Plowing in the ditch

My Great Grandmother lived until I was a teenager.  I didn’t spend a huge amount of time with her, but enough to know her.  She was a quilter in her old age, making quilts to keep people warm all over the countryside near her home.  I know these details from her and from my Grandfather.

When she was 16, her father gave her a matched pair of mules so she could work the fields, walking behind a plow.  (parental signs of love have certainly changed.)

When she was a young woman, she would spread a quilt under a tree and leave her half dozen or so children there, under the care of her oldest child, my Grandfather, and she would plow behind a team of horses all day long…for fifty cents a day.  My Great-Grandfather was said to be more of a hunter and a fisherman than a farmer or an earner of cash money.

When I was young, I used to work the field with my Grandfather in his rather large kitchen garden that kept his grown kids and their families in fresh vegetables all season and through the winter.  He plowed behind a mule.  I remember it being very slow and tedious work.  And, that mules are smelly, farty, huge animals that sometimes refuse to cooperate without the proper…motivation.

It was my Grandfather’s choice to plow behind a mule.  It was only later, when I was older and stopped helping in the fields that he paid other farmers to do his plowing with a tractor.

Often, it would be me, my Grandfather, my Grandmother, and my Great-Grandmother, all working along side one another, tying up tomatoes or picking peas.  Sometimes, there were other family members; aunts and uncles, my parents, cousins.  But, most of the time, it was just that smaller group.  I remember picking up sweet potatoes from fresh, earth that had just been turned by a mule and a plow.  The milk that would leak from the cut potatoes would build up on our hands and when it combined with the red clay earth and hardened, became a concrete glove that had to be scrubbed off under running water.  And, bees buzzing through the green bean blossoms.  My Grandmother and Great-Grandmother in their bonnets, with the ties dangling so they wouldn’t be too tight around their faces.  My Grandfather in his blue and white striped overalls. with most of the blue faded out from washing and being hung to dry on the line and then ironed into submission. 

Oh, but what I wouldn’t give to go back there again.

Nostalgia has a very nice way of helping me forget the flies and the mosquitoes and the bees and the fear of snakes and the backbreaking work. 

So, that all came about because I’m doing ditchwork on this little quilt. 


I was going to draw a comparison between the boring monotony of quilting in the ditch and walking behind that plow.  But, after that story, they hardly bear comparison anymore, right? 

Because that dusty plow on a hot summer day in humid Louisiana draws ain’t got nothing in common with me sitting at my Bernina, under the furnace heated air, comfy in my nice white socks and lounging pants. 

My Great-Grandmother was one of my earliest quilting influences and I wish we could quilt together, just for a day.  I’d love to hear about the quilts she made over her busy lifetime.

Have a great Tuesday.  Lane


Gisela Suski said...

Great memories I missing working in the fields with my relatives, the sweat but oh boy did lunch taste good out in the fresh air.

Auntie Em said...

Very thoughtful post, Lane. I enjoyed reading it.

My grandmother was not a quilter but did wonderful crochet. I wish we could crochet together for just one day.

Becky said...

I love the story!! I'm glad you shared it with us!

Marei said...

Beautiful post. How wonderful for you to have those memories.

Anonymous said...

women were strong in those days, weren't they? I never knew my great grandmother but apparently she had a lot of grit also. Outlived her husband and most of her 13 children. Sent her youngest and only surviving son off to WWII. And earned her money in old age as a dressmaker.

Kath said...

what lovely memories of your family. The women sure were hard working in those days. It was a short film (made by our friend) about Mattie Oblinger, Nebraskan settler, that sparked my interest in pioneer life and quilt making.

Lakegaldonna said...

Nice recollections and thoughts Lane. Thank you for sharing them with us.

Your words remind me of a newspaper article I just cut out. I don't know what I'll do with it, it's still just sitting there from Sunday.

It's title is How Lazy have we Become by Jim Mullen, the Village Idiot column published jan 10, 2015. You and your readers can do a computer search and bring it up if you are interested. I can't figure out easily how to put in a link here on my iPad.

I too wish I could talk again with my Grandmother about things long ago. Have a nice night.

lw said...

I love the memory you shared.

MJinMichigan said...

And if you did quilt together for a day wouldn't she be shocked by all our modern conveniences!