Drunkard’s Path

On Monday, I will be starting a project at work that has been hanging over my head since I started working there 5 years ago. The project is critical and extremely visible. So, you know, pretty much my worst nightmare ever. It is early Sunday afternoon right now and I’m doing everything I can to keep my anxiety in check. I’m not having a huge amount of luck.

So, for just a few minutes, I am going to think about something else.

I want to tell you about my aunt and uncle.

Technically, they were my great aunt and uncle. But to me, they were everything I needed in grandparents. My childhood was difficult. My aunt and uncle represented all of my security. They were a lifeline for me when I was young.

My Aunt Marg and Uncle Vince lost their parents and oldest sister while they were still children. Aunt Marg was the oldest and, at age 15, she went to work as a seamstress to provide for her younger siblings. The youngest was my grandfather.

As they grew up, most went their own way, but Aunt Marg and Uncle Vince never left each other. They grew old together. When I was 19, Aunt Marg died. Uncle Vince died when I was 20.

Aunt Marg made all my school uniform blouses and every year she made new short sets and summer dresses for us.

And she made quilts. She made dozens and dozens and dozens of quilts.

These quilts were not for show, but for function. She made them so everyone in her family would be warm and comfortable.

She only made one pattern, Drunkard’s Path.

Her quilts were thin. The top would be constructed from remnants cut into the Drunkard’s Path pattern and the underside would be a plain sheet.

Nothing went to waste in Aunt Marg’s house. Her quilts were made from fabric remnants, discarded clothing, curtains and table cloths.

I never knew a year of my life without one or two of these quilts in my possession. They were well used and well worn.

And they all fell apart.

I called my mom years ago after spreading my last quilt out.

It was ragged. I wanted her to fix it. I didn’t want to let go of that last quilt.

Mom: I don’t know, Shell. They’re so old. I don’t think I can fix it.

Me, looking at the quilt: Hey. Mom?

Mom: Yes?

Me: Have you, umm, ever noticed what the Drunkard’s Path pattern looks like? I mean a little?

Mom: Yeah.

Me: I can’t believe I’ve never seen this before. They kind of look like Swastikas.

Mom: Yeah. Yeah, they do a little bit.

Let me be completely clear here. Yes, my mom’s family came here from Germany, but my aunt and uncle were not Nazis. In fact, Uncle Vince fought the Nazis in France. Still, that pattern does kind of, sort of look like a swastika. A little. 

So, my last quilt was packed up and eventually tossed out well over 10 years ago.

At Christmas this year, my mother gave my sisters and I the most amazing gift.

She salvaged what she could from the quilts she had left and reworked them into smaller throws. She also cut what she she salvaged in such a way that it doesn’t look like a quilt made from swastikas.

I didn’t think I would ever see my Aunt Marg’s quilts ever again.

And now I have a new one.

This one won’t be for function. I will treasure this one. But I’m not putting it away. I need to see it. I’m hanging it on a wall in our bedroom.

So, when I go to work tomorrow, I will try to think about my Aunt Marg and how so much of my strength came from her. I will try to be grateful to have part of her back with me again.

Maybe then, I won’t be so scared.

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  • Don’t think- just do what you do that quilt is awesome and yeah that block looks like swastikas. I have more to say but I’m at the tire shop for the third time trying to get people to believe me when I say I have rocks in my tires and they keep going flat. If I don’t get back to you remind me about my quilt story.

  • What an incredible story! My mom quilted (not as prolifically as THAT but she was so good at it). Thanks for sharing the pieces of this journey. Wishing you the best w/your work project.

  • I just returned from Utah where my 80 yo mother gave me a quilt made by her grandmother Winifred. She charged me with creating an entirely new quilt based on the one Winifred made in the mid 20th C. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t quilt, but my MIL does, so I’m going to Stillwater, OK on my spring break (I teach college) in order to figure out how to discharge my duty. (I might do a quilt INSPIRED by Winifried’s quilt, but a much easier version. And my MIL knows how to scan photos onto fabric; I can put a photo of Winifred’s quilt on the back in a corner.)

    Thanks for sharing family history. I love that you edited a photo to indicate the origins of fabric on one of those pieced quilts. THAT’S SO COOL!

    • Good luck with your project!!! I can’t even imagine trying. I don’t sew at all.

      Randy does all the photo editing, he suggested pointing out what some of the bits of cloth are. I wouldn’t be able to do this blog at all without him. I just do the writing part. He does the rest. haha

  • Just received a beauty from my Sis-in-law. She has Parkinson’s so I don’t know how she does it. On FB she showed dozens of the ones she has on hand NOW. Apparently, she makes dozens each year and donates them for auction at her church. I admire everyone’s artistic ability, as I have absolutely none of my own – but pieces of history are the best.
    Hope you have a great new year and survive this new project. And get a “like” button here. Yeah, I’m still bitching about that.

  • Good luck on the work project, I predict you’ll do fine. My grandmother used to knit Afghans, and I had a blue and white one until I lost it in a move when I was about 30. It wasn’t really big enough to sleep under, although I did sometimes, but it was warm and comfy and made by my grandmother and I loved it.

    • Thank you. I hope so. It’s a little stalled, but I should be testing by next week.

      I’m sorry you lost your afghan..some things can’t be replaced. But we still get our memories.

  • What a great story. I’m sorry you’re starting the new year under stress. I’m still going to wish you a Happy New Year! Here’s to you “CHEERS”

  • What an honor for the love of your aunt.
    As a quilter myself, taking those scapes of
    fabric and making them into a work of art that would also comfort is cherished. When those bits of your clothing was sewn, I would imagine your aunt was thinking of you. Drunken Path pattern had several names and was thought to be of the Temperance movement. This just handed down with no historical documentation. Your quilt served it’s purpose of use and comfort. Now a honored piece of art.
    Well done!

  • What a wonderful story, Michelle. I’m sure that your Mom’s gift is the most precious one you’ve received this year. Quilt making is such an art and I love how so many memories can be incorporated into it.
    Happy New Year to you and yours!

By Michelle


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