Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Half a story

Here is a half of a Star Quilt I made in the last few days:

It is for a special person in South Dakota, someone who "adopted" me as her mom. She's going through some particularly hard times now. Her biological mom has only a couple of months to live, and she and her two sisters can't afford the gas to drive to Fargo to visit. On top of that, one of her two beloved twin "aunties" is sick. And sadly, this "daughter", D., suffered her own personal devastation this August.

I met D. when she was 15, on a solo trip up to Green Grass, South Dakota. I set out to paint a church whose exterior was peeling badly. It was the only non-residential structure in that reservation town, a little white Gothic church on the Plains, and I thought it deserved a decent coat of paint.

Her father Morris had community service hours to work off, and so he was assigned to help--which he did, by making coffee, spinning tales of his youthful exploits, smoking cigarettes, and cursing at me in Lakota, telling me not to work so g'damn hard. Morris was particularly amused that he was on the board of directors of the church, whose services he never attended. Morris introduced me with pride to his mother and D., living together in a tiny cabin with him. His cousin, suffering from liver disease, joined the cause and had a bit more elbow grease to offer. Eventually, a church group materialized to help me finish the project. This was about the time my workers had received their monthly checks and returned to their habitual drinking, so I was glad to escape Morris's sloppy and disheartening protestations of love.

During that "work trip" I attended a Give-Away, or Wopila (see the definition here) feast, which occurs at the one-year anniversary of a person's death, when all of the deceased's possessions are given away, along with gifts made just for the occasion. It's a beautiful tradition that impressed me deeply. White people could seriously learn some things from it. The women had made several Star Quilts, some of which included buffalo or American flag-themed appliques on the design.

That fall--early November as I remember it--I received a letter that Morris had died in a car accident and his funeral was to be that weekend. The next day I packed a small bag, got in my car and drove. When I arrived twelve hours later, the basement of the little white church was packed and the wake was underway. The driver of the vehicle was present, inconsolable and drunk. Others in the community remembered me. The wake would continue late into the night with the funeral and burial the next day. A country gospel band seemed to play continuously.

The cousin who'd worked with us found me and we drove to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes to place in Morris's casket. He urged me to read the obituary in the local paper. To my surprise, I was named as a survivor. And the painting of the Green Grass church was listed as one of Morris's proudest accomplishments.

We laughed hard at that one, but I laughed in part to cover my shock.

As I was leaving, the family gave me the choice of two or three beautiful Star Quilts. I chose this one. It has been used and loved ever since--on the wall and on the bed.

But that is just half of the story. (More of the story is told here.)


  1. Oooh! I can't wait to hear the rest of the story!!

  2. What a wonderful story and a stunning quilt! Thank you for sharing! I love reading your posts. Keep them coming. I can't wait to hear the other half!