We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense…For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.
—President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, January 21, 2009
My sister-in-law Suzanne sews the most amazing quilts. Each is unique; each a work of art. The grateful recipient holds a Suzanne-original and stammers: Why, this should be framed, put on a wall, hung in a gallery. It’s an heirloom to be protected, passed on from one generation to the next. To this sort of uber-reverent claptrap Suzanne might laugh and say, “Oh, just use it. Throw it in the washer and dryer. It’ll last forever.”
Fabrics for Suzanne’s quilts fill (overfill, from what she’s told me) every nook and cranny of her Kansas home. I picture her at her cutting table or sewing machine, creating gifts for friends, family, brides, grooms and grandbabies. Snow piles up outside her front door. The nearby pond freezes. She’s happy and snug inside, deep in the creative stitching process. One time she whipped-up a blanket for my youngest, dog-obsessed child. Dalmatians, terriers, corgis, retrievers pose and romp and pant and bark from one strategically placed square to the next and all around the border. Fifteen years later, the pooches haven’t aged. They warm and delight.
When President Obama first uttered the words “our patchwork heritage” during his Inaugural Address eight years ago, the phrase worked well as a metaphor for our nation’s diverse, incongruous population. It wasn’t meant to be taken literally. Ah America, land of quilt-makers. And yet, hear or read the phrase “patchwork heritage” and try NOT to think of quilts. Like trying not to picture a white polar bear, it can’t be done.
As it turns out, patchwork-quilting is an integral part of our country’s heritage. Once I began researching for this post, I quickly realized (a) how little I know about the topic of quilting in America and (b) how quilting has deep, sacred roots in this country and (c) how creating memorial quilts sustained American women during the worst of times as they lost husbands and sons and brothers and fathers in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and (d) how quilting gave voice to a few African-American slaves who, hiding away with needle, thread and cast-off fabrics, crafted their stories for future generations and (e) how quilting became–and continues to be–a powerful voice for those affected by AIDS and (f) how, to this day, quilting–whether hand-stitched or done on a machine–thrives in countless communities throughout this country.
Our patchwork heritage. Our strength.
Over 318 million of us live in these 50 states. Imagine a quilt of 318 million patches. Each has a personal story–of survival, of how parents, grandparents or great grandparents journeyed to this country; or maybe of how one’s own journey began here, the first generation to leave a native land and begin anew. What binds us together and strengthens us as a country despite 318 million+ differences? What makes us call the United States home? Those who came here first were clear. For them, America meant freedom. Opportunity. A new beginning.
For those of us who’ve been here for many generations it’s easy to take freedom for granted. If so, think about my German neighbor. Forced to leave her home one night during WWII, she took only what she–then 8-years-old–could carry. Or Google Chinese prisons. Or think about something less chilling; something we take for granted: the New York Times app, easily accessible on our iPhones. That’s a no-no in China. Sure, factory workers in China can make iPhones by the bazillion. They just can’t quite really truly absolutely use them. There’s the pity.
For 2017–since I don’t quilt–my writing goal is what I’ll dub “50 in 50.” Once-a-week blog posts for the next 50 weeks featuring a specific product manufactured / sewn / grown / produced in one of our 50 states; a different state and product each time.
Moving in alphabetical order, I’ll begin next week with Alabama. Are you or any of your friends or family in–or from–Alabama? If so, please chime in. What’s to love–or not love–about Alabama today? Do tell. Think of this as a virtual neighborhood. Let’s talk.
Happy New Year!