Quilt by Golda Faye Taylor McElroy
In the corner of my living room closet is a stack of handmade quilts, blankets, and throws. Some of them come from great grandmothers and were made generations ago in the rural areas of Harkey Valley and Cardon Bottoms. Others were made during my own lifetime in small homes in the growing town of Dardanelle. There’s a beautiful honeycomb/grandmother’s garden style pattern with yellow fabric and black threading. There are a handful of different block patterns in red and deep blue and even a crazy quilt my mother-in-law made for me before I married her son.
Around the house I’ve placed a few other handmade items, such as a beautifully crocheted shawl that I believe came from my great grandmother which now makes its home on the back on an old rocking chair. At the end of the couch is a brand new beautifully crocheted baby quilt that came from a cousin raised in the Dardanelle Bottoms, a woman who has taught me so much about life in the cotton fields. Sometimes I wrap my infant daughter in it and tell her stories about the hardworking women who proceeded her. And then there’s the polyester patchwork tie quilt my grandmother McElroy made for me as a young girl. I took it with me to the hospital when I had my daughter, and it now sits on my sons’ bed, a small way I can bridge a connection between my children and the relatives they’ve never met.
Many readers can likely relate to their own love of quilts and shawls passed down in the family and recall the stories that came with them. I know where most of the crocheted and quilted items came from, and, in many cases, can easily remember the faces and hands of the women who made them. But inside the closet is a crocheted item that remains somewhat of a mystery. It’s a fuzzy, warm crocheted blanket handmade in a bright, blue, thick yarn. It was given to my mother back in 2008 when she was dying from cancer. Made by a group of women who engage in a prayer ministry for the ill in the community, I think it came from the Baptist church in Chickalah. If this information is wrong someone please correct me.
Referred to as a prayer shawl or a prayer blanket, these creations are made while the women pray together. Once completed, these throws cover the sick person in warmth and prayers. From the time my mother received hers until she passed away some months later, she kept it on her bed everyday, often pulling it up around her body. For those of us who sat with her during her last days, it was a constant reminder that people cared. It’s very likely that the women who made it knew what it was like to face illness and need support. I don’t know their names, but I can still feel the power of their concern and their deeply-held beliefs.
Sometimes I keep the shawl tucked away in an effort to preserve it. Sometimes I bring it out and use it. In both cases I am always thinking of its importance and its power and how, throughout time, women have created blankets and throws that are so much more than utilitarian objects. The blankets tell stories; they provide healing; they connect us across generations and communities. I’d love to know more about these prayers shawls in the community and about the other quilts and blankets others have in their own homes. What are the stories behind the stack of blankets in your closets? Click on the “contact us” link to send me an email. Thanks so much for reading!
The Seed and the Story is a partnership with the Courier newspaper in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.