made the design up, the whole kit and caboodle, as she went along. When she had the quilt-top finished, she called around to her friends. Someone had a quilting frame, which they set up and stood around, making a true Quilting Circle, as they quilted by hand each small square of the patchwork top to plain material that would become the bottom of the quilt, with a layer of batting between. They’d finish a quilt in one day that way.
My grandfather’s family showed a whimsical bent too. He was a farmer until he retired, when they moved to town, and he inherited a bit of wanderlust from his own father. My mother learned to love 4 a.m. mornings by going with him to the barn, because he whistled while he milked the cows. He had eight brothers and two sisters. Several of his brothers became very successful businessmen, but their baby brother, who was Uncle Herbert to me, outdid all the rest.
My mother had a quirk which she never explained. We didn’t call our regular aunts and uncles “Aunt Betty” or “Uncle Fred.” We just called them Betty and Fred. The honorific “Uncle” was reserved for our great-uncles, one of whom was Uncle Herbert. The only people I ever called “aunt” were my great-aunts, like Aunt Tannie. When I was small, I thought everyone did the same, and I therefore thought everyone’s regular aunts and uncles must be elderly.
My mother, being the youngest of nine children, was already an aunt from the minute she was born. Maybe she didn’t like being called “aunt” by kids who were a year or two older than she was. Maybe that’s why.
I was thinking about Uncle Herbert’s company because I used the phrase “gilt edge” in my last column. His dairy company, Gilt Edge, became famous in Oklahoma for the quality of his ice cream, which folks claimed — and I can attest to — tasted like home cranked.
As you’ve no doubt guessed, I liked it for the interesting, imaginative label as much as for the ice cream.
You probably have stories and tidbits just as quirky or equally puzzling in your family. Do yourselves and your children a favor: pass them on. It may be tempting to think no one would be interested … but they say that in every generation, at least one or two individuals will be.